There is a great deal of money to be made by stealing your identity with few consequences. This is very motivating to those who work in this particularly shady line of business. For you, however, it means that there are always new methods of theft to watch for, including variations of the most common identity theft scams. At minimum, reading this page will give you enough information to at least be on the lookout for potential identification fraud techniques and possibly avoid being a victim.
Phishing ID Theft
Arguably, the most common (and successful) identity theft scan is phishing. In a phishing scam, a company or individual creates an email that appears to be from a respected financial institution – your bank or a website such as PayPal or eBay where you might have an account.
When you open the email, you see a message from PayPal alerting you to a problem with your account – usually something urgent such as potential fraud or pending account closure. To resolve the problem, the email will tell you, simply visit the site through the link below, enter your personal information to verify that the account is in good standing and everything will be fine.
When you click on the link included in the email, you’ll be redirected to a website that appears to be the PayPal login or information page. But when you enter your personal information on this false page, it is all being recorded to be sold and used by thieves. You complete the form, submit it and see a reassuring message that all is now well. You close the window and email comforted with the knowledge that you’re resolved a problem.
Of course the real problem is that there was no problem to begin with. Rather than protecting your account, you’ve offered criminals exactly what they were looking for – everything they need to steal your identity and potentially ruin your financial life.
Spear Phishing which is much like Phishing, but more tailored to a single individual with information obtained from a few sources, such as you myspace page or other. In this method the thief already knows they specifically want “your identity” rather than just a random bulk email, you could receive an email with references to your birthday, or your wife or children’s name as to appear that this person surely already knows you.
A common scam that still works surprisingly well despite well publicized warnings are phone scams. In a phone scam, a well-spoken representative from a charity or the local public safety program will call. The speaker will give you a standard spiel about helping abused animals, the rainforest, starving children, supporting firefighters or saving the whales.
When you express interest in donating, the scam artist might give you the option of sending in a check or giving your credit card information to the representative right over the phone. This makes the program seem more legitimate, and more elaborate scams might even transfer you to the donations department to continue with your credit card payment. From the scammers end, this is person sitting across from them at the kitchen table.
Your credit card information is duly recorded to be used again at their leisure. Your name and address are recorded so that you can receive your thank you gift in the mail, and you’ve successfully helped a scam, not a charity.
Another variation of the phone call scam is your credit card company calling with a problem on your account. The company will ask you to verify certain information including your account number, social security number and address to clear up some confusing charges that have appeared on your statement. You relay the information and hang up relieved to have a credit card company that works well to protect you.
Of course, all a scammer needs to do to make this work is steal a credit card statement from your trash. The statement will have your last four account numbers, name and address on it. He does about ten seconds of research to find your phone number, picks up the phone and calls you with a, “Hello Mr. Smith. This is Bob, a representative from Chase Bank, and we’d like to verify some recent activity on your account ending with 5454.”
Armed with even basic information gleaned from a single piece of paper, you can easily be swayed into giving away your complete identity, and all that goes with it, to an amateur scam artist.
Dumpster Diving and Fake Identity Theft
One of the simplest ways to obtain your personal information is simply picking through your trash. We are constantly throwing away or discarding old statements, bills, letters, junk mail, receipts, etc. Many of these contain your personal information that thieves can use to start using your information to open accounts. Each time you toss out credit card applications and preapprovals you asking for trouble
Unsecured Mail Boxes
Again a very easy target for an identity thief is to simply pick up your mail. Think about how many of your credit card statements have the “convenience” checks attached to them. Statements, junkmail credit card offers and other personal mail is gold to the identity thief.
Obtaining Your Credit Card or Personal Information from the Place the Thief Works
Many times identities are stolen from legitimate businesses that you just happen to do business with. Every time you pay at a restaurant, make a purchase, or fill out an application, you are trusting your information to that business. Though the business may be trustworthy enough, many identity thieves have day jobs which can give them easy access to your information.
Identy Theft At Your Place of Work
How secure is your personal information in the work place? Certainly we trust everyone at work right? Again most thieves have day jobs and will jump at the chance to take your personal information.
Lost or Stolen Wallet or Purse
Obviously most of us carry our identification and potential spending power in our wallets or purses and people lose them every day.
Stolen Papers from Your Home or Work Place and Identy theft
It used to be jewelry and electronics were the items of choice, but these days a burglar might just be after just a few pieces of paper that will give them access to much more than they might make fencing the family VCR. What’s worse, is that unlike the blank dusty square left behind when a thief takes your stereo, you may not notice the missing papers for months or years if ever. The fact is you may never know your home has been burglarized. The only evidence can show up a year later when you find out someone has opened a credit card in your name and was having statements mailed to a fictitious address.
Identity Theft Data Breach at a Company You Deal With
This is becoming all too common. A data breach is when someone is able to gain access to a bulk of personal records by hacking into or otherwise breaching the records system of a company you deal with such as the “Heartland” data breach that affected over 160 Banks and potentially over one hundred million of their customers. In the case of Heartland “malware” was planted on their servers and was used to steal customers information. Methods for data breaches are many and change constantly. One thing you can count on is that they are here to stay.
Viruses, spyware or malware on your personal, work or public computer
Like a Data Breach at a large company, we are all potential targets of the same activity on a smaller level. One of the first and most effective methods of stealing your identity and information is to compromise of either your personal computer or the one you use at work or the local coffee shop or hotel lobby. By loading spyware a thief can sit back and wait for you to type in your personal information or credit card number in what seems to be a safe environment, all the while your identification and personal information is being sent directly to the bad guys inbox.
Employment and Unemployment Fake Identity Theft Scams
Particularly in times like these with unemployment skyrocketing, people are even more susceptible to employment scams. The Identity Thief will place an ad online or in the newpaper or even on a bulletin board at the local market advertising an opening, and then attempt to have you give personal information over the phone or in an email, such as your SSN or financial information, under the pretence of needing to run a credit check, background check or other prior to the interview.
Fake Identity Theft Using Social Sites Such as Face Book or My Space
Not only do thieves use information from the information available on the internet, but they will also hack or breach your social site such as FaceBook, twitter, MySpace, etc. and attempt to have your friends or business aquatints send them money.
These are some of the more common ways scammers steal your identify, but new methods are always being developed as the old methods become less effective.
In each of the most common scenarios, the thief is able to glean enough information to use for his own purposes, or far worse, to sell to others in the illegal market of social security numbers. There are currently five million or more social security numbers being illegally traded in online markets – yours could be one of them.
There are countless ways in which your personal information can be compromised or stolen both online and off. Awareness and vigilance can protect you from most of the more likely theft scenarios.
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