IDENTITY THEFT & HOW TO SURVIVE IT
Identity Thieves Employ High-Tech Tactics
THANKS TO TECHNOLOGY advances, identity thieves no longer need to dumpster-dive in search of your private information. Now, sensitive data can easily land in their hands while you're shopping, browsing the Internet or simply visiting your dentist.
Here are five of the latest high-tech forms of identity theft, according to Truecredit, a unit of credit-reporting bureau TransUnion, along with ways consumers can protect themselves.
1. Pharming. You've probably heard of "phishing," a form of identity theft where fake emails are sent out, asking you to urgently update your bank account or credit-card information, which is then sent to identity thieves. Now phishing has evolved into "pharming," where thieves create fake Web sites similar to the Web sites of banks or credit-card companies. When consumers who don't know the difference try to log in, their account information is sent along to the thieves.
These Web sites get traffic through phishing, explains Nicole Lowe, credit education specialist at Truecredit.com, or with the help of computer viruses that automatically redirect traffic from specific Web addresses, such as those for banks, credit-card companies or shopping Web sites. To avoid pharming, look out for anything strange or new in the site's Web address, or URL, Lowe recommends. You can also browse the Web site in depth. The crooks likely haven't recreated all its layers.
2. Gas stations. Every time you swipe your credit or debit card at the gas pump, your information is sent via satellite to your bank for verification. According to Truecredit, identity thieves have now invented a way to hijack that information by modifying the program that carries out the data transfer so that your credit-card number is sent to them at the same time it's sent to your bank. While there isn't a way to detect when your data are being stolen, Lowe recommends using only credit cards at the pump as a precaution. With debit or check cards, it takes a while for fraudulent purchases to be credited back into your checking account, while credit-card companies will remove any disputed charges from your account immediately.
3. International skimming. According to Truecredit, skimming occurs when your credit card is run through a small reader, similar to those used in grocery stores, which captures your card information for future use by identity thieves. This form of fraud is common in the service industry here in the U.S., and anywhere abroad. Be on the lookout when paying with a credit card in a restaurant that you're not familiar with, Lowe recommends. If you don't feel comfortable letting your card out of sight, use cash or walk over to the cash register to pay your bill. When traveling abroad, use only one credit card so it's easier to detect any fraudulent charges.
4. Keystroke catchers. These small devices are attached to the cable that connects your keyboard to your computer and can be bought online for a little over $100. The "catcher" resembles a standard connector, but contains a memory chip that records everything you type. It's typically used in public places where computers are available, such as libraries, Internet cafes and college computer labs. To protect yourself when using a public computer, never shop online, check your bank account, pay bills or enter your credit-card information.
5. Database theft. Chances are, your personal information is part of numerous databases, including those at your dentist and doctor's offices, your college or university admissions office, your mortgage and insurance companies, even your local Blockbuster. While there's little you can do about the way those companies safeguard your information, you can try limiting their access to sensitive data, such as your Social Security number, says Lowe. Your cable company and DVD rental store, for example, have no need to know your Social Security number and should agree to an alternative, such as the last few digits of your driver's license number.
14 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft
By Frank W. Abagnale
Identity theft again tops the Federal Trade Commission's list of consumer complaints. Frank W. Abagnale, a reformed thief, is now a respected authority on identity theft and other forms of fraud. His book, Catch Me If You Can, which details his criminal escapades, was made into a feature film by Steven Spielberg and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale. Frank Abagnale wrote this commentary for Bankrate.com.
Identity thieves rob more than 500,000 Americans every year. Credit can be damaged, and fixing it can cost you hundreds of dollars and take hundreds of hours of your time. These steps will help you reduce your risk of identity theft.
1. Guard your Social Security number. It is the key to your credit report and banking accounts and is the prime target of criminals.
2. Monitor your credit report. It contains your SSN, present and prior employers, a listing of all account numbers, including those that have been closed, and your overall credit score. After applying for a loan, credit card, rental or anything else that requires a credit report, request that your SSN on the application be truncated or completely obliterated and your original credit report be shredded before your eyes or returned to you once a decision has been made. A lender or rental manager needs to retain only your name and credit score to justify a decision.
3. Shred all old bank and credit statements and "junk mail" credit card offers before trashing them. Use a crosscut shredder. Crosscut shredders cost more than regular shredders but are superior.
4. Remove your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus to reduce the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.
5. Add your name to the name-deletion lists of the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service used by banks and other marketers.
6. Do not carry extra credit cards or other important identity documents except when needed.
7. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Copy both sides of your license and credit cards so you have all the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers if your wallet or purse is stolen.
8. Do not mail bill payments and checks from home. They can be stolen from your mailbox and washed clean in chemicals. Take them to the post office.
9. Do not print your Social Security number on your checks.
10. Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once a year to check for fraud.
11. Examine the charges on your credit card statements before paying them.
12. Cancel unused credit card accounts.
13. Never give your credit card number or personal information over the phone unless you have initiated the call and trust that business.
14. Subscribe to a credit report monitoring service that will notify you whenever someone applies for credit in your name.
Frank W. Abagnale is one of the world's most respected authorities on the subjects of forgery, embezzlement and secure documents. For more than 25 years he has lectured to and consulted with hundreds of financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world.
Mr. Abagnale has been associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation for more than 25 years. He lectures extensively at the FBI Academy and for the FBI's field offices. More than 14,000 financial institutions, corporations and law enforcement agencies use his fraud-prevention programs. In 1998, he was selected as a distinguished member of "Pinnacle 400" by CNN Financial News.
Mr. Abagnale was the subject of the 2002 Dreamworks / Steven Spielberg movie "Catch Me If You Can" Starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Tom Hanks
Mr. Abagnale believes that punishment for fraud and recovery of stolen funds is so rare, prevention is the only viable course of action.
What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or if you know you are, what should you do? Here is a step-by-step guide to clearing your good name:
- Contact one of the three credit-reporting agencies. That agency will notify the others. A "fraud alert" will be automatically placed on each of your credit reports within 24 hours. This alerts creditors to call you for permission before any new accounts are opened in your name. Not all creditors pay attention to "fraud alerts." You need to stay vigilant for any new accounts that may be opened.
- Once the credit-reporting agencies are notified, you'll automatically receive a free credit report from each of the three agencies, and you will be opted out of preapproved credit card and insurance offers. After you receive your reports, make note of the unique number assigned to your account. This will be valuable in all your communications with the agencies. Write a victim statement explaining what happened to you and ask for it to be added to your file at each credit-reporting agency.
- Contact creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge. Be sure to put your complaints in writing. Ask each creditor to provide you and your investigating law enforcement agency with copies of the documents showing fraudulent transactions. You may have to fight to get this documentation, but don't give up. You'll need these to help track down the perpetrator.
- Contact the FTC: (877) 438-4338. While federal investigators only tend to pursue larger, more sophisticated fraud cases, they do monitor identity theft crimes of all levels in the hopes of discovering patterns and breaking up larger rings. More importantly, fill out the ID Theft Affadavit at the FTC's Web site, make copies and send to creditors. The agency also has an online complaint form.
- Alert the police in your city. You may also need to report the crime to the police departments where the crime occurred. Make sure the police report lists all fraud accounts. Give as much documented information as possible. Get a copy of the report and send it to the creditors and the credit-reporting agencies as proof of the crime. Keep the phone number of your police investigator handy.
- Change all your account passwords. If an account does not have a password, add one. Avoid using your mother's maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number as a personal identification number.
- Notify the Office of the Inspector General if your SSN has been fraudulently used. Ask for a copy of your Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement and check for accuracy.
- You may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as an ID. Go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get a new number. Contact your telephone and utility companies to prevent a con artist from using a utility bill as proof of residence when applying for new cards.
Colorado Attorney General's Identity Theft Resources Website