What'll the cyber crooks think of next? Well, this isn't a new idea and it certainly isn't the type of flashy heist you will see in this summer's sequel Ocean's 13 with George Clooney, Matt Damon and crew. But hundreds of account holders have lost funds after a most likely phony firm named Equity First generated random routing and account numbers and tried to deposit one cent. If the one-cent deposit clears, the fraudsters know the account is active and they begin to withdraw funds. And for financial firms, it's just another risk to add to the list.According to a report from Air Force Link, the Air Force news service, an airman based on Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado lost approximately $600 to the one-cent scam. A business named Equity First had made the debit, but the toll-free number listed on the transaction was disconnected. After a Web search, the airman found a company called Equity 1st Mortgage in Wilmington, NC but the mortgage company confirmed that it is not the firm making the fraudulent transactions. In fact, the mortgage company has received at least 100 complaints since 2006 and all fraudulent debits seem to be in the same amount: $124.90.
For financial firms, vigilance and monitoring are the only ways to prevent the losses from the one-cent scam. Since ACH transactions are so efficient, most financial institutions utilize the method of exchanging funds in at least one of their business units. For the customer, in most cases, the financial institution will reverse the transaction and the funds will be replaced in few days.
Still, it is alarming that the efficiency and standardization of the system is what made this scam possible. It's not hard to set up an algorithm to generate random routing and account numbers and then start pinging the ACH network to find accounts that work. The hit rate is extremely low, but what does that matter? The algorithm can pump out 1,000s of random numbers per second.
For now, add the one-cent scam to the list of 1,000s of other cyber fraud scams and risks that financial firms need to monitor. Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio