NO HOLIDAY FOR
During the winter holiday season, more than any other time, you are vulnerable to identity theft. Youʼre doing more shopping, youʼre in a hurry, the crowds are bigger, offers and sales are flying fast and furious, cash and credit cards are out and about, festive decorations distract, and the good feelings of the season lead you to let down your guard. Sad but true. Here are some tips to protect yourself online, at the store and at home. SECURE SITES. Use secure sites only. Look for the key or padlock at the bottom of your web browser, and when you, pay look for the URL to change from http to shttp or https.
KNOW THE SELLER. Use online merchants who are members of well-known certification programs such as Verisign or the Better Business Bureau. PAYMENT OPTIONS. Pay with credit card instead of cash or wiring money. You can delay payment and seek a credit from the card issuer if the products or services are not delivered. PASSWORD PRIVACY. Create complex passwords. Do not use a password that gives personal information about you, such as birthdate, and do not use the same password for multiple sites.
PAPER TRAIL. Print and save copies of all transactions so that you can match them up to accounts and bills later on.
SAFE SOFTWARE. Install reliable virus protection and anti-spyware software on your PC. Do not fall for scamware or false claims that your site has a virus and that you must respond.
SECURE COMPUTERS. When youʼre away from home, do not save private information onto computers used by the public. In public places, log out completely and do not save login information. DONʼT GO PHISHING. Do not respond to emails or instant messages that ask you to provide account information or your personal data for verification, and donʼt follow links to websites in such emails either.
FACEBOOK FOLLIES. Social media sites are increasingly used by retailers to promote sales. But they are also increasingly used by scammers and people masquerading as friends. Go directly to the retailer site to take advantage of a deal.
AT THE STORE
CLEAN YOUR WALLET. Make your wallet clean and lean. Take only the basics such as credit card, checks or cash you need for the day. Never carry your Social Security card around with you.
HOME SWEET HOME
PURSE POLICY. If you must take a purse or pocketbook, use one that zips and hangs in front of you.
BE VIGILANT. Malls and stores are crowded. Be aware of other shoppers standing nearby; they may be copying your credit card information or taking cellphone pictures. Or they may be traditional purse snatchers and pickpockets. ATM ACTION. Avoid ATM始s that are not bank branded; others are easy to run a scam on. Use ATMs that are in bright light or have a security guard. Beware of skimmers; these are unauthorized gadgets that can capture and store your information. COLD SHOULDER. When you use a card in a store, watch out for shoulder surfers, people looking over your shoulder when you enter your PIN. Don始t be afraid to tell them to back off.
CARS AND VALUABLES. Do not leave valuables in your car. Glove compartments are often the scene of a crime. If you must, place pocketbooks and other items in the trunk; it is a little harder to access. RETAIN RECEIPTS. Keep all receipts and, when you have matched them to bank and credit card statements, shred them rather than putting them in the trash.
HOME SAFETY. The holidays brings more people into your home. Fun, but it makes it easier to have a checkbook, financial statement, wallet or cellphone stolen. A fireproof wall safe is a good investment.
POSTAL PROTECTION. Mail envelopes containing checks or other sensitive information inside the Post Office. Watch out for bills or other mail that comes on a regular basis; failure to receive these could suggest mail theft.
GIVE CHARITY WITH CARE. We all want to support good causes. But be sure that telephone or door-to-door solicitations are legitimate. Insist on the person始s identification and documentation. MONITOR STATEMENTS. Most holiday identity theft can be caught relatively quickly by monitoring checking, debit and credit card accounts, and other financial statements.
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS GIVING. Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of an identity protection system that can monitor key online accounts, furnish updated credit reports, and even provide insurance for any losses.
CHILDREN AT RISK The age of innocence is over. Children are an excellent target for identity theft, since their credit records are spotless, they do not make use of their credit, and no one may notice the theft for years. More than half a million children a year are victims. There are two ways to prevent most child identity theft. One is to protect their Social Security number. This is the number most asked for by the government for tax purposes, for doctors and hospitals, for banks and businesses, and for schools, daycare centers and sports teams. As a result, it is the most open to attack of all children始s documents. Recommended safeguards include keeping the Social Security card and other important documents, such as the birth certificate, locked in a safe place. Further, when a medical provider, bank or institution asks for the Social Security number, always ask why. It is your right to refuse to provide it unless the reason is sound. Do not give the number to your child before they need it. Be skeptical of any telephone call or website that asks for the number. And never, ever, put it online for any purpose. Finally, check your child始s credit reports frequently and ask for a Social Security earnings record. The latter can alert you as to whether someone is using the number to apply illegally for a job.
The second key to preventing child identity theft is to monitor their computer use. There are predators out there who threatening both safety and identity. To combat this, talk to your kids and educate them to keep personal information private when they are online. Children should not use their real name in an email account or give too much detail on social networking sites. You can help them. Check out the sites your kids visit, see what kinds of information they are being asked for, be selective about what websites they have permission to see, and become familiar with your rights to control or delete your child始s personal data under the Children始s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). This legislation, enforced by the FTC, gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. All websites for kids under 13, or any general site that collects information from kids, are required to comply. Finally, report any website that you believe has wrongly collected or disclosed information from your kids.
PASSPORT TO TROUBLE Passports have long been a common form of identity theft. In the wrong hands, they enable fake identification and travel. Lose control of your passport and you may as well say goodbye to your whole identity. This is particularly troubling today; stolen passports can be used for acts of terrorism as well as for more common crimes such as illegal entry, money laundering and narcotics trafficking. Minor alterations to the picture, name and description in a passport makes it appear as if it belong to the identity thief. Some basic tips for softening the blow of a lost or stolen passport: travel with copies of major documents, like birth certificate and marriage certificate, as well as the passport; keep copies separate from the originals; know the phone numbers and addresses of the U.S. embassy or consulate for the relevant countries. If your passport is lost or stolen, report it promptly to the State Department. Two new forms of digital passports add a technological twist to the risk of passport theft. One is the U.S. Passport Card, a relatively simple card that is good for travel within North America. More than a million Americans have been issued these cards. They contain RFID
WATCH A VIDEO ABOUT DIGITAL PASSPORT THEFT
microchips which transmit a signal so your movement across borders can be automatically recorded. A second digital security document, the Biometric Passport or U.S. Electronic Passport, is also becoming commonplace. These are true international travel passports and replace old-style passports as they expire. The Biometric Passports store lots more data on the chips, including facial or iris recognition, fingerprints, digital photos, personal data, and more. As you go through passport control, those features are electronically checked. No sooner have these new digital passports been implemented than reports are surfacing that the microchips on the devices can be read by scanners from 20 or 30 feet away. Many security experts argue that the system, though encrypted, is not secure enough and is susceptible to identity theft. Others say the system is safe. But in a telling YouTube clip, an ethical hacker can be seen driving around San Francisco, reading off the numbers of people始s digital passports inside purses and pockets, and transferring them to the laptop computer in his car. Expert advice for protecting yourself: keep the digital passports in their sleeve since they cannot be read in that circumstance. And, of course, the same safety rules as in the old days for making sure these items do not fall into the wrong hands.
REPORT A LOST OR STOLEN PASSPORT TO THE STATE DEPARTMENT
TRUE STORIES THE FED CHIEF No one is safe from identity theft, not even Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke. His personal checking account became a target after his wife Anna's purse was stolen from her chair at a Capitol Hill Starbucks. It contained her Social Security card, checkbook, credit cards and IDs. Someone started cashing checks on their bank account just days after the purse was stolen. The thefts helped inspire an ongoing investigation into a sophisticated ring. “Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year,” Bernanke said in a statement. “Our family was but one of 500 separate instances traced to one crime ring. I am grateful for the law enforcement officers who patiently and diligently work to solve and prevent these financial crimes.”
CO-WORKERS COMPROMISED Adeniyi Adeyemi, a computer technician was indicted on 149 counts of grand larceny, ID theft, money laundering, fraud, computer tampering and unlawful possession of personal identification information. The Manhattan DA accused 27-year-old Adeyemi of committing theft against more than 150 of his co-workers at the at the Bank of New York Mellon, using their identities to steal more than $1.1 million from charities and non-profit organizations over seven years. Adeyemi allegedly opened more than 30 accounts with banks and brokerage firms in the names of co-workers, and deposited stolen funds. He also hijacked their online banking profiles and wired money stolen from their accounts into other fraudulently opened bank accounts. The DA said credit reports for dozens of the ID theft victims and other personally identifying information were found in the defendantʼs apartment. A storage locker contained notebooks with hundreds of names, Social Security numbers, account number and credit cards.
DOCTORING THE RECORDS
Dr. Lisa Barden, a Southern California obstetrician and mother, has been arrested on 276 felony charges of identity theft, forgery, possession of controlled substances and burglary. She's an admitted painkiller addict. To facilitate her Vicodin habit, she delivered babies and then stole the identities of the new mothers. She used the identities to obtain prescription painkillers at 43 different pharmacies across the Coachella Valley. Barden's scheme ended with an arrest outside a Palm Springs hospital where she's delivered hundreds of babies. "It's fraud. She's lied. She's cheated," said Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Jeanne Roy. Barden has agreed to plead guilty to the narcotics-related charges against her. She says she would like to practice medicine again but would look for a job that would not require her to write prescriptions for narcotics.
MAILBOX MADNESS A stakeout at a Malibu shopping center led to the arrest of previously convicted identity thief, Phillip Macksoud. His wife Dawn escaped after trying to hit an officer with her car. The couple had spent between $10,000 and $20,000 using credit cars opened in the names of people in the Los Angeles area. Focusing on an area with lots of wealthy people and easy to access mailboxes, the crooks began forwarding the victimʼs mail to a PO Box in a nearby town. The box was rented with a fake identification card with Macksoudʼs picture. “At that point it was clearly evident that this was a case of identity theft,” said Detective Michael Rosenberger. “They had been using peopleʼs names and information to order items either online or over the phone and have them shipped to [the PO Box]. Then they came and picked them up.” Rosenberger said that “easily accessible mailboxes the genesis of the crime.”
DISC DRIVE DISAPPEARS Almost half a million Connecticut residents are at risk for identity theft after a portable disk drive disappeared from Health Net. The company is a regional health plan. The drive included health information, Social Security number sand bank accounts for all 446,000 Connecticut patients, according to Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. The information had been compressed, but not
encrypted, although a specialized computer program is required to read it. Health Net officials says the information was saved in an image format that cannot be read without special software, but that it contained personal information for many past, as well as present, Health Net members. RETIREES HIT Arizona State Assistant Attorney General Vince Rabago says retirees are easy targets and Arizona is the top state for reporting identity thefts. Bill McKenna, 85, and his wife Dorothy learned the hard way. McKenna had worked for a major auto manufacturer for 34 years and because health expenses were high, his company set up a Health Reimbursement Plan for retirees through Wage Works. “On Oct. 27, we checked our Health Reimbursement Account to see if our ʻrolled overʼ monies were indeed there and secure,” Dorothy McKenna explained. “To our shock, the account was empty. Our first call was to Attorney Generalʼs Terry Goddardʼs office. After a detective was assigned to the case, they found that a fraudulent account had been set up at a small bank in California using a debit account. The fraudulent account owner had withdrawn all the money from the account. After been told of the crime, Wage Works reimbursed the couple all $7,200 in the account. Bill said, “If Dorothy hadnʼt checked the account, we wouldnʼt have found out,” he said.
A 47 year old Decatur GA woman, Marsha Lynn Foster, was taken into custody after being charged with soliciting donations from local merchants in a fraudulent manner. The police say she claimed to be a representative from Stars and Stripes and said she was collecting for Toys for Tots, a reputable charity organization. However, Foster was apparently not affiliated with either group. It turned out there were active arrest warrants against her, including charges of Identity Theft and Theft by Deception. Local authorities are urging citizens, when approached for donations, to ask for a photo identfication, get a business card and literature about the charity, and do not give money immediately but take time to verify.
CHECK WASHING CAN CLEAN YOU OUT
Check washing takes place to the tune of $815 million every year in the U.S. alone. And it is increasing at an alarming rate. The process turns every check into a blank check by “washing” already written checks with a chemical solvent, and rewriting it so the criminal can reuse it. Sometimes the entire check is rewritten. Often, only the recipientʼs name is changed, so all you see on your bank statement is that the check went through for the right amount. It may take months for the companies you owed to notify you. The damage adds up fast.
There are a few simple tips to protect yourself from this scam. First, make sure your mail is as secure as possible: drop it off at the post office or a USPS mailbox. You cannot control check theft completely, but you can do your best. Second, change the pen you use. Standard ballpoint pens are the easiest to wash, with felt tip and roller-ball pens close behind. Many tests have shown that gel pens are the hardest to wash off and some companies are starting to market special inks which adhere to the paper. You may also seek out permanent markers with tips fine enough for check writing. Third, many checks are now printed on chemically sensitive paper that will discolor when chemicals are used on them. Ask your bank if they have checks printed on this paper. Finally, consider online bill paying. You can save time, avoid the problems of check washing – and a whole range of other check-related threats – by ditching the checkbook and paying your bills online. Most billers now let you make payment online through their website and most banks now provide a sophisticated online bill pay option. There are also thirdparty services, many of whom collect bills for you and send email alerts when payments are due. Weʼll explore the advantages of online bill pay in the next edition of PROTECT. For now, just know that these options are exist and are an increasingly secure way to avoid old-fashioned check writing.
Paper-related identity theft is at an all-time high, affecting hundreds of thousands so far in 2009. Personal identifying information is often stored in databases over which we have no control over. But many important print documents are in our control. Think tax returns, credit card and brokerage statements, bills, checks, receipts, junk mail and preapproved credit lines. Unfortunately, many people simply throw old documents like these in the trash without giving a second thought. The fact is that criminals â€œdumpster dive,â€? the amusing name for the very unfunny process of searching through trash for private, confidential, and sensitive documents. These documents should be destroyed,
and shredding is an effective way to destroy documents, turning them into undecipherable waste. All shredders destroy paper, many also shred CDs and DVDs with ease, and heavy-duty models handle staples and paperclips.
Experts say that the items to be shredded go well beyond financial documents. The list includes bank information, budgets, cancelled or blank checks, credit card offers and other junk mail, credit card information, employee evaluations, financial statements, income tax records, insurance coverage, investment information, legal papers, medical records and personal bills. If you work out of a home office, other items might include accounts payable and receivable, blueprints, building and computer access codes, customer lists, estimates and invoices. Most people can make do with a shredder of their own but there are also shredding services for high volume needs or documents with particular sensitivity. In addition to the common sense desire to protect yourself by shredding, there is sometimes a fiduciary duty to do so. For example, clients may provide you with confidential information that you must protect, employees are entitled by law to having personal data kept secret, and there are regulations in certain areas that require the destruction of information before disposal. Laws such as HIPAA (healthcare) and Gramm-Leach-Bliley (finance) require specific physical safeguards such as shredding to meet compliance.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PAPER SHREDDERS SEE SOME OF THE LAWS THAT REQUIRE SHREDDING
This first feature in our planned series looks at the basics of what始s in your credit report. Whilte each agency formats and reports credit reports differently, all share some basics. IDENTIFICATION. Name, address, birth date, employer and Social Security number are all there to identify you. These are not used in the credit score.
Your credit report, and knowing what is in it, is vital to your economic health. You need a clean report to apply for a mortgage on a house, to buy a car, or to finance any big ticket item. You need to know how the reports work so that you can work to improve your credit scores. You need to monitor it for errors and discrepancies, which happen often, and to make sure no one has stolen your identity is running up debts in your name. Since credit reports are updated all the time, it始s also good to check your credit report regularly with the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Trans Union and Experian; some say at least once a year while many experts recommend a quarterly review. Because understanding your credit report is so important, we have planned a series to explore indepth what始s in your report, how mistakes are made and corrected, how credit scores work, how you can improve your scores, and more.
ACCOUNTS. Lenders report on each account you have established with them. These reports include the type of account such as credit card, auto loan and mortgage, the date the account is opened, your credit limit or amount of the loan, the account balance, and your payment history. INQUIRIES. When you apply for a loan, lenders ask directly for a copy of your credit report. These inquiries are listed, so you can see everyone who has accessed it in the past two years. Some are voluntary, the ones you authorized, and some are involuntary, such as lenders who order your report before making pre-approved credit offers. COLLECTIONS. Credit agencies collect public record information about you from state and county courts, and from collection agencies about overdue debt. This data includes bankruptcies, foreclosures, suits, wages garnishments, liens and judgements. NEXT ISSUE:
HOW MISTAKES ARE MADE AND HOW TO FIX THEM