How to protect yourself from drop account fraud — tips from our investigative unit

Loot stolen from the U.S. Postal Service is displayed on the dark web. Via Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group

The types of crimes that use drop accounts are multiplying rapidly, but there are ways to decrease your chances of becoming a victim.

Protect your identity online by following these steps

To prevent fraud involving a tax return refund or any other tax issue

  • Complete and send in your tax return as early as possible, which makes it more difficult for someone to steal your refund.
  • Establish an identity protection PIN with the IRS, which only you and the agency will know.
  • If the IRS rejects your attempt to file your tax return, or if you receive any unusual mail from the agency such as a tax transcript you didn’t request, or it notifies you of suspicious activity, contact the agency at the number listed here to report possible identity theft.
  • Pay any taxes owed online, not by check.

To prevent losses through business email compromise scams

  • Learn and teach employees basic email safety techniques.
  • Confirm urgent emails from supervisors or vendors demanding immediate wire transfers. In fact, urgent requests are the most suspicious.
  • Assure employees that double-checking whether these purportedly urgent emails came from the listed sender will not result in criticism or punishment.
  • Never purchase a gift card requested by a supervisor through email or text.

– Human resources officials should never change bank accounts for direct deposit if employees ask by email or text. Always call to double-check that the request is real.

Graphic showing a masked criminal on a stamp and saying 'Heists worth billions'

This article accompanies Heists Worth Billions, an investigation from The Conversation that found criminal gangs using sham bank accounts and secret online marketplaces to steal from almost anyone – and uncovered just how little being done to combat the fraud.

The Conversation

Kurt Eichenwald does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.