Okay so I’m just going to warn you up front that this is where things might get a bit scary. As we start to discuss all of the various ways in which identity theft can occur, you may begin to realize just how vulnerable you might be. Now remember, the intention of this book is certainly not to frighten the living daylights out of you, nor is it to turn you into a paranoid, crazy person who decides that they don’t trust anyone anymore and that they now must cancel all of their credit cards, close out their bank account and hide all their cash under the bed mattress in an attempt to leave a paperless trail in everything that they do. The actual intention of this book is quite simple. Let’s make you aware of how identity theft does occur so that you can walk away with the knowledge of what precautions to take so that it doesn’t ever affect you. And if the worst-case scenario does present itself and you do become a victim, this book will ensure that you are not at a loss as to how to deal with it, what actions you must take to correct the problem, or how stop it before it gets worse. Let’s look now at identity theft methods.
Imagine for a moment it’s that time of month we all detest – time to pay the bills. As you sort through the pile of mail on your desk you first throw out all of that junk mail that you receive from every store you have ever been to who has put you on their mailing list (you know – so that they can make you aware of upcoming sales and promotions etc). Oh yes, and we can’t forget about all the credit card and loan companies that want to let you know they have generously pre-approved you for a new credit card or loan. Let’s face it; those are probably destined for the garbage or recycling bin as well. Once we have finally gotten to the task of actually paying those nasty bills, many of us discard of those statements also. Bills that have account numbers, credit limits, contact information and all other types of personal information, are all very accessible in your garbage can as it sits waiting patiently on the side of the road all ready for the garbage truck to come by in the morning and collect it.
Don’t think for a minute that thieves have too much pride to go digging through your trashcan to find what they’re after, because believe me, they don’t! If they happen to grab your entire bag of trash on the same week that you paid your bills then they just hit the personal information lottery! Think of all the damage they could do with everything you threw away by opening up new credit card accounts with those pre-approved notices you received. All they’d have to do is respond to the notices, tell the credit company that you’ve moved and provide a mailing address that they could access and boom…thousands and thousands of dollars in debt built up in no time at all, debt that you are not likely to become aware of for months.
If they’re bold enough to steal your garbage from the side of the road then you certainly shouldn’t put it past them to steal your mail. Of course it may be a bit easier for them if you have one of those road side mailboxes so that they appear less conspicuous than what they would walking up to your door. Remember though, these guys are smart and have probably been doing this for a long time. Printing off some bogus flyers and posing as someone delivering them so that they can more easily approach your front door and open up your mailing box isn’t exactly rocket science. Your mailbox can provide them with newly issued credit or banking cards, a new batch of checks for your personal or business accounts, investment reports, insurance statements, tax information and bank statements. Need I say more?
How many times per day or week do you use your ATM card to pay for purchases or use a banking machine to deposit or withdraw funds? Thieves have become very skilled and discreet about watching people key in PIN numbers and even from a distance can determine your personal ID number. You may be thinking right now that a thief really can’t do any damage with your PIN if they don’t have your actual card so what’s the big deal? Well then, you obviously aren’t familiar with “skimming” so please, read on…
ATM skimming is a very real and very present threat in the world of identity theft scams. Thieves can create very inexpensive, home-made skimming devices that attach to the ATM card reader, thus allowing them to collect hundreds or thousands of card numbers in a very short period of time. There are two different types of devices that are commonly used: one that interferes with the customer’s ability to actually use the ATM machine successfully, and one that doesn’t. The type of device that interferes with the normal operating ability of the machine is generally a bit easier to recognize.
Thieves will look for an ATM that they can alter the face of and build an attachment for. In some cases, they may use a fabricated metal container of sorts that would fit onto the existing machine and may have a small laptop computer inside that would prompt the customer to use a touch screen instead of the machines actual keypad. It may also offer an alternate card reader next to it. With a small, undetectable camera recording your PIN number as you enter it attached to or near the ATM, the thief would have all the information he needed to access your account once you had finished attempting to process your transaction.
However, because you were actually using a fake card reader and prompting system, the final screen may read something like, “Thank you for using National Bank (or whatever type of banking machine you were using). There has been a malfunction.”
The type of skimmer that would not interfere with your transaction process would most commonly be found on banking machines that require you to swipe your card through an external, raised slot. Not on those where you manually slide your card into the actual machine in which the reader head would be buried inside the unit. This is because the external readers are much more accessible to thieves and the skimmer can be placed directly overtop of the actual reader strip. You as a customer can still make your withdrawal and the thief still gets your number. These types of devices are very difficult, if not impossible for the untrained eye to identify. ATM banking machines are not the only devices at risk when it comes to skimming. A skimmer can be attached to any type of system with an external reader, such as the one you use to pay your bill at the grocery store, gas station, department store or restaurant.
Identity thieves will stop at nothing to take control of your available cash and credit, even if it means setting up a little counterfeit scam from the comforts of their own home by recreating checks in your name on their own computer. Alternately, those industrious types who have been fortunate enough to get their hands on a check that has already been fully written out and signed, may use cleaning solvent to remove the name of whom the check was originally made payable to and will put their own name in it’s place. Other thieves who already have access to certain personal information may choose to open up a checking account in your name, using it to write bad checks and accumulating a load of debt that will appear on your credit report.
Telephone Service Fraud
Identity thieves aren’t only after just your cold hard cash, they’ll scam you in whatever way possible and take you for everything they can. Just as important as safeguarding your ATM or credit cards, remember that your calling card can also be worth a fortune in services. Think of the enormous long distance charges that could accumulate over a month’s time and how shocking that bill will be when you finally receive it! With access to a little bit of your personal information, identity thieves can even establish new cellular telephone service in your name.
How many times every week do you receive phone calls from a charity of some sort, asking you for your financial support? Or perhaps the call is from a marketing firm requesting your assistance in completing a survey. Now this is not to say that everyone calling you claiming to be with a charitable organization or marketing firm is really a scam artist looking to rip you off, but certainly the possibility exists. Any caller asking you for personal information such as credit cards or Social Security Numbers should raise a red flag for you. And, any charity truly requiring your financial help will be more than happy to send you a package of information that will provide you with many options of how you can make your donation. It is not necessary for you to give out credit card information at that time. Additionally, any marketing firm conducting a survey does not actually require your SSN unless of course their goal is to rip you off!
Credit Card Theft
We did talk earlier a little bit about how identity thieves will use your actual credit card or other information to purchase products or services, but they don’t just stop there, let’s look at how they take it one step further. Resourceful thieves will take almost extreme measures by visiting the local post office and in your name, request a change of address for your mail so that they can access all of your bills and account numbers. By the time you realize that you haven’t received your monthly bills they will have already accumulated a substantial amount of debt and charges to your credit cards.
Thieves can also access your credit card number or other personal information when payments or purchases are made through either unsecured or fraudulent web sites.
Before you get too confused let me clarify right now that this is not in any way related to the kind of “fishing” you do out on the lake, in your boat with a pole and bait. However it does use the same theory. This is the kind of phishing where identity thieves plant bait and lure unsuspecting victims into providing confidential and personal information. Phishing scams have been around forever, what has changed about them is simply the route in which the scam is delivered. Before the computer, phishers used the telephone, however in this day and age the vehicle of choice is the internet.
Have you ever received an email with a message similar to any of the following?
“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”
“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”
“eBay requires you to update your account information.”
“PayPal account renewal required”
“Bank of America security alert”
“$20 Reward Survey, Chase Manhattan Bank”
“Please update your bank account”
JC Penny gift card offer confirmation”
“American Red Cross/Hurricane Katrina Relief”
These are all examples of actual phishing scam messages that are either sent via email or by way of pop-up messages. The phisher will often include in the message the name of a well-known, reputable business, organization, government agency or financial institution that you perhaps deal with. The goal is in attempting to give the message an air of legitimacy.
Some of them may even go, as far in threatening you with severe consequences as a result if you do not respond. Messages will ask you to update, validate or confirm particular personal or account information and will direct you to a website in order to complete the process. When you click on the link for the website it may very well look fully legitimate, however it is not.
It may appear to look like the link for eBay, PayPal, The Bank of America, or whatever source the email claims to be coming from. Remember, these guys are good and this is not just a hobby for them, this is a profession. Their aim is to deceive you and they will do whatever they have to do in order for you to believe the legitimacy of their scheme.