Tag Archives: Identity Theft

Identity Theft Alert: Fraudulent H1N1 vaccination email.

It looks like there’s a new H1N1 flu vaccination scam going around. The intent behind this one seems even worse than the fly-by-night “selling you garbage that does nothing to protect you” schemes; this one is designed to steal your identity.

People have reported receiving emails that claim to be from the Centers for Disease Control. The message instructs the potential victim to visit a website and create a “vaccination profile” (whatever that is). One version contains the subject line, “Creation of your personal Vaccination Profile.”

At any rate, it’s a phishing scam. If you click the link in the message, you will be taken to a page that looks like an official CDC website, but is just a decoy designed to persuade you to reveal personal information. I haven’t heard yet if anyone’s fallen for it, but I’m sure there have been a few victims.

For one thing, you don’t have to create a “vaccination profile” on any website to get an H1N1 vaccine. I’m pretty sure you just show up somewhere that has the vaccine, and they jab you in the arm. The CDC does not have your email address, and will never contact you in this way to obtain personal information.

This just goes to show how literally anything can be twisted for fraudulent purposes.

Holiday Fraud Prevention Tips: Well, I’m officially published now.

This is an article I wrote that appeared in the most recent issue of Panorama Magazine here in Northwest Indiana. It’s almost exactly like the Video Dispatch I did on the same topic a couple weeks ago. Actually, I think I made the video the same day I wrote the article. Yes, this means I’ll be referring to myself as a “published writer” now.

Here’s the text, for those of you who would rather read something than watch a video:

Holiday shopping season is fast approaching, and it’s about to get nuts out there. Here are a few tips to keep yourself and your money safe.

Use Your Elbows

Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” With camera phone technology, it’s easier than ever for someone to sidle up to a store counter and take a photo of your credit card. Make sure nobody is standing suspiciously close before you whip out the plastic.

Use Your Head

Never write your PIN on your ATM or debit card, and never carry your Social Security card around with you. Both are bad news if you lose your wallet. Additionally, never let anyone write your Social Security Number on a check. Most stores have wised up, but you might encounter some that haven’t.

I’m Not Saying You Can Only Shop at the Mall, But…

Where to buy plasma TVs and other electronics:

  1. From an electronics store
  2. From a department store
  3. Online

Where not to buy plasma TVs and other electronics:

  1. From some guy in a parking lot at night.

If you go this route, the best thing you can hope for is to end up with an empty, weighted box. At worst, you could get arrested for receiving stolen property. Jail tends to dampen one’s holiday cheer.

Shop Online. Seriously

It’s more secure than ever. In fact, it’s probably safer than shopping at the store. Plus, you won’t have to deal with a mall full of desperate maniacs.

Criminal Identity Theft: Indiana needs to get with the program.

Let’s set up a little scenario here.

Someone steals your identity and creates false identification using your information. This person then commits a crime, for which he is later arrested. He gives your name, SSN, address and other information to the police during the arrest.

The criminal then bonds out, but is due to appear in court on a certain date. Naturally, he never shows up. The police mount a search, which leads them directly to your front door.

A complete mess ensues.

At some point, however, probably after a massive amount of humiliation and stress (and possible physical injury, depending on what the police think you’re capable of), the “system” figures out that the person they were really looking for was also an identity thief, and that you yourself aren’t guilty of anything.

So your arrest record is expunged and you go on with your life, right?

Not in Indiana, apparently.

As it turns out, Indiana has “does not have [a] specific law” regarding the expungement and correction of arrest records for victims of criminal identity theft.

I’m not saying you won’t be able to get your records expunged, but I’ll bet it takes years upon years of sustained effort, red tape and extreme hassle. You’ll basically encounter a wall of, “We don’t have to, so we don’t want to.”

I guess we’re not alone—a lot of states fall under the “no specific law” category at this time.

But you know something? I’ve never been one to buy into the herd mentality, either with regards to action or inaction. In other words, just because not that many other states are doing it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

Not many people are running truly non-profit websites about fraud and identity theft prevention, either. Doesn’t stop me, though, does it?

Child Identity Theft: protect your children from yourself

Child identity theft is a very real problem. Children are attractive targets for this crime, since their credit, employment and criminal histories are clean.

There is definitely a threat from other people stealing your child’s identity; your new baby arrives and a few days later someone who claims to be from the hospital calls, asking for the child’s Social Security number because you forgot to give them this information in your excitement.

The problem, of course, is that the call wasn’t from the hospital; it was from somebody who saw the birth announcement in the newspaper and saw an opportunity.

However, the biggest risk to your child’s identity isn’t strangers. Most child identity theft is committed by parents and family members who have easy access to the child’s personal information.

Most of the time, these parents are facing unemployment, poverty and generally stacked odds. They figure they’ll just use the child’s information to qualify for an apartment or telephone service—just this one time—and they’ll make it all better by the time the kid grows up.

Of course, that’s not how it usually plays out. The parent gets an apartment or automobile they can’t actually afford and starts to fall behind. They apply for a few credit cards in the child’s name, just to make purchases for essentials until they get back on their feet, which never happens. By the time a few years have passed, the situation has snowballed and the child’s credit is ruined, along with any trust the child ever felt for his or her parent.

It’s a fact: on this day in 2009, a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet. In fact, no matter when you’re reading this, a lot of people are having a hard time getting by, and you might be one of them. It can be very tempting to use your child’s personal information in times like this.

However, please remember these points:

  1. Any use of your child’s information to obtain credit, services or employment for yourself is identity theft
  2. Stealing your child’s identity is a crime; plenty of parents have gone to jail for it
  3. Don’t think you’re going to “make it all better” before the child gets older—it never really works out that way (and it’s a crime, too, remember?)
  4. You do not own your children, they are not your property to do with as you please, and their future creditworthiness is theirs, not yours
  5. Don’t think your child won’t press charges when they find out about your crime. How do you think those parents in #2 above ended up in prison?
  6. Yes, they’re going to find out. They always find out.

I’m being pretty blunt here—I don’t even like to see greedy adults get swindled when they should know better; I really hate to see children being victimized by the people they should be able to trust above all others.

Your situation might be tough right now, but time is going to pass and life is going to move forward, and what is happening now will one day be what happened years ago. You will only make things worse by committing identity crime against your own child—financially, and by making sure your child never wants to see you again once he or she is grown.

I’m sure some would protest my harsh words here, “You’ve never been broke,” someone might say. “You don’t know what it’s like. You do what you have to do in order to survive.”

And they would be right. I’ve never been truly destitute before. I still don’t buy the excuse, though. There are ways to get by without stealing your own child’s identity. You’re being lazy and not thinking if that’s the only route you can fathom.

When do you have to give your Social Security Number?

You hear a lot of information about when not to give out your Social Security number, but when are you required to reveal it?

The short (and incomplete) answer is: any time you’re doing something that involves taxable income.

A little more specifically, you’re probably going to be required to provide your SSN in the following situations:

  • Opening a new account at a financial institution
  • Taxes
  • When you get a new job
  • When obtaining or renewing your driver’s license or other state-issued identification
  • Conducting business involving government welfare or healthcare (Medicare, for example)

Aside from those situations, be very cautious about sharing your number. Actually, be very cautious anyway, but in other situations you would be wise to ask:

  • Why your number is needed
  • How your number will be used
  • What happens if you refuse
  • What law requires you to give your number

Finally, be extremely cautious (read: don’t do it at all) when it comes to people asking for your Social over the telephone or Internet, especially if they initiated the contact with you. If you can’t verify who the requesting entity is (as well as the answers to the four questions above), refuse to share your number.

National Protect Your Identity Week is October 17-24, 2009

Actually, shouldn’t every week be Protect Your Identity Week?

Snide remarks aside, PYIW is apparently an awareness initiative by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. I’ll let them describe their organization (from their website):

Founded in 1951, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), Inc., promotes the national agenda for financially responsible behavior and builds capacity for its Members to deliver the highest quality financial education and counseling services. The NFCC is the nations largest and longest serving national nonprofit credit counseling network, with more than 100 Member agencies and nearly 850 offices in communities throughout the country. Each year, NFCC Members assist more than 3.2 million consumers, helping many to drive down their debt and take control of their finances.

Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Northwest Indiana is a member of this organization. They are one of the good ones—no misleading claims, true nonprofit structure, no insane promises, and an A+ rating from the BBB.

So, how to celebrate Protect Your Identity Week? Had I found out about this sooner, I would have set up some live presentations or something. But hey, if you hear about any bangin’ PYIW parties, be sure to keep me in the loop, ‘kay?

Child Identity Theft: Why you need to check your child’s credit report today

Children are an attractive target for identity theft. Why?

Several reasons:

  1. Clean credit history
  2. Clean criminal history
  3. Clean employment history
  4. It may be many years before the theft is discovered

That last one can be especially damaging. If a child’s identity is stolen at age 10, it may be another eight years or more before he applies for a credit card, tries to open a checking account or attempts to obtain an auto loan. By then, his credit (or criminal/medical/employment) history can be incredibly difficult to repair, since the crime took place so long ago.

That’s why you’re going to check your kids’ credit reports today, isn’t it? Go to AnnualCreditReport.com like you would to get your own credit reports.

Basically, you’re making sure your child doesn’t have a credit report. If he or she does, you need to take a closer look.

There’s an article from the MSN Money site called “Stolen innocence: Child identity theft” that’s worth reading, despite its Lifetime movie-esque title. I’m not sure when the article was originally written (it refers to Hillary Clinton as “Former New York Sen[ator],” so I’m guess it’s not super-recent), but it’s mostly good information.

However, the article features a section in which some people are debating whether child identity theft is actually a significant problem, which strikes me as a little strange (especially considering the sources in question). Growing problem or not, isn’t it worth your while to at least check?

I mean, I don’t advocate living in fear on any level. But since you’re checking your own credit reports anyway (you are, aren’t you?), you might as well make sure your kids’ reports are clean while you’re at it.

Identity Theft Myths: Online banking and shopping are unsafe

I know, most people already know that shopping and banking online are pretty darn safe. Amazon wouldn’t be the leviathan it is today if people were still afraid to shop online. However, there are still some folks out there who think doing anything online is an open door to getting your identity stolen.

The truth is, it’s probably safer.

Think about your monthly bills. Your paper bill starts by passing through who-knows-how-many hands. Then it sits in your mailbox unattended until you take it (assuming it’s still there). Later, you write out a check (with your full name, address and account number on it), place it in an envelope with your bill (which has yet another account number on it), and leave it unattended in the mailbox with the little red “Hey There’re Checks In This’n!” flag sticking up. Assuming nobody steals it from your box, it once again passes through who-knows-how-many hands on the way to its destination. At the end, a human being (i.e., an entity capable of error) has to manually input your payment and handle your paper check.

If you receive and pay online, however, you receive an email that only you can see. It probably won’t even have your full account number in the message. You go online to pay the bill, logging in with a password only you know. Your payment is taken from your account right away, and it is processed by a machine, which will usually only make an error if you make an error.

Additionally, the security at online retailers and financial institutions is unbelievably tight. The only time anyone really runs into trouble is when they fall for a phishing scam and give their passwords out to other people, or when they use a site that shouldn’t have been trusted to begin with. Your credit union, bank, and the major retailers are fine. If you’re not sure if a business is trustworthy, check them out on the Better Business Bureau.

Identity Theft Myths: Thieves will use your information for years

There are still enough people who believe this one to consider it widespread enough to talk about here.

There was a case back in the 1990s where a woman was a victim of an identity thief. This person used her name for over a year and a half, and ruined her credit (and a big chunk of her life in general). I remember seeing the story on one of those “news magazine” programs (20/20 or something), and I’m pretty sure there has been at least one made-for-TV movie about it.

It’s probably on Lifetime every now and then. The title is something like [Adjective] [Noun], the [Person’s Name] Story. Then again, all their movie titles are like that. They’re like Mad Libs.

Anyway, these days it’s far more common for thieves to take your identity for a “joyride” of a couple weeks’ duration. They’ll rack up all the charges/goods/services they can, then move on to the next victim. Oh, it’s still just as big a pain for you to fix, but cases of long-term cloning over the course of months and years are rare now.

Part of the reason is technology. People catch the theft much sooner, and more and more financial providers have built-in safeguards, which can provide some protection, or at least early detection. I think another reason is that identity theft has increasingly become the realm of organized crime. With a backlog of identities to work with, they can use them for a short time, then move on to the next identity before the fraud alerts start showing up.

None of this is exactly comforting, I suppose. Like I said before, it still takes you a long time and a lot of hassle to clear up any identity theft. But those widely publicized cases of long-term identity theft are the exception rather than the rule nowadays.

Identity Theft Myths: Identity theft is a high-tech crime

What springs to mind when you hear the words “identity theft?”

Be honest, now.

For a lot of people, the first thing they think of is their home computer. Because of the constant emphasis on computer security (and a few made-for-TV movies, I don’t doubt), many people are under the impression that your identity gets stolen because you were on the Internet and a hacker broke into your computer and got your personal information.

Of course, hackers exist. What used to be the demesne of nerdy college kids and spoiled brats with powerful computers and too much unsupervised time has become an important tool for organized crime.

However, not all identity theft occurs online. You don’t have all your credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, Social Security number and other information stored on your computer anyway, do you?

Do you?

Tell me you don’t.

Anyway, a huge chunk of identity theft occurs through very un-high-tech channels. Your purse or wallet get stolen, and you were carrying your Social Security card with you. That’s an open door.

Or you received a load of credit card offers in the mail and simply tore the envelopes in two (or not at all) and threw them in the trash. That night, somebody picked through your garbage and found it. It’s the dark side of Dumpster Diving—what used to be a fun way to drive around college towns in June and score free microwave ovens is now a common route for identity theft.

If picking through garbage isn’t gross enough for you, there’s this little factoid: between 10 and 25% of identity theft victims knew the person who stole their identity. That’s your friends and coworkers. It could even be your family members.

The wide range in this percentage seems to depend on who is doing the research. You see both numbers in different reports, but there may be an age-related factor: younger people tend to know the person who stole their identity more often (as many as 40% of people under 30, according to some data I’ve seen). The point is, a lot of identity theft happens because somebody left their purse unattended at work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can ignore online safety. Keep your virus/spyware protection updated and don’t fall for those phishing attempts (which I know you won’t because you’ve been reading the FPU, right?). But look at the low-tech ways you might be making yourself vulnerable. Get a crosscut shredder today if you don’t already have one, and get that Social Security card out of your wallet, already.