All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.
July 2010 - Posts
A federal appeals court ordered Virginia's attorney general to cease threats of suing a privacy advocate who publishes Social Security numbers of elected officials on the Web site, The Virginia Watchdog.
Betty Ostergren, owner of the site, now avoids being sued by the state's top law enforcement official for breaching a state law that prohibits the publication of such information. The court did not, however, strike down the law, which was adopted in 2008 and carries a $3,500 per violation.
A three-judge panel said the regulation breached Ostergren's First Amendment rights as they applied to her protected political speech. The court found the purpose of her speech outweighed the privacy interests of around three dozen public officials whose data were published on her site. She published land records that contained the Social Security numbers to protest the data being included in local government documents publicly available online.
"Seeing a document containing a Social Security number posted on my Web site makes a viewer understand instantly, at a gut level, why it is so important to prevent the government from making this information available," Ostergren said.
The determining factor in the judgment by the panel was not that the numbers were posted, but how they were posted. They were not posted in a list form, but were part of documents maintained by government officials.
Ostergren's lobbying of the Virginia government resulted in the state moving to redact 2 million records.
In May, a federal judge in Florida struck down a law prohibiting the publication of a police officer's name, phone number or address, calling the statute an unconstitutional restraint on speech.
The ruling stemmed from a case involving the arrest of a Florida man who was jailed in 2008 for posting the personal information of a police officer at ratemycop.com. The man posted the information, which the site did not normally require, after he claimed that the officer was rude to him when investigating a call at the apartment complex he managed.
The case was later dismissed for procedural reasons, but the man sued, and a judge awarded him $25,000 in damages.
The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning about a new phishing scam that is being passed around in Facebook. The subject if the scam is McDonald's, but the real target is your personal information.
The scam claims that McDonald's is closing and there's a link attached that offers the "real" reason why. The message reads: "OMG! McDonald's might soon shut down because of this! Warning: Your jaw will drop to the floor!"
The reader is then instructed to follow the steps to find out why, and is ultimately led to a link that reads, "Like This Page!" and then click on the "Like" button to continue.
Once the link is clicked, the reader is asked to take a survey that asks for personal information. There is also the risk of infecting your computer with spyware, malware or viruses designed to steal personal information or passwords stored on your computer.
Phishing scams work because they have a sensational hook disguised as a link that promises insider information. The reason scammers use Facebook is simple: the site has 500 million users. It's one of the biggest ponds on the Internet in which to phish.
The BBB offers some advice to protect your identity online.
• Parents should teach their children about online scams and identity theft, since millions of Facebook users are young people.
• Do not click on suspicious links disguised as sensational information, even if the link comes from a Facebook friend.
• Do not give out personal information online unless you are 100 percent sure the recipient is a secure, encrypted site and you know for what purpose the information will be used. Web addresses for secure sites begin with "https" and have a padlock symbol in the lower right corner of the screen.
The U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics has released its National Crime Victimization Survey, and it shows that identity theft increased 23 percent from 2005 to 2007.
During that same two-year period, the number of households that experienced credit card theft increased by 31 percent, and the number that experienced multiple types during the same episode increased by 37 percent. During the six-month period for which data was collected, 3.3 percent of households discovered that at least one member had been a victim of at least one type of identity theft. From 2005 to 2007, the number of households that experienced the unauthorized use of a credit card, another existing account and multiple types of identity theft in a single episode all increased significantly.
In 2007, half of all victimized households, accounting for nearly 4 million households, experienced the unauthorized use or attempted use of a credit card account. The second-most common type of identity theft in 2007, experienced by 1.9 million households, involved the unauthorized or attempted use of existing accounts such as bank, checking or debit, or cell phone.
Households headed by individuals ages 65 and up were less likely than any other age groups to be victims of identity theft. A lower percentage of HIspanic households experienced identity theft than non-Hispanic households. Households with incomes of $75,000 or more experienced a higher rate of identity theft than households in lower income brackets. Households with one person were less likely to experience ID theft than households with two or more persons.
In 2007, 32 percent of households victimized by ID theft reported a financial loss of $500 or more. Households experiencing the theft of personal information were more than twice as likely as households with thefts of credit cards or other accounts to report that no money was lost due to the identity theft.
Among households experiencing the misuse of personal information, those with financial loss reported an average loss of $5,650. Across all victimized households reporting a financial loss, the average amount lost per household was $1,830.
There was no statistically significant difference in the percent of households that experienced identity theft during the last six months of 2008 compared to the last six months of 2007.
A group of environmentalists in California have been linked to identity theft, which has compromised the identities and credit of 25,000 U.S. consumers.
The computer server for Savannah, Ga.-based company SiRuDo Realty, owned by Teolita Sicay, was hacked by a thief in California. The case was reported to local authorities, and has been turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the FBI. No details on the identity of the person in question have been released, but authorities say the person is linked to the Facebook page "BoycottBP." The creator and owner of the page, Lee Perkins, is not a suspect at this time.
Facebook page owners frequently invite other FB members to join or "like" their cause but they have no access to background checks prior to approval of those persons. The page owners cannot, then, be held liable for the actions of any of their members, who are not under their control.
Identity thieves target Facebook and other social networking sites to harvest information about you and the groups or businesses found there. But there are ways you can help protect yourself, your business or your organization against this type of theft.
First of all, adjust your privacy settings to protect your identity. Unlike some social networking sites, Facebook has provided some powerful options to protect you online. But it's up to you to use them.
Be sure to read the Facebook guide to privacy. At the very bottom of every page on Facebook, there's a link marked, "Privacy." The linked page is "a guide to privacy on Facebook," which contains the latest privacy functions and policies. An example of this verbiage is the latest change made in May of this year, in which Facebook discloses information that it sets as visible to everyone and that you cannot make private. This includes sensitive information like your name, profile picture, gender and networks.
Think carefully about who you allow to become your friend. Once you have accepted someone as your friend, he or she can access any information about you that you have marked as viewable by your friends. You can remove friends at any time should you change your mind about someone.
You do have the option to show "limited" friends a cut-down version of your profile. You can choose to make people limited friends if you choose. This can be useful if you have associates who you do not wish to give full friend status to, or feel uncomfortable sharing personal information with.
Think about how you wish to use Facebook. If it's only to keep in touch with people and be able to contact them, then maybe it's better to turn off the bells and whistles. It makes a lot of sense to disable an option until you have decided you do want and need it, rather than start with everything accessible.
When it comes to social networking, it's not just about status updates. Set your preferences and settings with one thing in mind – keeping yourself, and your good name, safe.
A Michigan woman has been charged for the second time with trying to steal the identity of the 99-year-old woman she has been caring for.
Thirty-year-old Julia Robinson of Sterling Heights, Mich., attempted to steal from the Roseville, Mich., woman in order to obtain credit cards. Robinson was arraigned on one county of false statement of identity to obtain a financial transaction device, and one count of possession of personal information with intent to commit identity theft.
This is the second time in five months Robinson has attempted the scam. She previously pleaded guilty to obtaining and using credit cards in February. She received a reduced charge and probation. She is being held on a $50,000 bond in the Macomb County, Mich. jail.
When most people think of elder abuse, they think of neglect, physical or psychological mistreatment. But identity theft perpetrated against the elderly by their caregivers is a form of abuse. The crime may also be committed by family members and even strangers, in order to use the personal information to obtain credit cards, jobs, mortgages, payday loans and more.
But why are the elderly targeted? In many cases, they have more money, cash reserves, home equity and other resources, and often have nearly spotless credit. Many of them may not be technologically savvy, and may not be aware of the scams being used to commit identity theft.
Many seniors don't actively monitor their credit reports, and are also very trusting of others. They may buy into a story told by a scammer, and wind up being taken advantage of.
What can you do to protect yourself or a loved one? First of all, become educated about the types of identity theft and other financial scams that target senior citizens. Don't carry your Social Security or Medicare card with you. Carry a copy of your Medicare card with you, with the Social Security number blacked out. This will keep your information safe, but provide it if you need medical attention.
Do not give out your personal information on the telephone. Check to be sure the caller is legitimate by calling the company back. Make sure you research charities before you donate to them. Keep your personal information locked up, and shred documents you don't need.
Don't sign the back of your credit or debit cards: instead write, "Photo ID Needed," so that a photo ID will be required to use them. Make copies of your credit and debit cards for reference in case of theft. Don't carry cards with you that you don't need.
Protect your mail by obtaining a locking mailbox and make sure to have your mail held if you leave town for a few days. Don't put your trash out until the day of pickup. And last, be careful who you give power of attorney to.
By taking these steps, you or your loved one can breathe easier, knowing your information – and your good name – is safe.