We live in a world where some people are what you would call less than honest.
As a result, we have a widespread problem called identity theft.
Identity theft is defined as “a fraud committed or attempted using the identifying information of another person without authority.”
Identity theft is now the fastest growing business in the world. It has reached epidemic proportions and the problem is in the billions of dollars. And because human nature being what it is, there are many among us who would rather:
- not have a legitimate means of income
- not make a meaningful contribution to society
- take what they are not entitled to
The temptation is too great for those with this mindset.
You may have heard of the latest caper to hit the news when U.S. Target stores suffered a data breach involving about forty million debit and credit cards between November 27 and December 15, 2013.
Detecting who is behind this may be next to impossible. Small comfort to those whose lives were thrown into chaos because of it.
You may remember the name Frank Abagnale. He was the subject of Catch Me If You Can. The former impostor, embezzler and forger went on to become a security expert who now works closely with the FBI and corporations around the world as an expert on counterfeiting and secure documents.
In his book, Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan, he outlines that as an exercise, he asked an FBI agent to tell him his home address and nothing else, not even his name. The next morning, he returned to the classroom with 22 pieces of publicly accessible, supposedly secure “private information” including the agent’s:
- birth date
- current bank and account numbers
- mother’s maiden name
- Social Security number
- spouse’s name and same information
Who is at risk of identity theft? Glad you asked. Frank tells us the answer. Anyone who has any of the following:
- bank account
- car loan
- credit card
- drivers license
- health insurance
- phone service
- Social Security number
Anyone who is alive, or dead, for that matter. And, yes, anyone who goes online!
Frank Abagnale also makes some sobering observations:
1. Criminals look at identity theft and say only 1 in 700 criminals gets convicted of it. And they look at check forgery and they know that for every 1,400 forgers arrested, only about 123 get convicted and about 26 go to jail. So the rewards are great, but the risks are very slim. So that’s one of the reasons that make it very popular.
2. The police can’t protect consumers. People need to be more aware and educated about identity theft. You need to be a little bit wiser, a little bit smarter and there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. We live in a time when if you make it easy for someone to steal from you, someone will.
Identity Theft In Public Places
Identity theft can occur just about anywhere… at your local
- bicycle shop
- gas station
- pizza shop
Stories of Identity Theft
I’ve had my card skimmed a few times. The first time, my wife and I returned home from Mexico and went to supper. Upon leaving, I went to pay for the meal, but my credit card was declined.
I paid by debit, which was accepted. I went home and called the security department at my bank. They asked me if I had just purchased $3700 worth of medical equipment or purchased $900 worth of fuel in Mexico. That’s pretty hard to do when you’re a few thousand miles away.
They stopped the card and issued a new one. The only time my credit card was used in Mexico was at the resort my wife and I stayed at. We gave the card to the salesman and he disappeared with it while we looked over the information on our purchase of private membership at the resort. Lesson learned.
You might understand why I was leery at having to allow the resort to photocopy our passports (according to their new policy since our previous visit.)
The second time, I had my debit card skimmed at a local bicycle shop where we purchased mountain bikes. I had to verify what purchases were mine over a given period and which ones were not. The bank issued new cards.
While I had a week off recently, I had another issue to deal with: identity theft.
In touch with the police, I took some measures you can also benefit from:
1. Contact your credit reporting agencies. Ask for a free credit report.
2. Have your credit report flagged with a potential warning. For a nominal fee, they will protect your social security number as well.
This way you can detect any abnormal activity to report to police, as well as be called personally if any accounts are opened in your name.
When it comes to making purchases at establishments such as this, BE OBSERVANT. You may just find out that a card skimmer has been installed. Those involved in organized crime rings either collude with an employee for a kickback or they get a part-time job in one of these shops to install a card skimmer. These devices are easily installed and removed.
Watch for your card being skimmed twice. Some will pretend your transaction didn’t go through then skim your card in the illegal device, and innocuously say, “Ok, I’ve got it now.” If an employee says, “I’ll be right back with your bill” and you allow them to disappear with your credit card, you have no way of knowing what’s happening to your card.
Offer to make payment only with your card in sight at all times. Many restaurants will bring the terminal right to your table. Literally, it is in your hands to prevent identity theft.
There is a growing trend for Seniors to become victims because they were raised to be more trusting. Here’s another story of identity theft, and what you can do if this happens to you.
For more video information, click here.
Identity Theft Online
1. If you’re making any sort of purchase online, make sure that the URL has HTTPS as a prefix. This ports your transaction through a CGI (common gateway interface) to a workhorse computer often using 128 bit SSL (secure socket layer) encryption as protection.
The letter S means SECURE. This is especially important to notice if you do online banking.
Many sites mask as the real one and secretly re-direct you, often prompting you to answer personal security questions that the bank uses to protect you. They also ask you to re-enter your card numbers and password. This should be a red flag. If you are in doubt at all if any of your accounts are at risk, call the security department at your local bank.
NOTE: Banks NEVER ask you for information they already know about you.
2. Invest in reliable malware detection software that will scan every object in your entire system for infection. A full system scan can take you hours, but be patient.
There are many types of malicious software that you can accidentally acquire, many times without your knowledge. For example, keyloggers can detect and record your every keystroke, both online and offline. Some malware uses screen captures, some activate your camera and microphone without you knowing they are being used.
If you’re the least bit curious how this happens, you can get an idea here.
Some of it used for data mining to determine your preferences so you can be targeted for advertisements. Some of it is to steal enough personal information to take on your identity, obtaining a birth certificate, driver’s license, credit cards, social security card, etc. The prospects are terrifying to many people.
Here’s another example you may not have thought about. If you opt to restore your computer to an earlier set point, you run the risk of reintroducing malware back on to your computer that you thought you got rid of.
3. Shoulder Surfing. This also applies to being in public. With today’s technology, anyone could snap a photo of your card, even from a distance, then get close enough to watch you enter your PIN number and that’s all it takes. Keep your cards covered until you go to use them. Place your opposite hand over the numbers as you type them in.
If you are at a public library entering in your user name and password, and don’t notice, anyone can be over your shoulder recording your information. From there they can hijack your Email, find out private information about you, including your conversations with people. Add to this the same problem in line at a bank. The magnetic strip contains enough information about you for you to fall victim to identity theft.
4. Portable Skimming Devices
There are wireless devices, similar to a skimmer used in retail places, that electronically target cards in purses and wallets. These electronic pickpockets sell for as little as $8 on E-bay according to RFID Denied.
The RFID chips in cards now actually make it easier for a hacker to electronically scoop your data because the data is being decrypted in public, not in a secure data facility. The security industry has focused on what “feels secure” to the user. They have done little to actually secure the card.
The easiest way to protect yourself against these devices is to purchase protective card carriers that have tin foil in them. You can also create a tin foil wallet for all your credit cards. Click here to learn how.
Identity Theft At ATM machines
Personally I only use a bank ATM. Many criminals place ATMs in convenient places that are put in place only to commit identity theft on a grand scale.
Sometimes they install skimmers and the machine works and dispenses cash. Other times it steals only your information and spits the card out, leaving you wondering why you couldn’t get money.
If you are at a bank, BEFORE INSERTING YOUR CARD, do 2 things:
1. Where you notice a camera over the keypad, take the palm of your hand and push gently on the glass. If there is an extra overhead camera hidden there, it will come loose.
2. Scrape the keypad lightly with your fingernails before putting your card in the device. Criminals also hide a sensor pad made of an extremely thin layer of gel. If a skimming device is there, expect some of that gel to end up in your fingernails.
These actions do not hurt the ATM machine at all.
When removing your card to insert it into the machine, take a quick look around you to see if anyone is shoulder surfing. When you insert the card, cover the keys with your opposite hand slightly above the keypad so no camera is able to record your information.
Identity Theft by Social Engineering
Phishing is fraudulent activity that gathers the financial information of an online account holder by pretending to be a legitimate company.
Pharming is the fraudulent practice of directing Internet users to a bogus website that appears legitimate, in order to obtain personal information such as account numbers, answers to security questions, or passwords.
There are many identity theft scams perpetrated via social engineering, including phoney Emails and fake bank ads. Undoubtedly, you seen suspicious Emails offering you vast sums of money attached to a sob story and lucky you… you’re the only person on the planet who is entitled to this.
NEVER give out any personal information over the telephone, such as your date of birth, your social security or credit card information. Also never tell them when you will be home or away. Why?
1. BECAUSE you do not know for a fact that the person is who they say they are.
2. Your financial institution already has this information and will never ask it of you.
3. Letting them know your schedule means they can plan when to break in.
Remember: The safest way to handle calls like these is to ask for their name and number.
Ask to call them back when it is convenient to you. Keep in mind many phone numbers provided are only to other criminals who “verify” the call. Instead, find the associated legitimate number and make any inquiries you need to validate their claims.
Other scams involve attending in person and pretending to represent a company, tell you they need to investigate a problem in your home. If there are two or more, one may try to distract you while another snoops.
- Refuse them entry.
- Ask for their names, and an employee number, or to see an identification card. Any reputable person will provide you this.
- Call the service involved if they’re open.
- If you’re in doubt, call the police and ask them to investigate.
Criminals don’t like a lot of questions. They would rather get easy answers from you.
Remember: The only way to prevent identity theft is to remove the opportunity.
The more difficult the target, the more likely they are to look for less resistance.
Other Identity Theft Scams
Dumpster Diving. If you see persons loitering in and around dumpsters, especially at business locations, it could be criminals gathering reams of trash. What they are looking for is unshredded paper or paper so poorly shredded that they can piece it together to be able to determine names and credit card numbers, or other financial data that could bring your company to its knees. They also look for passwords that have been written down, personnel information, any information that can be used to pretend being another person.
Many businesses now use the services of shredding companies, but your information can still be copied before its shredded. If you have a home shredding device, ask yourself this:
“Am I able to easily reconstruct the shredded paper?”
Ways To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
1. Protect your information when in public.
A) Be aware of your surroundings. Watch out for people who may be shoulder surfing. This is particularly important when entering passwords, and at ATM machines.
B) Look around to see if anyone may be listening to your conversation. They may overhear information you may not think is important but could use.
C) Keep your credit card close at hand when shopping or dining out.
D) Carry only what you need.
E) Avoid sketchy ATMs.
F) Guard your mail from theft.
2. Don’t give out your private information to anyone, especially your Social Security number.
A) Be suspicious of phone calls, mail or internet requests asking for your information.
B) Remember: Banks never ask for for something they already know.
C) Opt out of marketing lists.
3. Be careful with financial instruments.
A) Scrutinize your financial statements. Obtain your credit report
B) Know your billing cycles.
C) Cancel credit cards you rarely use.
D) Use safe checks. They should contain safety features such as a watermark or hologram. They contain a lot of information about you. Use them sparingly.
4. Protect your computer. If you think your router will stop a hacker, think again. Even corporations and government agencies(including police) with layers of security have been hacked.
A) Keep your antivirus and malware scanner up-to-date to detect security risks.
B) Be careful online. Ensure commercial and financial sites have the HTTPS prefix.
5. Protect yourself.
A) Place fraud alerts on your credit reports.
B) Invest in a quality shredder.
C) Keep important documents in a secure place.
D) Keep current with the latest phishing and pharming techniques. Forewarned is forearmed.
Over To YOU… Have Your Say…
Have you ever had your card skimmed?
Have you had your credit rating messed with by criminals?
Have you been the victim of identity theft?
Please share your experiences here.
Please share this information with everyone you know. You could save them from a massive digital headache and a real live nightmare.
Thank you kindly!