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ID theft

All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.

January 2009 - Posts

  • ID theft watchdogs thrown to the hounds

    I wrote a couple weeks ago about Dave Lieber, the Dallas-Fort Worth Star Telegram ID theft watchdog whose identity was stolen. A few weeks before that I wrote about the Best Buy Bandits, a gang of identity thieves who stole credit cards and driver’s licenses from gym lockers, raced to Best Buy to buy computers and cameras, and then immediately sold the stuff on eBay.

    Now, there's an interesting amalgam of those stories. David Lazarus, the LA Times consumer columnist whose driver’s license, credit cards and cash were stolen from his gym locker last weekend while he worked out. Lazarus discovered the theft almost immediately, but

    Within minutes the thief had used his MasterCard to buy $432.99 worth of stuff at Toys R Us (nice to know the kiddies come first). Then it was onto Best Buy for the purchase of a nifty $1,350.80 Apple laptop on Lazarus’s American Express card.

    Then a second Toys-R-Us stop (different store) where the thief used the stolen Bank of America card to spend another $497.98 on the kids.

    Then back to Best Buy (the same store) where he picked up a Canon digital camera for $1298.97—maybe to take pictures of the delighted kids when they get their $900 worth of toys. The security camera there got a picture of the culprit, a large, athletically built white man.

    The whirlwind shopping spree came to an abrupt halt when the thief tried to make a $575.40 purchase at Target; all three cards were denied because of the rapidity with which so many high-dollar purchases had been made.
     

    Posted Jan 30 2009, 05:10 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Stolen mail and identity theft: they go together like peas and carrots

    Like Forrest and Jenny, peas and carrots, methamphetamine addicts and identity theft goes together. It was true when the U.S. Department of Justice released the 2007 intelligence bulletin from the National Drug Intelligence Center linking increasing identity theft to increasing meth use, and a recent case in Seattle indicates the link is still strong.

    Kristofer Jensen used the stolen identities of more than 40 people to support his meth addiction between January 2007 and March 2008. His primary source for his victims’ personal information was their stolen mail.

    Using that information he made fake ID cards bearing his victims’ names but his photo. He then used those IDs to withdraw more than $200,000 from their bank accounts. In March 2007 he hit one bank account 15 times. In August 2007 Jensen made a single $11,500 withdrawal from one account. Jensen netted another $14,000 from another victim’s account at First Tech Credit Union in Washington County Oregon.

    Jim Dunn, a detective with the Thurston County Sheriff’s office in Washington estimated that 95% of the ID theft cases he worked were related to meth addiction. The addicts would steal mail and trade the personal information harvested from it for meth to feed their addictions, and cash to cover their basic living expenses.

    Jensen received a 10-year prison sentence last Friday in the Seattle U.S. District Court.

    Protecting your identity from mail theft is easy: use a locked U.S. Postal Service mailbox to send and receive your mail. If you have a hard time excepting the inconvenience of using a mailbox away from home, use a locking mailbox to receive mail, and send out your mail from a USPS drop box.
     

    Posted Jan 29 2009, 03:59 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • If only they had used their powers for good instead of evil

    Police aren’t entirely sure how they did it yet, but Tychell Letrein Robinson and Patrice V. Johnson were arrested Monday for stealing the identities of 300 victims. Among the evidence against them are the six computers and ledgers full of stolen personal information that were discovered in their Fort Pierce, FL homes.

    The local Sheriff, Ken Mascara, said local criminal knew they could easily make $50 by selling personal information to the women.

    The arrests are the culmination of a two-year investigation conducted by the Sheriff’s office, the Fort Pierce Police Department, the Fort St. Lucie Police Department and the U.S. Postal Service.

    Authorities suspect the women used the stolen identities to open bogus accounts at SunTrust Bank, which offered $50 to $175 for each new account.

    Both women have had several previous arrests, but Robinson is credited with being “the brains of the operation.” Under her tutelage, Johnson learned how to successfully file fraudulent unemployment benefits claims, apply for and receive student loans at Indian River State College and Kaiser University, and how to make thousands of dollars a week through identity theft … all at the same time.

    The industrious Johnson also owns a custodial business, Johnson Cleaning Service, and authorities suspect she might have gotten some of the stolen identities from the businesses’ computers.

    Johnson was released Monday after posting a $45,000 bond. Robinson posted a $10,000 bond and was released the same day.
     

    Posted Jan 28 2009, 05:25 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Las Vegas mortgage broker faces federal charges for dumping applications

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure … or it might be another man’s mortgage application, credit report, tax returns or bank statements. In this case, it’s the basis for charges filed by the Federal Trade Commission.

    Gregory Navone, a Las Vegas mortgage broker, stored in his garage roughly 40 boxes of mortgage applications, tax returns, bank statements, photocopies of driver’s licenses and credit cards, and at least 230 credit reports. After that, he threw them all in a public dumpster.

    The boxes of documents were found December 20, 2006 by a neighbor who’d complained before about loose trash and litter blowing into his yard from the nearby office building’s trash containers. A closer look revealed that the papers came from First Interstate Mortgage, which had an office just down the street.

    Navone was registered as the president of First Interstate Mortgage, and First Interstate Realty and BNG LLC, which had offices at the Decatur Boulevard address where the documents were found.

    The FTC filed a complaint with in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on Dec. 30, 2008.

    Navone is charged with violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Disposal Rule because he didn’t take reasonable care in protecting consumers’ information. And, because he gave his clients a written statement assuring them that the companies maintained “physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards that comply with federal standards to store and secure information about you from unauthorized access, alteration and destruction” (though apparently the companies didn’t), Navone is also charged with violating the FTC Act.

     

    Posted Jan 27 2009, 03:20 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Monster.com alerts users to third data breach in less than 2 years

    As if job searching in this economy isn’t discouraging enough, those seeking jobs through Monster.com have been notified that yet another data breach has put users at risk of identity theft.

    Monster.com posted a warning to their users on their website Friday. Hackers were able to access user IDs, passwords, names, e-mail addresses, birth dates, gender and ethnicity were exposed. In some cases the users’ state of residence was also exposed. Monster.com doesn’t collect Social Security numbers or resumes, so neither of those could have been exposed.

    Monster.com also hostsUSAJobs.com, the federal government’s website for job openings, and users of that site were also affected.

    In the security warning, Monster.com recommended users voluntarily change their passwords now, and alerted them that they would soon be required to change their passwords and login information.

    Monster.com also told their users that they would not contact them via e-mail, and advised them to delete any e-mails from senders posing as Monster.com because they are most likely phishing attempts to obtain personal information.


    This is the third monstrous data breach for the job search giant. Hackers attacked with a Trojan horse to steal the personal information of 1.6 million users and send it on to remote server. Later that same year, hackers attacked Monster.com again with malicious code that infected visitors’ computers with a virus.

    Monster.com said in their warning that they have not yet found any evidence of identity theft resulting from the data breach.
     

    Posted Jan 26 2009, 03:05 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Obama inauguration spam

    Barack Obama’s inauguration has inspired millions of people, including cyber crooks bent on identity theft.

    Watch out for headlines like “Barack Obama refused to be president of the United States of America,” and “There is no president in the USA anymore”; they’re linked to malicious software called “netbots” that automatically invade your computer and steal your information. They also “worm” their way into the computers of everyone else in your address book or anyone else you connect with online.

    Just hours after Obama was elected last November, millions of email inboxes received spam with “Obama acceptance speech” in the subject line, enticing millions of people to click on the link, thinking they’d get a chance to read the transcript. What they got instead was a nasty Trojan horse malware installed on their computers. When that happens, any information on the computer—bank account information, credit card statements, Social Security numbers, etc—is captured and sent back to a remote computer.

    To avoid an invasion, follow these rules:

    • If you receive an email with a tempting subject line like “You’re a winner” don’t open it; just delete it.
    • If you receive an email that instructs you to provide personal or financial information by clicking on a link, delete it. Even if it seems to be from a reputable source—your bank, credit card company, or the IRS—delete it. It’s been said a million times already: no financial institution or government agency will ever send you an email requesting that your information be submitted via email or the Internet.


     

    Posted Jan 23 2009, 05:11 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • How many people know enough about you to steal your identity?

    By now you’re probably cautious about giving out your personal and financial information, and provide your Social Security number, credit card or bank account numbers exclusively on a must-know basis.

    We can only hope these people are trustworthy. Unfortunately I see stories everyday about people who were entrusted with that information and then went on to use it for personal gain by committing identity theft.

    Carniola Santana, of Allentown, PA is one of those cretins. Santana’s job in a real estate office gave her easy access to the information of hundreds of clients. She sold that information to Jose Amid Juarbe of Philadelphia who then used it to open several fraudulent credit card accounts, buy almost $25,000 worth of furniture and obtain roughly $70,000 in loans, according to police. Working together, Santana and Juarbe did more than $100,000 in damage.

    Santana admitted to police that she stole credit reports from Dino Melendez Realty and sold them to Juarbe.

    Juarbe pleaded guilty to committing theft, stealing several identities and writing bad checks between September 2007 and January 2008. Juarbe was convicted but hasn’t been sentenced yet.

    Santana has been charged with seven counts of identity theft and seven counts of conspiracy, but hasn’t been arrested yet.

    Now, think back to all the places you’ve revealed your personal and financial information. Even if you know and trust the person you gave it to—like your real estate agent, for instance—you don’t know everybody who has access to your identity.
     

    Posted Jan 22 2009, 02:17 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Don't give out personal information to strangers over the phone, and never use power tools for acts of personal hygiene

    It’s hard sometimes to give people advice without sounding condescending. For instance, if I said not to stick a fork in an electrical outlet, some people would be offended. A well-intended warning about the dangers of simultaneously showering and blow-drying your hair might make some people a little huffy.

    But you know there are people out there who must be cautioned … repeatedly. So don’t kill the messenger; I’m just passing along a warning from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

    Don’t give out personal information to strangers who call you on the phone. Don’t give them your Social Security number, your bank account number, your credit card number, the routing number or the time of day.

    Apparently the old “You missed jury duty” scam has reared its ugly, old gray head again. It goes like this: Somebody calls claiming to be from your local courthouse, and says they’re calling the jury duty you missed.

    If you get indignant about never having been summoned for jury duty, the caller will ask for your date of birth, then make noises as if he’s checking that against his records. Then he’ll ask for your Social Security number. By that time he has all he needs to open new credit in your name.

    Or, sometimes, the caller will tell you there’s a fine for failing to appear for jury duty, and that if you don’t pay it right away an arrest warrant will be issued. You can, of course, pay by credit card over the phone …

    And if you ever hear of someone you know falling for this scam, issue a kind and patient reminder about the dangers of cleaning out one's ears with a power drill. They might have forgotten that one.

    Posted Jan 20 2009, 04:30 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Child identity theft leaves longlasting scars

    “Childhood is what we spend the rest of our lives overcoming.” Amy Bennett

    We’re all at least a little scuffed up by the time we leave childhood behind. The unmitigated cruelties of other children, the injustices meted out by exasperated parents and the bitter rivalries among siblings leave scrapes and bruises on our psyches. The luckiest among us suffer psychic injuries no greater than those left on our knees by our first intercourse with two-wheelers.

    Other children aren’t as lucky. Besides the crimes of abuse, children can also carry the scars of childhood identity theft into adulthood. A child’s family members--most frequently the parents--usually commit childhood identity theft. The crime usually goes undetected until the child is entering adulthood and attempting to acquire credit for the first time.

    Zach Friesen found out he was a victim of childhood identity theft at 17 when he was denied a job a stock clerk. When Zach was only seven someone else had stolen his identity and used to finance a $40,000 houseboat, but never made the payments. He later learned that his absent father was the perpetrator. Friesen spent two years clearing his identity, and another 10 years trying to clean up his credit record.

    Family members aren’t the only ones to target children. Every time a child’s personal information is given out for school, daycare, sports programs and medical, another opportunity for theft is created.

    The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 500,000 children become victims every year, but they don’t track childhood identity theft separately, so they can only estimate. What they do know is that the number of reported incidents is climbing. Three percent of all complaints in 2003 were about people under 18; in 2004 that climbed to 4%, and climbed again to 5% between 2005 and 2007.

    What you can do
    At least once a year request a credit report in your child’s name from all three credit reporting agencies. There shouldn’t be one for a minor. If a credit report exists, contact the police to report the crime, and notify the credit bureaus that your child is a victim of identity theft.
     

    Posted Jan 19 2009, 03:18 PM by IdentityTheft with 1 comment(s)
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  • Tax season, Part IV: Data breach risks

    The first three installments focused on identity theft risks over which you have considerable control: your mail, your household and your email. This final installment pertains to the risk of a computer data breach that exposes your personal and financial information and leaves you vulnerable to identity theft, and that’s entirely out of your control.

    The smattering of fearful Luddites who don’t file their taxes electronically can be reassured. Since Turbo Tax became available for paperless tax filing in 2001 there has been only one report of information exposure. A Nebraska woman searching for her past tax records in 2007 discovered she could view the records of other taxpayers with similar names. (The woman’s name has never been revealed because of security reasons. We can only pray that her last name wasn’t Smith or Jones.) Turbo Tax immediately fixed the glitch, and there were never any resultant identity theft cases.

    If you are involved in a tax-related data breach this year, it will most likely occur at the Internal Revenue Service. In 2007, the Treasury Inspector General reported that the IRS lost track of almost 500 laptops in 387 separate security breaches affecting an untold number of taxpayers. Also in 2007, 26 IRS computer tapes went missing after they were delivered to City Hall in Kansas City. Again, an untold number of taxpayers’ personal and financial information was exposed.

    Though the common perception is that hackers are the biggest threat to our electronic information, the Identity Theft Resource Center just reported that of the 110 federal, state and local government data breaches in 2008, hackers executed only 5%. Employees and subcontractors are to blame for the rest.

    Conclusion

    You know what they say about death and taxes: You can't avoid either of them. Unfortunately, they could say the same about data breaches. But you can significantly decrease your chances of becoming a tax season identity theft statistic. Protect your mail. Secure your personal finance records. Beware of phishing. Enroll in a comprehensive identity theft protection service because, like death and taxes, data breaches happen. Research and compare the most popular identity theft services. Be sure to look for one that monitors the websites, chat rooms and online forums where stolen identities are bought, sold and traded. To my knowledge LifeLock is the only one that provides this, but there may be others.

    Happy filing.

  • Tax season, Part III: Securing your information at home

    This week I’m focusing on the importance of identity protection during tax season. Earlier posts addressed protecting your mail and avoiding phishing scams. Today’s post focuses on the steps you need to take to protect your information inside your home.

    Though it’s hard to face, 31% of identity theft victims who are certain of the perpetrator’s identity say a friend or family member committed the crime. Shocking as it may be, it makes perfect sense because these are the people who have easy access.

    Think about all the people who come into your home. It’s a sad fact, but most families include someone with drug, alcohol, gambling or compulsive shopping problems, or a history of illegal actions. Among victims who knew the imposter, 95% said the imposter had these problems.

    Now look at the people outside your family. Do you employ a housekeeper, nanny, babysitter or nursing assistant? Will you be employing someone to perform remodeling or repair work inside your home? Do you have regular pest control? How about carpet cleaning, electronics installation or repair?

    Any of these workers has access to personal or financial information that isn’t locked in a drawer, lockbox or safe. Electronic files, including those on PDAs, should be password protected. Clean out your wallet. Keep just one credit card or bankcard, and lock up your other credit cards and your checkbooks, Social Security and insurance cards in a safe or lockbox.

    Where do you leave your mail? Is it sitting on the desk or on a table just inside the door? How about your paid and unpaid bills? Where are your banking and financial records? What about all the records you’re using to prepare your taxes or organize them for an accountant? Even if they’re in a desk drawer or file cabinet, unless they’re locked up, they’re a potential information source for a thief.

    These are perpetual risks to your personal and financial information, but during tax time people are more likely to leave their records out in the open. Don’t add the grief of identity theft to your list of stressors; paying taxes and dealing with the Internal Revenue Service is headache enough.
     

    Posted Jan 15 2009, 02:06 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Tax season, Part II: Phishing expeditions

    I wrote yesterday about how important it is to safeguard your mail during tax season to protect yourself from identity theft. Today’s installment is about how to avoid getting hooked by phishing scams.

    The first and most important thing you need to know is that the IRS will never, NEVER send you an information request via email. Yet that’s the ploy used in a phishing attacks during tax season. Last year the IRS shut down almost 1,700 websites where taxpayers were directed via phishing email links.

    In the phishing emails they will ask you to reply to their email or click on a link to confirm your Social Security number, bank account number, date of birth, etc. Never click on a link provided in an email that looks like it’s from the IRS.

    Most people believe they can identify a phishing email by carefully examining the graphics for authenticity, but when put to the test, more than 60% of the phishing emails were thought to be the genuine article. The graphics and lay out are impeccable. It’s that simple to cut and paste or duplicate the graphics from a legitimate website and use them for phishing.

    Besides knowing that the IRS won’t ever ask for information via email, another sure tip off that an email is a fake is the presence of misspelled words, bad grammar or poor punctuation.

    Click here to take a quick 10-question quiz provided by the good folks at SonicWALL Inc. to see if you can discern legitimate emails from phishing expeditions. I eat, sleep and breath ID theft and was sure I'd ace this quiz.  I didn't. On the upside, the ones I missed were legitimate emails that I thought were fakes!

    Posted Jan 14 2009, 05:24 PM by IdentityTheft with 1 comment(s)
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  • Tax season, Part l: Your W-2 is due

    To paraphrase John Donne, ask not for whom the tax man cometh; he comes for thee.

    Yes my dears, it’s nearly tax time again, and that means identity theft season is rapidly approaching. Every year there’s a spike in the number of reported identity thefts traced to stolen mail, online tax filing security holes, lax computer security and easy access to the financial information left strewn around on desks and dining room tables all across America.

    We can’t minimize the pain of tax season, but we have tips to keep the pain from compounding.

    Safeguarding your mail is the most important step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft during tax season. Millions of W-2 forms are going to be mailed out by the January 31 deadline. If you don’t have a locking mailbox, your W-2 can be easily stolen by an identity thief who will then have your name, Social Security number, address, employment and salary information. In short, he’ll have everything necessary to steal your identity, take out tax refund advances and open new credit accounts.

    Even if you escape this first threat, later this spring when your tax return arrives, identity thieves will be able to snatch up your tax return and cash it.

    It’s imperative that you either swap out your old mailbox for a new locking model, or do away with your home mailbox altogether and use a post office box instead. This latter option is the most secure for incoming and outgoing mail.

    Over the next few days I’ll give you some more tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft. Tax season is painful enough.
     

    Posted Jan 13 2009, 02:29 PM by IdentityTheft with 3 comment(s)
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  • ID theft Watchdog becomes ID theft victim

    Alanis Morisette had it all wrong when she said rain on your wedding day was ironic; a better example might have been Dave Lieber’s becoming an identity theft victim … again.

    You see, Lieber is The Watchdog, the identity theft columnist in the Star Telegram, the Dallas-Fort Worth newspaper. It seems he got a New Year Eve’s phone call from a woman at a collection agency who sternly urged him to pay up on the $279 bounced check he’d written at an area Wal-Mart in December.

    Her demand would be fair enough if he’d actually written a bad check at Wal-Mart, but he’d never been to that Wal-Mart, doesn’t write checks at Wal-Mart and, presumably, can cover the checks he writes elsewhere.

    It’s my personal opinion that there are a lot of reasons to dislike Wal-Mart, but Lieber’s are probably better than mine. After all, this is the second time they’ve accused him of being a deadbeat. The first time was 13 years ago when they refused to accept his check as payment for merchandise because of the bad checks he’d already written at Montgomery Ward and a toy store. They were wrong about him that time, too.

    The thieves who used Lieber’s identity last month did so with synthesized checks that were probably printed with his name and address on a standard home computer. Yes, it’s that easy. Passing the check probably wasn’t very challenging either because Wal-Mart employees only perform random driver’s license checks.
     

    Posted Jan 12 2009, 02:59 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Can you trust your pet?

    It's Friday and time to lighten up a little. Here's a lighthearted warning about a new identity theft threat that could affect you, your family and those you love. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

     


    Posted Jan 09 2009, 01:10 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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