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Prevent Identity Theft

 

Identity thieves work in various ways.  Below you will see just some of the examples of how they work and ways to prevent them from taking advantage of you.
Listed below are some tips on how ways that thieves make you a victim and ways to avoid becoming a victim.

 

WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT

Identity Theft is a crime that incorporates my different types of crimes such as, but not limited to: credit/debit card abuse, fraud/forgery, fraudulent use of identifying information, etc.
This is a situation where someone uses your personal information/identifiers to obtain credit/property, purchase items from stores or online websites, or to attempt to avoid apprehension/prosecution when they give your information as their own to law enforcement and/or other agencies, etcetera. 

 

BASIC SECURITY MEASURES

Do not pay your bills online using a bank debit card.  Pay your bills using a credit card and you can later pay the credit card bill with your bank account.  It is always better if you can pay your bills by mailing a payment or paying the bill at the creditor’s office in person.  Some hackers, from as far away as Japan, do have the ability to intercept these payments and your information, and subsequently have emptied citizen’s bank accounts.

Do not give out your personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call.  This includes your social security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, credit card number or PIN Numbers, etc.  Only release this information when necessary.

Order your credit report once per year and check for fraudulent activity.  You can receive your credit report for free.

Memorize your Social Security Number, passwords, and PINs (personal identification numbers used with credit/debit cards and some online sources).  Never write these items down where they can be found by a thief.

Sign all credit/debit cards upon receipt.  This prevents someone from stealing it, signing it, and then using it as their own.

Notify your credit and financial institutions of your change of address and phone number.

Never loan your credit/debit cards to anyone.

If you applied for a new credit card and have not received it in a timely manner, call the bank or creditor immediately.

Report all lost or stolen credit cards and file a report with your local law enforcement.

Closely monitor your credit card expiration dates and contact your bank/creditor if you don’t receive a new card before the card expires.

 

MAIL FRAUD

Watch your mail.  If you get a USPS change of mailing address notification, this may be a sign that an identity thief has put a change of mailing address card in to USPS so that your mail is routed to their address.  They will then use your bank and/or creditor billing statements to obtain your information.

Beware of junk mail.  There are some individuals that send fraudulent mail to entice you to call for “trip you won” or other means.  Once you call them, you have to give them a bunch of information and often have to commit to purchase something.  This means provided them with all the information they need to begin taking advantage of you.

Beware of mail that arrives offering you money to cash checks and/or assist in making financial investments (see Frauds and Scams page on this site).

If you believe your mail was tampered with or stolen, contact the Postal Inspector at http://www.usps.gov and file a report.

 

PHONES and PAGERS FRAUD

Phone and pager scams have occurred all over the world in the last decade.  Below are a couple of tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of these scams.

Pagers:  One of the biggest pager scams that came out in the 90’s was a scam where you would get a “toll free number” (sometimes accompanied by a message) sent to your pager.  When you would call the number, the number was not actually a toll free number.  The number would ring outside the county often in the Caribbean and was a charged call.  You would call the number and later on your phone bill see phone charges for $10-$100 dollars and often more.  People would file a dispute with their phone company, but because they made the call and it went outside the U.S. jurisdiction, the phone company would not credit their account, as the phone company had no way to recover the losses.  The victim then had a lengthy battle to resolve the issue and often times did not get the issue resolved.

Phones:  Be cautious of phone solicitations where the caller is discussion promotions with instant prizes.  Do not disclose your personal and financial information to such individuals. 

Do not disclose your personal and financial information to anyone over the phone unless they are a reputable business that you regularly have dealings with.

 

MONEY, CREDIT/DEBIT CARDS, and CHECKBOOKS

Keep track of your personal financial records and your receipts.  Never discard these items in public trash receptacles. 

Use a reliable shredder to shred those financial documents you no longer need, this includes receipts.  Do not just throw them in the garbage, as identity thieves will retrieve your garbage making you a victim.

Limit the number of credit/debit cards you carry on your person in case someone snatches your purse or wallet.  If you don’t use some of the credit cards you have, call the creditor and cancel the cards.

When using a credit/debit card at a checkout in a store/restaurant, ensure you personally swipe your credit card through a valid credit/debit card reader.  If the business swipes it, ensure you are standing there with them and watch to ensure they don’t make a second or third swipe as this is becoming a regular occurrence when an employee wants a “bigger tip”.  There are false credit/debit card readers out there that thief’s use.  They swipe your card, then take the reader home and download your information into their computer so they can access your information and have fun at your expense.  Also ensure when you complete your printed receipt that you don’t leave spaces in the monetary amounts where they can change the $3 tip to a $30, $53, $300, etc. tip.

Do not leave your purse or wallet lying around.  Keep these items with you at all times.

Limit the information you have pre-printed on your checks.  Your name and address are sufficient.  When you add information such as driver’s license, date of birth, social security number, etc., you increase your chances of victimization when a thief steals your checkbook.

Secure any credit/debit cards, checkbooks, and/or documents containing personal identifiers in a lockable storage item such as a safe or filing cabinet.

Do not store your personal information or financial information on computers, PDA’s, etc.  Several people have become victims when these items were stolen.

Do not use your credit/debit cards in plain view of others.  While you are swiping your card, individuals can look to see not only your card number but also the PIN you are entering into the card reader.  They can use this information to make purchases online or even follow you to take your purse/wallet and use the card at a later time.

 

INTERNET FRAUD

Beware of individuals contacting you to assist them with OVERSEAS trade.  A current scam today is individuals from overseas sending emails stating you are either a “LOTTERY WINNER”; and or the individual says “my family member just died and left me several million dollars inheritance” and they are looking for a reputable business partner to help them invest their money in the United States you receive a percentage of their inheritance for helping them.  These individuals will require your name, home address, phone number, banking information for the money to be wired to, etcetera. 

Another fraud that is currently happening is where individuals will contact you to have you help them cash checks or sale merchandise, you simply need to repackage them.  DO NOT CASH the checks and do not allow anyone to send you items for you to distribute, as they are often stolen property they are trying to sell/get rid of.

THESE ARE ALL SCAMS.  If you participate in these activities, you may be committing a felony, punishable by up to two years in state jail and a $10,000 fine if punished under Texas Law.  If punished under Federal Law the penalties are usually much stiffer and there is no “parole” when sentenced by a federal court, meaning you get “day for day” in a federal correctional institution.

 

EMAIL FRAUD

Fraudulent emails are sent to consumers everywhere in the world everyday and aren’t limited to anyone specific or any specific company.  Some examples are fraudulent emails sent by individuals claiming the emails are from EBAY, PAYPAL, CHASE (Bank/Credit Card Company), AOL, etc. and that there is “unauthorized account activity”, “added email to your account”, “temporary suspension of your account due to activity”, etcetera.  Other types of email fraud also occur when the thief sends you an email and has a virus attached (discussed here also).

If you don’t know whom the email is from, your best option is to delete it without reading it.  Often times these emails will have computer viruses attached and when the email is opened the virus is automatically activated.  If you are using Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Express and you have it set to where you can read the email without opening it (called the Preview Pane), that preview pane actually is opening the email.  To turn off the Preview Pane, go to the top of your email program (where it has file, edit, view, etc), and click on VIEW.  Then you will click on Layout and click the box for Preview Pane to remove the check mark. 

 

TYPES OF COMPUTER VIRUSES:

TROJAN:  These viruses typically will collect your personal information from your computer and send that information back to the creator of the virus.

WORM: Will attach itself to your DOS program files and your email address book.  The virus then sends the same email, with the virus that you were originally sent, to everyone in your address book with the exception that the email will appear to come from you.  Your friends, family, loved ones, and other contacts will then think the email is authentic and open it becoming victims as well.  The virus will then multiply itself on your computer (just like if you cut a worm in half and it regrows itself into two new worms).  The files are typically “.cpy” files and will multiply over and over until your computer “crashes”.  If the virus was accessed from a work “network” computer, it can infect the servers as well causing them to crash too.  At that point, the only thing you can do is wipe your computers clean by doing a full system restore.

TROJAN/WORM: This virus is a combination of the two previously mentioned viruses.

SPYWARE/MALWARE: These are programs that depending on the creator may not necessarily be harmful to you, but can slow your computer’s performance significantly.  Some of these programs are designed to act as the previously mentioned viruses do as well.  The program files attach to your computer’s browser files in the system registry making it difficult to locate and remove without having to purchase SPYWARE/MALWARE detection software.  These programs can be sent in emails and/or attached to websites.

COOKIES:  There has been much debate over these.  These are the files that most websites have now that are simple files to assist you “the user” when browsing the Internet.  If you have ever noticed when you visit a website and clicked on items and later returned to the site, the links are a different color than the other links.  This is because the cookies keep track of what you have looked at helping you either to relocate that item quicker or helping you avoid it by showing you have already viewed it.  Cookies have been suspected of being “hacker friendly” enabling computer hackers to access your information and accessing your computer.  While all cookie files are not harmful themselves, some can be depending on the creators.  You can control the “cookie permissions” by going to the TOOLS option at the top of your browser and clicking on INTERNET OPTIONS.  To delete the cookies from your computer, you can go to your “C://” drive, click on Windows, and then click on both Cookies and Temporary Internet Files as cookies are stored in both these file locations.  Deleting these files will not harm your computer.

When you get emails such as these, DO NOT click the links inside the emails.  Often times they will say, to correct this error or to update your information, please click the link below and follow the instructions.  What actually occurs when you click the link is that you are sent to a “dummy site” (one that appears to be the real site), you enter your information and then the THIEF now has your entire login information and can access your real information before you can do anything about it.

When you get these emails, open a new Internet browser window, type in the address of the website in question and verify your information that way.  You will then know you are on the legitimate site.  You should also notice a padlock in the lower right corner of your browser when you are doing your secure login. 

You can report these emails, as both SPAM and fraud typically named “SPOOF MAIL”, by contacting the companies using their “contact us”, “webmaster”, “call customer service”, or other options set forth by the associated company.  In the instance of EBAY/PAYPAL, you can forward the fraudulent/suspected fraudulent email to spoof@ebay.com or spoof@paypal.com.  EBAY and PAY PAL, like most every company, does not send you an email unless you contact them and they are responding to your email OR you have specified in your account options that you wish to receive emails and/or billing statements from them.

 

 

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