What is Identity Theft and Cyber Theft?
Identity theft can happen either electronically via electronic devises, which is often referred to as cyber theft or physically by grabbing your information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, about 9 million American have their identity stolen each year. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Cyber theft (aka cyber crime) occurs when the crime is done electronically – through your computer or other device.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
Identity theft can occur in a number of ways, such as digging through your trash, recording your credit card numbers, obtaining your personal information through false pretenses, hacking your email address, changing your address to receive items at a separate location, and stealing wallets, purses or driver licenses. Common crimes of this type are Trickery, Grab and Run, Address changes, Dumpster Diving, Skimming and Pfishing. Cyber-fraud or cyber-theft is usually associated with theft through electronic deception.
Trickery – Trickery is the good old fashion way of convincing you the crook is a good guy. This can be someone calling saying they are from IRS and asking for your social security number. And it can be an elaborate scheme such as recreating a company’s identity and asking that you wire money that were expecting to wire, to the wrong account. Be careful to whom you provide your information.
Dumpster Diving – By throwing away your bank statements, credit card statements, medical bills, pre-approved credit card solicitations, and other personal documents in your kitchen garbage, you can attract thieves and lead to a financial tragedy. Anyone of those documents can be sitting in your outside garbage bins waiting for someone to come steal your garbage and piece together your mail. Always shred documents with personal information.
Skimming – Skimming is the gathering of your credit card information without you knowing it. It can happen by a crook adding a small device to an unattended credit card scanner, such as at a gas station pump or ATM. Or a criminally-minded employee at a retailer can easily run your card through a special copying machine during the course of legitimately running your transactions. Be careful of who you provide your credit card information.
Pfishing – Pfishing is pronounced fishing. It is a funny looking way to spell a word but it is exactly like fishing – but electronically and not in the water. Every day thousands of people receive emails from people claiming to be financial institutions requesting you to click on a link to verify information. These links are actually fictitious sites created by thieves who send spam or pop-up messages to gain your personal information.
And everyone has received an email claiming to have a zillion dollars that is yours if you will just give them your account so they can wire you the money. NEVER, ever log onto your financial site from an email link – or click on an email link you are not sure of. You should always type your bank’s address separately and log on – not from an email.
Address Changing – Thieves change your address to have future personal documents sent directly to them by completing a change of address form. Pay attention if you suddenly do not get regular mail delivered to your house.
Grab and Run – The age old grab and run is the old fashion way of identity theft! This is usually done just to get cash and is not as popular with crooks because it exposes them to getting caught as it requires their physical presence. Don’t let this conventional means of stealing your identity fool you. Carrying little cash with you should not negate your concerns for losing your wallet. Credit cards, social security cards, health care needs and any other non-threatening document can give a thief exactly what they need to steal from you.
What They Do With Your Information
Thieves may open credit card accounts in your name, fail to pay bills and hurt your credit. By changing your billing address, you may never know that your account is being charged. Utilities, wireless, cable and heating accounts can be opened using your information. Thieves can also create fake checks using your name, write illegitimate checks or duplicate your ATM card. Some thieves may even take out loans in your name. Fake IDs can also be made using his or her picture with your information. Vehicles and houses are not to be discounted, they too can be rented in your name, and jobs can be obtained using your social security number.
Cyber Theft with Real Estate Closings
Most real estate transactions involve wiring money to and from the title agency, the lender and/or buyers and sellers. The bad guys often hack and secretly monitor email accounts of real estate agents and other parties of the transaction. When they see information going through email about wiring funds they will duplicate wire instructions with their bank information, and send the instructions to the unsuspecting party to wire funds.
This type of cyber fraud is VERY serious and can cost the consumer (buyer or seller) their life’s savings. They unknowingly wire an escrow deposit or closing proceeds to the wrong person. These funds will usually be gone forever to some overseas account. It can be prevented. Always call and confirm wire instructions. Make sure you are calling the correct number and not the phone number on the email with the instructions. Look for the phone number on a prior email – not from the email with the instructions. You can also look on the internet for the phone number.
DON’T BE A VICTIM!
Here are some ways you can protect yourself from identity theft.
- Empty your wallet of extra credit cards and identity
- Shred all financial documents you don’t need to keep. Do not throw them in the trash.
- Release personal data only to agencies that require it to initiate certain actions
- Ensure your pin numbers cannot be viewed by others when entering it into an ATM
- Physically grab and jiggle the card scanner on ATM and gas station pumps.
- Shred all financial receipts and never leave then at the retail location
- Do not keep passwords or your Social Security number in your wallet
- Remove mail promptly from your mailbox
- Deposit outgoing mail in locked post collection boxes, not in your mailbox
- Use caution when supplying your financial information over the Internet
- Order and review copies of our financial report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion every year.
- Call and verify wiring instructions before wiring funds.
What if you become a victim?
All may not be lost if you do become a victim. The sooner you act to protect yourself, the better. Call your local police or sheriff fraud departments. If you have experienced identity theft, you should also call your credit reporting agencies:
TransUnion: 888-909-8872; www.transunion.com
Equifax: (800) 525-6285; www.equifax.com
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com
Close accounts and alert fraud departments of each company where and account was opened or changed without your permission. File a police report with your local authority, state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission.
For More Information: Contact the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: (866) 653-4261; or you can write to the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. You can also go to www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov to file a complaint.