THIS MONTH IN PROTECT
Inside This Issue . . .
PROTECT is a monthly newsletter that helps you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Sadly, these crimes are becoming more and more commonplace; ten million Americans have been victimized already. Even so, some acts still have the capacity to shock. Take for example, the shameless scammers and fraudsters who use the natural disasters in Haiti, and before that Katrina and the Tsunami, to steal and misdirect donations made by good-hearted people. Youʼll read about this outrage here, as well as attacks on your medical records, tax returns, mortgages documents, marriage, Facebook pages – even marriage licenses. Is nothing safe or sacred to identity thieves?
CHARITY SCAMS ADD TO HAITI’S PAIN
THERE IS NOTHING SAFE OR SACRED
The purpose of PROTECT is to explain the latest crimes and scams and, most importantly, to tell you how to protect yourself and your loved ones. PROTECT is brought to you by the people who operate I.D. SHIELD 360, a leading service that helps shield you from the criminals determined to steal your identity. So continue to look for this newsletter every month. Youʼll find useful and authoritative ideas and information to protect your most important possession – your identity.
ID THIEVES IN YOUR FACE(BOOK)
THE IRS CON: DON’T PAY EXTRA AT TAX TIME MEDICAL FRAUD AN EMERGENCY
COUNTRYWIDE CRISIS AN INSIDE JOB PUSHING UP YOUR CREDIT SCORE
THE RESPONSIBILITY TO SHRED
CHARITY SCAMS ADD TO HAITI’S PAIN
Disturbing though it may be, Americans who open their wallets to help earthquake victims in Haiti may be targets of con artists seeking to take advantage of their good nature. Both the FBI and charity watchdog groups are issuing consumer warnings based on what they have learned about “natural disaster” scams seen in connection with the Asian Tsunami and the Katrina floods.
Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, for example, says that a big problem these days, is that modern technology — cell phones, email, the internet — make it easier for scammers to reach potential donors anonymously and make it more likely that donors will make impulse gifts without taking time to think or research. Borchoffʼs group advises givers to slow down a bit, and to focus on organizations with strong track records in a particular region of the world.
This helps avoid two problems: giving to groups that mean well but are not capable of delivering the aid because they do not know the territory and avoiding internet scammers who try to play on the emotions of the public by sending out what appear to be personal e-mail appeals from individuals in Haiti. The messages may ask for the recipient's “personal” help or direct would-be donors to a website that is really just a front for a phony charity. The site also advises donors to send checks, not goods, and warns that “disreputable, fly-by-night ʻcharitiesʼ always exist to take advantage of the public's generosity.”
Similarly, the FBI is warning that there are many people trying to capitalize on the pain of the Haitian people. The Bureau, too, says that the principle method of protecting yourself is to check the organization to which you are donating and to do your homework before giving personal information or money to any group.
INDEED, THE FBI HAS PUT TOGETHER A CHECKLIST TO HELP CONSUMERS MAKE THEIR DONATIONS COUNT:
1. Do not respond to spam incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within those messages. 2. Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.
3. Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by utilizing various organizations that can confirming the group始s existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site.
4. Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show pictures of the disaster areas in attached files because the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders.
5. Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.
6. Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone who solicits contributions. Providing such information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
7. Anyone who has received an e-mail of this nature or who may have been a victim of this or a similar incident should notify The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI, the National White Color Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance.
LINKS TO RATING AGENCIES FOR CHARITIES www.CharityWatch.org www.bbb.org/us/charity www.CharityNavigator.org www.ic3.gov
THE IRS CON
DONʼT PAY EXTRA AT TAX TIME
The Internal Revenue Service is warning taxpayers to protect themselves against online identity theft and other scams as the tax-filing season approaches.
The heart of the problem is that fraudsters are increasingly using the IRS's name, logo or letterhead to con taxpayers into believing a scammy communication is really from the IRS or the Treasury Department. These attempts to impersonate the IRS usually take the form of e-mails, tweets or similar internet messaging, though phones and faxes are also used. A growing twist: the identity thieves set up their own websites that duplicate the look of official sites.
Tips for avoiding the taxpayer scam? Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers so do not respond to them. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. And the Department does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers. So, again, do not respond.
Most often, the goal of the scam is to fool consumers into revealing personal and financial information — such as passwords and Social Security, PIN, bank account and credit card numbers — that can be used for no good. Individuals, businesses, educators, charities and others have been targeted by such emails.
CLICK HERE TO REPORT IRS PHISING
COUNTRYWIDE CRISIS AN INSIDE JOB The lawsuits stem from the arrest of Rene Rebollo Jr., a senior analyst for Countrywide, and Wahid Siddiqi. Federal investigators say Rebollo used a flash drive to download data from about 20,000 customers a week for two years from 2006 through 2008. He then sold the information to Siddiqi, which included Social Security Numbers and personal information from an estimated two million mortgage loan applications.
A federal judge has given tentative approval to a settlement between Countrywide Financial Corporation and nearly 17 million people whose information was exposed during the security breach. The millions of victims include anyone who obtained a mortgage and anyone who used Countrywide to service a mortgage prior to July 1, 2008. The settlement follows the filing of three dozen lawsuits, which were turned into a class action suit. Countrywide is now owned by Bank of America.
The FBI report alleges that Rebollo stored the information on a USB thumb drive and earned $50,000 to $70,000 from the sale of the Countrywide-owned data. In his affidavit, Rebollo said he then downloaded the customer profiles into excel spreadsheets and then emailed them to buyers from business center stores. Experts say that the threat of insider trading hangs over financial institutions, and that it is difficult to protect against the insider. Encryption, biometric authentication measures, and data protection all work to some extent, but identity thieves are also adapting and evolving to overcome the technology.
VIEW THE NOTES FROM THE FBI INVESTIGATION
BECOMING AN EMERGENCY
As unemployment stays high and health care reform stalls, medical theft is becoming a major social disease. As many as half a million Americans may have already been victimized. The problem is two-fold, say the experts. First, your identity is misused for the good of others, and you pick up the bill or even lose your own coverage. Second, your medical records may become tainted with the wrong person始s data or blood type or allergies, putting you at risk if and when an emergency arises. Thus, you may not only end up with bills incurred by the person who steals your identity, but the crime can even prove fatal. CLICK HERE FOR A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK IN TO MEDICAL IDENTITY THEFT AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
There are three main ways thieves steal your medical identity. First, they bill your health insurance plan for fake or inflated treatment claims. Medicare is a particularly rich source of such theft. Sometimes these are inside jobs, other times organized crime is involved. Second, they use your identity to buy prescription drugs, which are resold or used to satisfy addictions, or medical equipment and supplies. Here, dishonest pharmacists and vendors join the game. Third, medical thieves without their own insurance want to use your identity to get free treatment at doctors, hospitals and clinics based on your policy. Sometimes this problem is made worse by well-meaning people who voluntarily share their insurance with friends; this is a dangerous practice.
How can you protect yourself?
The experts say vigilance is the answer. In addition to generally being careful with your identity, there are some specific medical industry related safeguards. Check the explanation of benefits each time you get them from an insurance provider. Ask for a yearly statement from the insurer of all benefits paid out under the policy that year. If you think you might be a victim of medical ID fraud, get a copy of your records from your doctor, hospital, pharmacy and laboratory. Correct false medical reports immediately to avoid damaging mistakes in your healthcare. As always, advise the medical experts, be sure to check your credit reports with the three major credit reporting agencies by yourself or via your identity protection system.
THE RESPONSIBILITY TO SHRED or number of clients, is required to keep customer data secret; often there is a requirement to destroy documents before disposal. Fines for non-compliance can be stiff â€” even for the smallest of businesses.
Given the endless amount of paper the average American has to wrangle, from the ever-present junk mail to the most important of legal documents, it is common to throw unwanted or outdated papers in the trash without a second thought. But with identity theft affecting over 8 million Americans (whom on average spend 330 hours and several thousands of dollars to clear their credit and reputation), the importance of document shredding and disposal is of upmost importance. And while many Americans have adopted shredding as an important step in protecting their personal finances, it is not widely known that you may be legally obligated to do so. Any business, regardless of size
There are plenty of high-tech thieves to worry about, but in terms of identity theft, it is the dumpster-divers that you need to worry about. These low-level criminals make their living searching the refuse containers of private homes and apartment buildings, hoping to find bank statements, insurance coverage documents, invoices, tax documents â€” anything they can use to know more about you and steal your identity. It's not just financials, either. Employee evaluations, blueprints, building codes, customer lists . . . they are all valuable to a dumpster-diver.
Guarding against paper-based identity theft has never been easier. New home shredders are affordable and easy to operate, and are typically all the average consumer will need. Heavy duty models command more of a price premium, but can shred CDs, DVDs, staples, paperclips, even computer hard drives. For those with large amounts of data to destroy, shredding services save time and tend to follow higher specifications of security, which is a necessity for business owners to comply with the law. CLICK HERE FOR SPECIAL DISCOUNTS FOR ID SHIELD SUBSCRIBERS
HOW TO IMPROVE
CREDIT REPORT SERIES #3
YOUR CREDIT SCORE
Improving your credit
score is always a good
idea; lots of people have
adequate scores but could raise them with a little
effort. It is an even more pressing matter for the estimated 30 million
Americans with a score
low enough to make getting loans and credit cards
difficult to impossible. A severely low score is
usually under 620 on a scale of 300 to 850.
Raising a score has been likened to losing weight. It takes time and work,
and there is no quick fix.
PROTECT is publishing a series on understanding your credit report for a simple reason: knowing what is in these reports is vital to your economic health and safety. You need a clean report to apply for a mortgage on a house, to buy a car, or to finance any big ticket item. In the first two installments, we looked at what is in the report and how your credit score is calculated. This month: how to improve your credit score.
HERE ARE SOME KEY TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS:
PAY BILLS ON TIME Pay your bills on time. Get caught up and stay current since the longer you remain timely, the better your score. If you are way behind, a professional credit counselor may be a good idea. It won始t help your score right away, but it will get you back on track.
KEEP BALANCES LOW Keep low balances on credit cards and other revolving credit. High outstanding debt on revolving credit is bad for your score. Pay down revolving credit rather than moving it around to multiple accounts, and try to keep balances below 30% of the credit limit on each card. Paying down installments payments, such as mortgages and student loans is positive for your score, but keeping credit card balances under control has more impact. OLDER IS BETTER The longer an account has been opened, the better for your scores. Do not open a lot of new accounts. New accounts lower your average account age, which will have a larger effect on your score if you don始t have a lot of other credit information. Since the older the better for your credit history, use an older credit card once in a while so the account is seen by the scorers as active. REESTABLISH CREDIT HISTORY If you have had credit problems, opening new accounts responsibly and paying them off on time will raise your credit score in the long term.
GOODWILL HUNTING If you've been a good customer, but have one late payment, ask the lender to simply erase it from your credit history. You usually have to make the request in writing. A longer-term solution for troubled accounts is to ask that they be "re-aged." A lender might erase previous delinquencies as a reward for making a series of ontime payments.
HAVING CREDIT IS GOOD In general, having credit cards and installment loans (and paying them in a timely manner) will raise your credit score. Someone with no credit cards, for example, tends to be higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly. FIGHT UNFAIR BILLS If an unfair bill has resulted in a collections account, keep fighting with the biller and dispute the account at the credit bureaus. Collection accounts are bad for your score.
CHECK THE REPORTS There is no scoring penalty for checking credit reports from the bureaus. So check from time-to-time to make sure there are no errors. Things especially worth correcting include: late payments, charge-offs, collections or other negative items, credit limits reported as lower than they actually are, accounts listed as unpaid that were included in a bankruptcy, and negative items older than seven years that should have automatically fallen off your reports. NEXT MONTH: HOW TO FIX ERRORS
TRUE STORIES MARITAL PROBLEMS An identity theft victim who tried to get married was surprised to find that she already was a wife. Sara Benitez, 44, from Queens NY went to get a marriage license and was shocked to discover records showing she was already married to man she had never met. Araceilis Cherico had stolen her identity and used it to get married, divorced, ignore parking tickets, and even collect a refund from the IRS. While Cherico will be sentenced to 60 days in jail and have to pay thousands in back taxes and penalties, the DA's office is helping Benitez get her “marriage” expunged so she can get hitched to her longtime boyfriend
FILE SHARING FRAUD A Seattle man was sentenced to 51 months in prison for using file-sharing software to steal identities and buy merchandise under their names. Federal Judge James Robart called Gregory Kopiloff a “highwayman in the virtual world.” Kopiloff victimized more than 50 people and caused about $70,000 in losses, according to court records, by exploiting an online music swap network. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Warma to call his crimes “a particularly egregious form of identity theft, with Kopiloff invading the sanctity of people's homes to steal the most personal information from peoples' computers.” He used software such as LimeWire to search the computers of members of the file-sharing network for federal income tax returns, student financial aid applications and credit reports, according to prosecutors. The stolen merchandise was shipped to mailboxes around the Puget Sound region.
BEAUTY QUEEN BOOKED
A former Hawaiian beauty queen, with a husband and young children, has been accused of stealing the identities of more than 11 people and leading a double life in Southern California. Susan Shaw was indicted by a Hawaii grand jury on more than one hundred counts. The former Miss Hawaii International allegedly stole hundreds of credit cards and fraudulently obtained credit reports, gift cards and other documents which were found inside a rental home. Manhattan Beach police Detective Joe Aiello said the reports and documents included Social Security numbers, addresses and birthdays of victims and potential victims. Shaw is accused of stealing some $160,000. Shawʼs scam included stealing or re-routing mail to obtain bank statements and credit card applications. Shaw was especially difficult to track down because she applied for credit cards online using the internet address of a public place, like Starbucks.
NURSING A GRUDGE
A nursing-home worker is accused of stealing the identity of one of her patients. Meredith A. Sharp, 35, worked at the Hitz Memorial
Home in Alhambra IL until December 2009. Employees at the Home contacted the Madison County Sheriff's Department when they
received credit card statements for a resident with charges that had not been authorized. Sharp allegedly bought furniture, a television and other items with the resident's credit card and forged the
resident's signature to steal $16,000 money from two bank accounts. AIRPORT INSECURITY With all the concerns about airport security, it is troubling to learn that some of those who work to protect it may also have to worry about the security of their own identities. Two Lynn MA residents have been charged with stealing the identities of Transportation Security Administration employees at Boston's Logan International Airport. Tina White and Michael Washington, who reportedly had the cooperation of an insider in the TSA human resources office at the airport, pleaded not guilty. The stolen identities, including names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth, were sold for $40 each and were then used to purchase utility, telephone and television services.
Several California residents reported identity theft incidents after pumping gasoline. Photographs of two men allegedly placing
credit card â€œskimmingâ€? devices in self-service gas station card
readers from Los Angeles through Bakersfield were released by the Bakersfield Police Department. Investigators have identified
the suspects as Arman (top left) and Artak (bottom left) Martikian, both of whom are wanted for an arrest warrant charging five
counts of burglary at a local store using stolen credit card information through a skimming device from a service station in
Simi Valley. The Martikians are believed to be part of a ring which travels up and down the state installing skimming devices inside gas pump housings. The information is then retrieved manually
by the suspects or, in some cases, wirelessly downloaded from a nearby location.
IDENTITY THIEVES IN YOUR
As Facebook and other social media sites become the currency of the day, they are increasingly the target of identity thieves. A certain pattern is emerging regarding the attacks, and here are a few of the most common. 419 / ROBBERY SCAMS Thieves hijack an account and send messages claiming to have been robbed, often in another country, or are otherwise desperate for cash. Generally, the scammers are systematically going through and emailing or IMing each “friend” to try and get money wired to them. One way to address this is to ask your friend to call you before you wire any money.
FIND OUT THE LATEST SECURITY TIPS FROM FACEBOOK
HELPFUL TIPS EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW
HIDDEN FEE / QUIZ SCAMS Thieves ask you to submit your cell phone number or other personal information in order to unlock features or receive quiz results from an application. Never enter your cellphone number! While Facebook is trying to cut down on the number of misleading advertisements on the site, some users still get duped into purchasing services they donʼt really want. The IQ Quiz Scam is common: you click on an ads, youʼre brought to a site where you are asked questions, told to enter your phone number to view the results, and get billed on your cellphone for the rest of your life.
SIMULATED LOGIN PAGES In this situation, a simulated login page is actually fake. A frequent way Facebook accounts get compromised is through simple phishing scams. A userʼs account is compromised by a hacker; the hacker then uses that account to automatically post links on each of that userʼs friendsʼ walls. Sometimes the system will send messages to the friends with a link that redirects to a page with a fake Facebook login page (as pictured above). One way to tell if itʼs a scam is by looking at the URL of the page you land on; always go to the Facebook URL itself to log in.
MALWARE / VIRUSES / WORMS Messages from friends with links should raise a red flag. The account may have been hijacked and the scammers are sending you to malicious sites set up to steal personal information stored on your computer. The safest approach is always to be skeptical of strange links posted to a profile or inbox, and avoid downloading files that youʼre prompted to, no matter what.