Fidelity Money Transfer Lockdown: Block Fraudulent ACAT Transfer Brokerage Scams

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For the average person, the most valuable information may be knowing how to identify and avoid the most current financial scams. Nearly everyone I know has either been targeted or has become a victim of one of these scams, and I am betting many people who lost money are too embarrassed to admit it publicly. (Literally in the middle of writing this post, I received another scam call.)

One scam that you may not have heard of is the ACAT Transfer scam. A thief will obtain enough of your personal information to open a new E*Trade brokerage account, and then they will request an ACAT transfer of the entire contents of your existing brokerage account (ex. Fidelity) to that new fake E*Trade account which they control. At this point, they can quickly liquidate the account and send the money elsewhere. The key here is that they just need to be able to open an empty, new brokerage account in your name plus find your Fidelity account numbers from a statement. They don’t need your Fidelity username and password (or pass two-factor authentication).

Even more importantly, you won’t notice unless you log into your account. Opening a new E*Trade or other brokerage account will not trigger a credit alert or most identity protection services. Many brokers (see below) will process an outgoing ACAT transfer without confirming with you or even notifying you in any way. If you don’t look at your statements closely, it may be months or longer before you notice.

You can read about the experiences of multiple victims in this Reddit thread. Here’s a partial quote in case the thread is deleted.

Lost around 150k worth of stock from my fidelity brokerage account to an online scam (ACATS Transfer)

My husband has a fidelity brokerage account and last month all his shares were transferred out of his account. Upon calling the customer care, we were told that his stocks were transferred by him to an account with eTrade.

We communicated that we don’t have any e-trade account and the transfer was not initiated by us. We were shocked that no notification/intimation was sent to us before completing the transfer and no authorization was required!!

It looks like a fake account was created in his name with eTrade which initiated an account transfer. He did not receive any request/emails/text from Fidelity that the stocks are being moved. The etrade account has been frozen but the stocks are already sold and proceeds are transferred to another account.

The good news is that the original poster was eventually able to get back their funds, although it must have been a very stressful two months. It is not clear if Fidelity reimbursed them out of their own pockets or were able to reverse the transactions.

We were able to recover the stocks after waiting and following up for 2 months. Fidelity reps were able able to help us.

The discussion pointed out the potential usefulness of a relatively unique Fidelity feature called Money Transfer Lockdown (Fidelity login required). Here is a summary of the features and how to activate it per Fidelity:

Money Transfer Lockdown, an additional security measure Fidelity provides to its customers, may affect or disallow certain types of transactions. In order to transfer between two of your Fidelity accounts (In your example brokerage and CMA) when Money Transfer Lockdown is enabled, you will need to temporarily disable the feature prior to making the transaction. Once you have successfully made the transfer, you can enable the lockdown again by logging in into your account anytime and visit “Security Center” from your “Profile” page.

Protected Transactions:

  • Outbound money transfers
  • Transfers between Fidelity accounts
  • Transfer of shares and assets to other institutions
  • Individual withdrawals (previously scheduled EFT transfers from an account might still be processed)

Unaffected Transactions:

  • Deposits or transfers into a Fidelity account
  • Checkwriting and direct debits
  • Debit/ATM transactions
  • Trading
  • Scheduled Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) or Personal Automatic Withdrawal plan
  • BillPay

A member of the Bogleheads forum helpfully tested out this service by attempting various transfers out of their “locked” Fidelity account. The Money Transfer Lockdown service did successfully block a legitimate ACAT transfer request from another brokerage. However, ACH pulls went through for those accounts that have routing and account numbers like a traditional bank account. Here are their brief conclusions:

Fidelity’s account lockdown blocks fraudulent ACATS pulls. It is an excellent, differential feature that Schwab and Vanguard don’t have. However, it has some limitations and vulnerabilities. It provides no extra security against fraudulent push of assets and doesn’t block fraudulent ACH pulls. To deal with ACH limitations, using CMA as an intermediary account from brokerage to the external world may be prudent.

As a result, I have taken to using the Money Transfer Lockdown service on all available account types (doesn’t work on 401k accounts, for example). It’s a little extra hassle, but definitely worth the added peace of mind. I hope that Vanguard and other brokers will add a similar feature to make it harder to perform an ACAT transfer without notice. I also believe that Fidelity would do a much better job of working to restore my assets than any other broker, especially the smaller brokers.

Now, if someone gains full access to your Fidelity account (username + password + 2FA), they can simply turn off the Lockdown feature. However, every time I do that I get both a text and an e-mail, so hopefully that will provide early enough notice to block any fraudulent transfers, or at least make the clawback faster. In addition, I feel that most people need to make sure they have a difficult PIN number on their phone, as login security is quickly coming down to having your phone as a type of physical “key”.

The quiet nature of ACAT transfer is what makes this scam possible! They are taking advantage of standard industry practice that is a weak point in financial security. The scammers all know this. We need to change this process to increase security. First, I’ve never had a brokerage account opening trigger any credit alert or identity theft monitoring service. Second, I recently transferred a significant amount of assets to Fidelity from Public using ACAT, and Public did not send me a single email, text, or phone call. My Public account was simply zero one day. I did legitimately request this transfer, but what if I didn’t?!?

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  1. Do you know if schwab has a feature like this?

  2. Another fear unlocked :O

  3. I have this feature enabled and so far it has been trouble free

  4. Would E*Trade and/or Fidelity have any liability for this fraud? My gut says at least E*Trade should be held responsible for KYC failure.

  5. Brent P says

    Yeah, how, in 2024, is it possible that such a process exists? why don’t they simply require some sort of authentication here?

  6. Joejaynap says

    KYC? To use that in a lawsuit against E-Trade you would have to prove that they didn’t follow standard procedures. But where is that evidence? If you open an account with them, it looks like they practice the same procedures same as all the other brokerages.

  7. I just want to say THANK YOU!!

  8. I don’t know if E*Trade is worse in their KYC practices than other brokerages, but my hunch is that the scammers are good at finding the weak points. I’ve had some brokers make me take a live picture of my face and then match it to the driver’s license photo. Ironically, I think those have been the tiny crypto brokers instead of the huge mainstream stock brokers.

  9. My understanding is that enabling the security lockdown can interfere with self-overdraft settings. For example, I have a CMA with a %0 balance that just overdrafts from a brokerage account that my paycheck is deposited into, mostly to get a better rate on the sweep. I use the CMA for check writing and ATM withdrawals. By enabling the lockdown on the brokerage account, I don’t think the CMA overdraft would work any longer.

    • I did read it blocks overdraft. What I plan on doing is just having a money market fund within the CMA. This type fraud has me nervous and I think it worth it for the security even if you have to do manual money market buys. Alternatively, though not as safe, but can just open a separate brokerage account for stocks and money market and only freeze the stock one. I had FZDXX is my brokerage and don’t have enough cash to open the position again, so will see if I can just move the position to my CMA using their form for transfers between Fidelity accounts.

  10. Nerissa says

    Does already having an account at the brokers help? Seems like it would send off a red flag if you have an account at vanguard and a scammer tried to open a second one for example.

  11. Phillip says

    Now I don’t feel as bad checking my brokerage balance every few days.

  12. Hey Jonathan,
    Thanks so much for this information. I was aware of the Fidelity Lockdown feature and have used it in the past, but recently became lax in not turning it back on after recently transferring some cash out of my account. Thanks for the slap in the head to be more diligent in my security practices.

  13. Jason Boxman says

    fyi I checked with Merrill; They don’t have a lock, but they do have a verification process.

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