Understanding Account Takeover Detection Fraud

Account takeover attacks are on the rise and as fraudsters continue to use more sophisticated techniques, account takeover detection is becoming an increasingly important topic.

Account Takeover Detection Explained

Account takeover, popularly abbreviated as ATO, is a rising digital menace that's giving sleepless nights to businesses and individuals alike. This form of identity theft involves cybercriminals seizing control of your online accounts through a variety of illicit methods, primarily the use of stolen login credentials.

Account Takeover Fraud Detection

Throughout this comprehensive guide, we dive deep into the world of account takeover, elucidating the mechanics of ATO attacks, the techniques used, its impact across various industries, and the cutting-edge account takeover fraud detection solutions available to combat this ever-evolving threat. Let's start by unraveling the concept of account takeover.

Account Takeover Detection Overview

In the simplest terms, an account takeover refers to a situation where a cybercriminal gains unauthorized access to a user's digital account. This could be anything — a bank account, an e-commerce account, or even a social media profile. The attacker then exploits this access for their personal gain, which could range from stealing funds and sensitive information to impersonating the account owner or even furthering their illicit activities using the compromised account.

Account Takeover Fraud Detection Illustration

An account takeover is not merely a one-off event but a series of calculated steps that often begin with the procurement of the victim's login credentials. These credentials are usually harvested through methods such as phishing, malware attacks, data breaches, or bought from the dark web. The fraudsters then use automated bots to test these credentials across various websites, hoping that the victim has reused the same username-password combination.

Once the fraudster successfully logs in, they quickly make non-monetary changes, such as modifying personal identifiable information (PII) or changing the password, to ensure they remain unnoticed. This is only the beginning of a multi-pronged attack that could lead to fraudulent transactions, unauthorized shopping, identity theft, and more.

While ATO attacks were primarily associated with financial institutions in the past, today, they can impact any organization with a user-facing login. This includes industries like e-commerce, travel, social media, and even government benefits. However, the primary motivation behind ATO attacks is often financial, making it a particularly severe threat for businesses.

Recognizing the Techniques of Account Takeover

Understanding the various techniques used in an account takeover is key to developing effective prevention strategies. Here are some of the most common methods employed by cybercriminals:

  • Phishing — Perhaps the oldest trick in the book, phishing continues to be a prevalent method for stealing login credentials. Fraudsters impersonate trusted brands or individuals, tricking users into revealing their credentials. The most common form of phishing is via email, but fraudsters also leverage text messages (SMS) and social media messaging services. IPQS URL phishing detection is one way to mitigate this cyber threat.
  • Credential Stuffing — In this method, fraudsters leverage bots to test stolen credentials across various websites automatically. This technique exploits users' tendency to reuse the same usernames and passwords, leading to successful account takeovers.
  • SIM Card Swapping — Also known as a SIM card swap scam, this method involves fraudsters using social engineering techniques to transfer the victim's mobile phone number to a new SIM card. This allows them to receive one-time passwords (OTPs) and gain unauthorized access to the victim's accounts.
  • Malware — Malicious software, or malware, is another popular method used by fraudsters. They trick users into downloading harmful software on their devices, which then collects sensitive data, including login credentials.
  • Mobile Banking Trojans — These are a type of malware that specifically targets mobile banking users. They overlay a fake screen on a legitimate banking app, capturing the user's authentication credentials.
  • Man-in-the-Middle Attacks — In these attacks, fraudsters intercept the communication between the user's device and the bank's server, enabling them to capture sensitive information, including login credentials.

While these methods are commonly used, it's worth noting that fraudsters are continually evolving their techniques, making account takeover a continually evolving threat.

Account Takeover Fraud Detection

Account Takeover Detection: Spotting the Signs

Detecting account takeover fraud can be challenging, primarily because it often mimics normal user behavior. However, continuous monitoring can provide clues to potential ATO attacks. Here are some signs that may indicate an account takeover:

  • Multiple unsuccessful login attempts.
  • Sudden changes in account information, such as email addresses, passwords, or phone numbers.
  • Unusual account activity, such as a high volume of transactions or purchases.
  • Logins from unusual locations or multiple locations within a short time span.

The Role of IPQualityScore in Account Takeover Detection

The fight against account takeover attacks requires advanced fraud detection tools. This is where the suite of fraud detection tools offered by IPQualityScore comes into play. These tools can prevent account takeover attacks and provide real-time ATO detection, including for preventing credential stuffing.

With IPQualityScore, businesses can leverage a wealth of data sources and machine learning algorithms to identify suspicious account activity and flag potential ATO attempts. This allows them to differentiate between legitimate customers and fraudsters, reducing the risk of account takeover and minimizing the impact on customer relationships.

Multifactor Authentication: A Key Defense Against ATO

One of the most effective ways to prevent account takeover is by implementing multifactor authentication (MFA). MFA adds an additional layer of security to the login process by requiring users to provide at least two forms of identification — something they know (like a password), something they have (like a physical token), and something they are (like a fingerprint).

While MFA can significantly reduce the risk of account takeover, it's essential to balance security with user convenience. Implementing MFA for every login can lead to user friction and potentially drive customers away. Therefore, businesses should consider an adaptive authentication approach, where MFA is only triggered based on perceived risk.

Putting a Stop to Account Takeover: Advanced Solutions

While traditional methods like MFA play a crucial role in preventing account takeover, businesses must also leverage advanced solutions to stay ahead of evolving threats. Here are a few techniques to detect account takeover fraud:

AI-Based Account Takeover Detection

AI-based account takeover detection solutions can identify sophisticated ATO attempts and bot attacks. These solutions can monitor a site for suspicious behavior, identifying patterns that could indicate a potential account takeover. These patterns could include detecting VPNs, identifying non-human requests, or understanding metrics like velocity. Analyzing device behavior through login or registration, can provide critical signals necessary for website bot detection techniques.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A web application firewall (WAF) can protect web applications by filtering and monitoring HTTP traffic. WAFs can identify and block malicious traffic, making them an effective tool for mitigating ATO attacks.

Device Fingerprinting

Device fingerprinting involves creating a unique identifier for a user's device based on its characteristics. This can help identify suspicious connections and prevent unauthorized access to user accounts. Device fingerprinting fraud detection can also identify risky virtual devices which cybercriminals use to mask themselves as legitimate users.

Account Tracking System

An account tracking system can help businesses isolate and monitor suspicious accounts, allowing them to take swift action in case of an ATO attempt. As part of this solution, it is important to analyze IP addresses for logins and account creation using proxy detection software, which can help produce IP fraud scores.


The threat of account takeover is real and ever-evolving. However, with a comprehensive understanding of ATO, its techniques, and the advanced solutions available to combat it, businesses can effectively safeguard their users' accounts and maintain their trust. It's a continual battle, but with the right tools and strategies, it's one that businesses can certainly win.

API Lookup Access

Easy API Lookups

Threat & Abuse Network

Largest Threat & Abuse Network

Fraud Prevention Detection

Industry Leading Fraud Prevention

Ready to eliminate fraud?

Start fighting fraud in minutes!

Questions? Call us at (800) 713-2618

Schedule a Demo Sign Up »

Get Started with 5,000 Free Lookups Per Month!