Archive for April, 2013

In the aftermath of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, America’s charitable nature was fully on display. The horrific stories and images of people injured in the blasts galvanized a wave of financial support from across the country. Unfortunately, quick-thinking fraudsters were already a step ahead, sending emails and setting up social media accounts designed to turn good intentions into personal gain.

The FBI sent out an alert, noting that its Internet Crime Complaint Center had seen indications of fraudulent activity attempting to take advantage of people donating to the Boston cause. The alert mentioned phishing emails, domain name purchases and referenced a Twitter account that had been set up using the Boston Marathon name and logo. While Twitter shut down that account after savvy users noticed it was newly registered and had very few followers, it goes to show that scammers think and act quickly to capitalize on tragedy.

To avoid being duped, learn how to avoid scams that follow in the wake of a disaster-natural or manmade.

• Be skeptical about emails. An email with an account of the bombings, supposedly written by a victim, might be a moving read, but it could also be a scam attempt. If there’s a request for donations at the end of the email, ignore it and send funds to a well-known charity instead.

• Research charities. A number of previously unknown charities are likely to pop up in the days following a tragedy. Instead of donating to those organizations on a whim, do a bit of research. Even a cursory Web search can provide details about a charity, but sites like GiveWell.org and GuideStar.org, which list recognized charities, are another great resource.

• Beware of text solicitations. Texts soliciting disaster donations should always be viewed with suspicion. Some might provide links to websites or app downloads that can install malware used in identity theft. Others include a phone number; when users call, they’re asked for credit card information, which thieves then use to perpetrate fraud.

Anyone who gives to charity wants their donation to reach the true victims of a disaster. Being wise to scams enables givers to ensure that their donations are going to the right place, all while protecting against fraud and identity theft.

While late night TV has shown that there is an endless array of stupid criminals out in the world, many identity thieves can’t be counted among that bunch. Using well-honed tech skills and some malicious creativity, these scammers are constantly looking for and launching new ways to prey on unsuspecting victims.

Since everyone is a potential target for identity theft, there’s no excuse for ignoring the latest tricks and hacks that these criminals come up with. Staying aware is staying safer, and becoming familiar with some quick tips will bring you security-until the next scam pops up. Keep these trending scams in mind, but never forget to stay updated by following identity theft news.

* Phishing goes mobile. Email phishing schemes, designed to lure users into clicking a link that installs malware on your computer, have gone beyond the desktop and the laptop. As more and more people use smartphones, thieves are tapping into the technology and texting links, often under the guise of being from a friend or family member, that do the same dirty work as traditional phishing links. Never click through on a texted link to a website-double check by doing a Web search for the URL.

* Capitalizing on disaster. The charitable impulse that follows in the wake of disastrous events is something that thieves want to make the most of. By setting up fake charities, soliciting donations and even posing as IRS agents who can help disaster victims with filing casualty loss claims, thieves heartlessly prey on good intentions and bad situations. Stay safe by only donating to recognized organizations, and never give out personal financial information or Social Security numbers.

Awareness is the key to identity safety in the age of creative criminals and hackers. Luckily, ID theft scams are often in the news-stay informed to stay protected.

For more information, please read this interview with IDT911 Co-founder and Chairman Adam Levin on .

Children are almost the perfect victims for identity thieves: They’re unlikely to monitor credit, they don’t keep track of a bank account and they probably won’t do either of those things for years. The only potential protection comes from vigilant family members-but sometimes those family members are the very ones who abuse children’s identities.

In many cases, when a family member or friend steals a child’s identity, the crime goes unreported. However, statistics show that in of reported instances of , friends and family are responsible. Parents, relatives or friends of the family might use a child’s identity to get a mortgage, apply for credit cards, employment, government benefits and more.

Protecting a child’s identity from those whom you trust the most can feel particularly difficult, but taking preventive steps could make a world of difference. While there’s no need to treat friends and family differently, these tips can lessen the risk of your child’s ID being stolen:

* Guard your child’s . Don’t give it out without first asking how it will be used, how it will be protected, and whether providing only the last four digits is an alternative option.

* Secure documents. Paper records should be filed in a secure location-an in-home safe is a good option-so that visitors to your home can’t easily get access to them. Electronic records should be equally well protected; make sure the sites where the documents are hosted are secure, and use strong, safe passwords.

* Think critically. Consider whether there’s anyone in a child’s life who might need a quick and easy way to turn over a new leaf. Those who are struggling financially, or who have been in trouble with the law, might be desperate enough to misuse a child’s identity.

The consequences of identity theft can last for years, and children affected by it will have a much more difficult time establishing credit. Protection in the present will give them a better shot at a sound financial future.

Knowing all the right tips to foil identity thieves online and in public places (such as ATMS) can go a long way in safeguarding confidential information. However, the documents and records that linger in homes and get casually tossed into garbage cans and recycling bins are turning many unsuspecting people into victims of .

Thieves are no dummie-they know where to look for the information needed to steal an identity. Unfortunately, honest people don’t know the tricks of the thieving trade and often leave themselves vulnerable. According to the , 56 percent of identity theft victims could trace the theft back to something that was taken from their possession. With statistics like that, it’s clear that taking steps to secure your identity isn’t just a good idea-it’s essential. One of the best places to start is by shredding documents printed with sensitive information.

On April 20, the BBB is holding “Secure Your ID Day” events across the , offering free secure shredding services and advice on everyday actions to . It’s a perfect opportunity to get rid of documents that have personal information on them. Unsure of what to shred? Here are some items that should be on the list:

* Credit card offers and applications

* Insurance, bank and billing statements older than two years

* Duplicate deposit slips older than two years

* Tax returns older than 5 years

* Old pay stubs

* Cancelled checks (but not checks used for taxes, property purchases, etc.)

This free shredding event can be the kickoff to better identity protection. It’s also a good idea to purchase a home shredder-having one on hand makes it easy to shred whenever it’s necessary.

Unforgettable, Unguessable Passwords Fight ID Theft

For better or worse, life has moved online. While people still live and breathe outside the digital setting, banking, shopping, dating, socializing and more all happens on the Web and, often, behind a wall of security. But how simple is it for hackers and identity thieves hop over that wall? In many cases, it’s all too easy, but users can make it harder to scale by creating-and remembering-uniquely hard-to-hack passwords.

Identifying information is all over the Internet, and do everything they can to get what they need. While the average spam email packed with poor grammar isn’t too hard to spot, hackers are savvy. The public needs to be as well, in order to keep data safe. Follow these tips to ensure that passwords provide the security necessary to protect your identity.

• Don’t use the same passwords across the Web. Having the same password for online banking, Facebook, professional and hobby organizations is asking for trouble. Make each password different, and if necessary, cleverly work part of the website name into the password. For instance, add the last four letters of the site or company name somewhere within the password. Associating the site with the password will make that latter more memorable.

• Know what thieves know-the most common passwords. Thieves love easy-to-hack passwords, and people often make it all too simple for them. Names spelled backwards, birth dates, pets’ names, or phone numbers are highly common and easily breakable choices for passwords. Either avoid them or get creative with them (such as typing one row up, in which “kip” becomes “i80″). It’s a quick way to put a unique spin on a password that’s hard to forget.

• Make a password template. If all passwords follow a format, but contain different characters, it’s a surefire way to make memorable passwords that are hard to guess. A certain number of letters, followed by a special character (like a dash or pound sign), then followed by a group of numbers is just one example; UIO#1206 or SJO#0817 both follow the same format, but could be used for different sites. Just make sure that the letters and numbers are meaningful enough to be memorable – a mother’s initials followed by the date of a marriage proposal, for instance.

Keeping your identity secure can be a tricky business, but making the effort will help prevent identity thieves from breaching your online life.

Most people don’t make a move without having a cellphone close at hand. As smartphone popularity skyrockets and shows no signs of slowing down, more and more consumers have a GPS-capable device with them nearly 24 hours a day. While those systems can help solve navigational problems and track lost phones, they can also provide identity thieves with a perfect way to take advantage of unsuspecting victims.

Most smartphones come equipped with ways to minimize the potential for , but it’s often up to users to enable them. Features like automatic locking, passwords, and the option to turn off Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS, all of which can give savvy thieves access to sensitive information.

A home address pre-programmed into a GPS is exactly what an would want to find, but simply leaving GPS on enables thieves to tap into information while a user is out and about. Not only can it lead them straight to a home when the owner is away, enabling a break-in; it also gives them two key pieces information they need to apply for credit cards or loans: a person’s name and home address. Surprisingly, a thief posing as someone doing a background check can access and purchase Social Security numbers. It’s that much easier for them to get access to Social Security numbers when they already have names and addresses.

The simple act of shutting off functionality could mean the difference between keeping your data safe or having to deal with the nightmare of a stolen identity. Next time, switch it off and stay secure.

IRS Swinging

The IRS has taken many hits over the years (we’ll reserve judgment on what’s deserved and what’s not), but for once the tax agency is earning praise. The Associated Press that the White House has included in its proposed 2014 budget several items to assist the IRS in its fight against identity theft and tax fraud. Foremost among them, the IRS would be able to slap criminals who file fraudulent returns with a $5,000 civil penalty per incidence and “[increase] criminal sentences for those convicted of tax-related identity theft.”

This can only be good news. According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS)—a division that is within the IRS but independent of the agency—it’s about time for an IRS smackdown. According to the , tax-related identity theft shot up 78 percent in 2012 and 650 percent since 2008, and the IRS has nearly 650,000 unresolved cases in its pipeline. Any new weapon in the government’s arsenal is going to help, and these measures tell criminals that the fight is about to get serious. (For the other tax-fraud nerds out there: The TAS’s   is a great source of information—and a healthy dose of IRS hand-slapping, which is always good for a midday pick-me-up.)

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The dating game isn’t what it used to be. For those seeking a prospective mate, using online dating services is no longer a taboo-it’s often the go-to option. That means coming into contact with a lot of unknown people. While most have perfectly honorable intentions, some identity thieves take advantage of people’s hearts to get to their identities.

To protect your identity (and heart) when dating online, a healthy dose of caution can be useful. Above all, if someone sounds too good to be true, they probably are. Watch out for these other signs that someone might be turning on the romance for all the wrong reasons:

* Asking for too much personal information. If someone requests an address right off the bat, or too early in a relationship, don’t be afraid to withhold the information. Home addresses are an important part of the information an needs to collect to pull off a scam.

* Someone who’s too forward. They might claim to be swept off their feet, but a dating prospect who wants to move too fast might be making a break to steal an identity. Keep things at a comfortable pace, and if they’re more aggressive than what seems reasonable, don’t hesitate to cut off ties.

* Requesting money. Identity thieves preying on daters have been known to come up with elaborate stories to try to extract money from their victims. They might claim to have been robbed, or to have beloved family member who is gravely ill, and then ask for a wire transfer to help them through their difficulty. Sending money via bank transfer can give thieves information they need to access bank accounts and commit , so resist the urge to help out.

Most people only think of protecting their hearts when dating, but protecting identities should be just as important. Otherwise, daters can be in for double the heartbreak.

Anyone who has logged into a financial institution’s website in the last few years knows the drill. Enter an ID, a and then answer a range of questions, ranging from the basic (“What’s your mother’s maiden name?”) to the silly (“What was the name of your favorite stuffed animal?”). Banks and credit card companies put those questions in place as an extra layer of security to protect your accounts and guard against , but it turns out that they aren’t always effective.

Some questions suffer from the weakness of being easily guessable, like “What color are your eyes?” Others, like “Where did you go to high school?” could be answered by anyone who can look at your social media profiles. For security questions to be truly secure, it’s up to users to create strong answers – or even write their own questions.

In some cases, financial institutions give customers the option to write their own security questions. When doing so, make sure that the questions have answers that are memorable, unchanging, unique and which cannot be easily found online. Examples might be “What was your phone number during third grade?” or “Where did you have your wedding reception?”

If a company doesn’t offer the option for user-created questions, get creative with answers to the existing queries. Try adding special characters (as long as they’re easy to remember), using multiple words or “code” words that give a unique spin to a basic question like “What’s your favorite color?”. The more creative the answer, the less likely it is to be guessed by identity thieves trying to gain access to your accounts.

Weak answers to security questions can leave accounts insecure. Taking the time to create unique answers adds an extra layer of safety and frustrates the efforts hackers, credit card thieves and other scammers.

Standing face to face with a cashier, every consumer has an array of payment options: cash, check or card. There are plenty of ways for identity thieves and scammers to take advantage of a credit or debit card, but personal checks can be even more problematic. Consider this: If an identity thief gets a hold of a personal check, they have one slip of paper with an incredible amount of information, including a bank name, bank routing number, bank account number, account holder’s name, home address and possibly even more sensitive information. In short, everything they need to steal an identity.

A healthy dose of suspicion can serve consumers well when it comes to paying by personal check. It’s critical to only give personal checks to trusted companies and people. Even then, keep in mind that while Aunt Mildred is a trustworthy person, she might leave your check lying around where a thief could snatch it.

For many people, ordering checks is a reflex leftover from the days when identity theft was nowhere near as common as it is today. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for people to ask that their driver’s license number, home phone number and even their Social Security number be printed right on the check. In today’s world, where identity protection should always be top of mind, rethink the old conventions. Use a P.O. Box for the address, list a work telephone number rather than a personal one and never include critical information like your driver’s license or Social Security numbers.

If ordered checks go missing or never arrive, it’s important to inform the bank immediately. They can help protect potentially compromised accounts if they’re aware of the situation. For even more protection, shred canceled checks.

A little forethought and caution go a long way when using personal checks. Take the right actions and it’s easier to pay with confidence.