What Is Account Takeover (ATO) Fraud? How to Prevent It

Account takeover (ATO) fraud can wreak havoc on small business finances. This guide provides strategies to shield your accounts from unauthorized access.

Companies are vulnerable to account takeover fraud (ATO) when they sell services and products online. ATO fraud occurs when an unauthorized person accesses your small business accounts to withdraw money, steal sensitive customer data, and conduct other illegal activities. 

While ATO is a serious concern for small business owners, selecting a secure payment service provider can reduce this significant risk to keep you and your customers safe from fraud.


What Is Account Takeover (ATO) Fraud?

ATO fraud can take various forms, but always involves theft through illegal use of someone else's personal or financial data. Often, criminals simply steal passwords to break into bank accounts and take the money, but more complex ATO scams also exist. 

It can be difficult to detect ATO fraud until unauthorized access to your business accounts is already well underway, part of the reason why it poses such a big risk for small business owners. 

How Is ATO Fraud Committed?

Criminals commit ATO fraud against businesses by accessing their financial accounts. They may try to get your user ID and password by:

  • Phishing, or sending a fraudulent email that looks like it's from your payment service provider or bank
  • Using malware that intercepts data transmitted on your network
  • Purchasing stolen data on the dark web
  • Taking over mobile phones and other electronic devices to get security codes sent during authentication
  • Tricking you into installing ransomware on your business website

Once someone successfully hacks into your business account, they can create serious issues by accessing your finances and taking control. In addition to your company's direct monetary loss, you could be responsible for the cost of a data breach that affects your customers' accounts. 

Some criminals may even try to impersonate your business online. For example, they could divert client payments and messages to their own accounts so they can collect the money for orders your customers will never receive.

How Can You Protect Your Business from ATO Fraud? 

PCI-compliant payment service providers offer the strongest form of fraud protection for your business. Pay.com has earned Level 1 compliance, which means we adhere to the highest level of Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS). These security mandates apply to all businesses that engage in online commerce.

Pay.com also supports multi-factor authentication with 3D Secure 2.0 (3DS2). This method adds even more security by requiring a second form of identification for certain transactions. For example, our system may request authentication if someone tries to make a purchase from a strange location or in an unusual amount.

In addition to working with Pay.com as your PCI-compliant payment service provider, you can set up a Google alert to monitor mentions of your business. That way, you'll immediately notice if someone else is using your company's name and information for fraudulent online transactions. 

It's important to use a unique username and strong alphanumeric password for every online business account. You should also enable MFA for added security whenever possible. Finally, all your computers and mobile devices should have installed and updated virus protection.

The Bottom Line: Avoiding ATO Fraud 

Account takeover fraud is becoming more common, and it could cost your business tens of thousands of dollars. Not only can criminals completely clean out your accounts, they can also steal your customers' passwords and do the same without proper protection.

You can prevent the cascading impact of this crime by carefully securing your company's financial accounts, especially your merchant services account. As a first step, secure all company devices and accounts with strong passwords and train all staff members to do the same.

Fortunately, you don't have to face fraud protection alone. Pay.com will help shield your business and your customers from ATO and other forms of identity theft. We rely on proven tech like tokenization and end-to-end encryption so intercepted data will be useless to would-be criminals. 

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What's the most secure way for my business to accept payments?

Pay.com provides the highest level of PCI compliance for your business. Our commitment to customer safety includes state-of-the-art security measures such as tokenization technology and multi-factor authentication. Click here to get started now!

How common is account takeover fraud?

Account takeover fraud increased by an estimated 90% from 2020 to 2021 alone. Customers and businesses lost about $11.4 billion to ATO attacks in 2021, affecting nearly 5 million Americans. In comparison, other forms of identity fraud collectively impact 15 million people in the U.S. every year.

How can I protect my business from account takeover fraud?

You can protect your small business from ATO fraud by choosing a PCI-compliant payment service provider. Pay.com handles all your transactions with top-tier security so you won't have to worry about whether data will be intercepted to steal from your company and your customers.

How is account takeover detected?

If you notice strange activity on your merchant service account, you may be the victim of an ATO attack. You can monitor all your business transactions in real time on the Pay.com Pay Dashboard so that you can immediately notify our team if anything seems off. Our robust security measures as a Level 1 PCI-compliant provider also aid ATO detection.

Why is credit card authentication important?

Credit card authentication helps protect your customers from fraud by confirming someone's identity when they buy from your business. Pay.com uses multi-factor authentication as an extra layer of protection for certain transactions, like purchases for an unusual amount or from a new geographic location.

Meet the author
Andrea Miller
Andrea Miller has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. Specializing in business and finance, she has written for some of the major websites in the financial sector. Outside of work, she spends most of her time with her family and enjoys hiking, yoga, and reading.
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