The top factors that can fuel account takeover fraud

In social media circles, you may hear family or friends talk about their accounts as having been hacked. While not entirely inaccurate, a better description would be to refer to their accounts as having fallen victim to account takeover fraud.

The digital realm has never before played such a pivotal role in our lives. Whether we’re buying groceries, banking, closing on a mortgage or completing forms for our doctor, there are good odds we’re doing much of it online or through an app.

With our increasing reliance on digital products and services, it only makes sense that fraudsters and other cybercriminals will see this as an opportunity to step in, with their focus being financial gain.

To provide their users with an optimal experience and smooth process, some businesses may be temporarily lowering their security barriers.

A definition of account takeover fraud

Also referred to as account compromise, account takeover fraud is a type of identity theft. Fraudsters are able to successfully take control over a legitimate account and use it for financial gain.

The account could be a social media account, an email account (both personal and business email accounts are at risk), an account on a large online retailer platform, and possibly a financial account. Any organization that offers a potential way to monetize the account is at risk.

Once the cybercriminal has control over the account, they can launch an array of attacks that may include the following.

  • As an example, if a bad actor gains access to a corporate account he may be able to send emails that allow him to assume the identity of the employee. There is opportunity to assume the identity of an employee and defraud others within the company, vendors, and business partners.
  • eCommerce fraud. If a bad actor can log into an online retailer using the credentials of a real person, they may be able to make purchases using the stored credit cards of the account owner. They may be able to purchase high valued items and have them redirected to a new address or pickup location.
  • Sensitive data access. Getting access to an individual’s personal or business email account goes beyond reading their emails and potentially defrauding people through the email account. There may be messages that allow fraudsters to learn which accounts are tied to that email account, furthering their ability to defraud. There could also be sensitive business data in the files.
  • Financial fraud. Gaining access to a bank account or other type of financial service account can allow cybercriminals to directly steal funds by way of fraudulent purchases or fraudulent transfers.

Fraudsters will follow the money trail, and in today’s increasingly digital realm, the money can be found online. Cybercriminals are seizing the chance to expand their activities in a time where the use of digital accounts and tools is considered to be at an all-time high.


There are five factors that are actively fueling the growth of account takeover fraud. With a better understanding of them, you may be in a better position to protect your organization.

Fraud automation

Bad actors work tirelessly to develop the technology, tools, and methods that can be incorporated into a cyber-attack. Using technology that can help them to automate their attacks can enable them to run checks on the validity of thousands of stolen credentials against an app or website. What once may have taken weeks and months may now take just mere minutes.

Data breaches

Data breaches are a significant part of what fuels the dark web economy of credentials. To a fraudster, a data breach is practically a gold mine of information. In the past several years there have been billions of account credentials compromised; largely username and password combos and email addresses.

Data breaches not only fuel the dark web economy but also provide cybercriminals with a near-endless supply of valid credentials to use as a part of takeover fraud.

Lack of updates to security controls

Our digital realm, the one that we are increasingly reliant on, is heavily reliant on passwords. The majority of fraud prevention tools have been designed to offer an extra layer of robust authentication at the login stage, based on parameters that include geolocation, IP address, device identification, and one-time passcodes.

While once highly effective, cybercriminals have taken steps that allow them to circumvent a large number of these security controls. Without updates to security controls, businesses cannot be assured of the highest levels of security.

Social engineering

In any organization, the human is considered to be the weakest security link. Whether installing malware, clicking links in phishing emails, or accidentally authorizing fraudulent activities, every single fraud attack that finds success will rely on the exploitation of human vulnerabilities.

It’s crucial for organizations to educate, train, and help their employees learn to recognize the risks of social engineering. Detecting fraud and the potential for a cyber-attack can help you to defend against them.

Continual reliance on digital banking services

The past few years have seen the financial services industry undergo a significant digital transformation in order to optimize the end-user experience and simplify financial services. With the expansion of the attack surface comes an increasing worry about cyber-attacks. Racing to stay ahead of the competition doesn’t always take cybersecurity into consideration, leaving considerable space for bad actors to step in.


ZenKey brings an added layer of protection for your business. Whether you’re in the financial sector or the eCommerce realm, we offer a solution that can protect your business, your users, and your reputation. Reach out to our team to learn more.