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ID theft

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

December 2010 - Posts

  • Should a spouse who reads e-mails be prosecuted for identity theft?

    Michigan's Leon Walker is facing the end of his marriage and a custody fight over his daughter. He's facing these things because he's also facing a felony charge after hacking into his wife's e-mail account to see if she was cheating on him.


    Using his wife's password, Walker accessed her Gmail account and learned she was having an affair with her ex-husband. Walker now faces a criminal trial coming up in February and up to five years in prison.


    Clara Walker filed for divorce from Walker, 33, and the divorce was finalized earlier this month. The couple is also battling over visitation rights for Walker with their daughter. 


    A Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes like identity theft or stealing trade secrets is what prosecutors are basing the charges on. It's the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and experts say it might be hard to prove. The laptop that Walker used to hack into the e-mails was shared by Walker and his wife. The couple was living together at the time, and Walker had routine access to the computer.


    The Sixth Circuit court has ruled that people have a reasonable right to expect their e-mails will remain private, and that the government needs a warrant to snoop through e-mails stored by Internet service providers. 


    But is it right to file criminal charges for surreptitiously checking out a spouse's e-mails? 


    According to Free Press reports, it's a legal gray area. But Walker is facing charges because prosecutors say he is a hacker, due to the fact that the account was password protected. Walker has filed two requests to have the charges dropped, which judges have denied. 


    We're not sure this guy should be prosecuted. He was living with his wife as her husband at the time, and had access to the computer. He very likely knew the password because she gave it to him. 


    Furthermore, he obviously had reason to believe she cheated. What husband or wife hasn't done a little snooping when he or she suspected infidelity? Will it be a crime now to go through your spouse's pockets? What about reading notes you find there? How about following your spouse to see where he or she is spending time on those nights he or she is supposed to be working late? 


    While all of these behaviors are unhealthy, they aren't illegal. We don't think Walker should be charged for doing what thousands of spouses have done before him – snoop. Even though what he did was a little more high tech, it certainly isn't any different. Add that to the fact that the statute he's been charged under is aimed at the hacking of government computers, and we think you've got much ado about nothing.


    In fact, we think his now ex-wife is just ticked off she got caught, and she's determined to pay him back. It's nothing more than a case of got caught, got mad. 


    But is it worth this man having to do prison time? We don't think so.

    Posted Dec 29 2010, 01:43 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • A song for ID thieves during the holidays...

    If identity thieves got together and went Christmas caroling, there's one song they'd all be singing. And it would go a little something like this…


    On the first day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the second day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the third day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the fourth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the fifth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the sixth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the seventh day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the eighth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, mail left in the mailbox, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the ninth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, Facebook hacking, mail left in the mailbox, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the tenth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, data breaches, Facebook hacking, mail left in the mailbox, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the eleventh day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, unchecked credit reports, data breaches, Facebook hacking, mail left in the mailbox, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    On the twelfth day of Christmas unwary consumers gave to me, gas pump skimming, unchecked credit reports, data breaches, Facebook hacking, mail left in the mailbox, phishing e-mail scams, unguarded wallets and purses, NO-O-O FIREWALLS! blank credit offers, unshredded statements, poorly-written passwords and a stolen card from Social Security.


    Posted Dec 21 2010, 11:44 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Don't put your password 'under the mat' for a criminal to find

    What's the last thing you do when you're leaving your home each morning to go to work? You lock the door, right? 


    Your home has doors and windows, and most of the time, they're locked. For each lock in your home that uses a key, chances are that each key is different. You know to lock up each time you leave, not to share the keys with strangers, and you know not to put the keys under the mat or in a flower pot on your front porch. 


    Passwords for computers are much the same. For each computer and service you use, you should have a password. Each password should be unique and unrelated to the other passwords. You shouldn't write them down, nor should you share them with anyone.


    Take a look at your front door key. It's complicated, with lots of notches and grooves. If there weren't so many variations, a thief could easily make a key for every possible combination and try them on your front door until he finds the right one. But no matter how complicated your key is, if a thief gets his hands on it, he can copy it and use it to open your front door, and walk right into your home and help himself.


    A password can also be complicated. You can make it as complicated as you want. Use both upper and lower case letters, and even numbers. 


    But just like the key to your front door, a complicated password can be copied and used. A thief may be able to see your password online, save it, and use it. This process is called sniffing, and its a common practice.


    You need to follow the practice of using a unique password with every account you have. Ask yourself the following questions when you create a password:


    • Is the password strong?

    • Is the password unique and unrelated to any of your other passwords?

     • Can you remember it without writing it down?

    • Have you changed it recently?


    Taking these precautions will not only help protect your files and folders on your home computer, but it can help protect your personal information when you are shopping online. Take the time to be cautious. 

    Posted Dec 15 2010, 01:45 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Watch out for electronic pickpocketing this holiday season – and beyond

    Identity thieves are becoming more and more crafty – and apparently, it’s no longer safe to even walk down the street if one of them is nearby.

    Many credit card companies now place Radio Frequency Identification chips inside cards. They’re also found in many debit cards, and even passports and driver’s licenses. So instead of having to swipe your card, you need only to place it near a sensor. Same with the passport and driver’s license. The system offers ease of use and fast service.

    The problem with this new technology is that thieves can acquire the technology to scan your credit and debit cards, and they only need to walk by you to do it. It’s called electronic pickpocketing.

    For about $100, a thief can buy the needed equipment online to perform this task. Then, if he can just get kind of close to a person’s back pocket or purse, he can use the equipment to read the credit or debit card and download the account numbers, expiration date and other data.

    Cards equipped with this type of technology use an encrypted security code to verify a transaction, which can protect against certain types of fraud – but not against someone who pulls the name and number from a card and used the information to make online purchases, for example.

    How can you protect yourself? Leave your card in the protective sleeve your credit card issuer, bank or the DMV provided. It’s specially designed to prevent scanners from reading the card. If you don’t have a sleeve, ask for one. You can also find them for sale online.

    Visa has begun requiring that banks not issue cards that transmit the cardholder’s name. American Express has followed suit. American Express cards also transmit a number different from that displayed on the card.

    Not sure if your card has RFID? To identify whether your Visa card has this chip, look for the wave-like symbol. Other cards also feature this symbol. On the American Express card, you can see the actual chip. If you’re not sure, call your bank or card issuer.

    If you don’t want a card with a chip, simply call your bank or card issuer and request one without it, or at least one that doesn’t transmit your name.

    Posted Dec 08 2010, 11:57 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Go on, be a Grinch – when it comes to holiday scams

    Lots of people will do their shopping online this season to avoid crowds and congested roads. But those who do must be very careful to avoid falling victim to cyber crooks taking advantage of the holiday rush.


    There are 12 dangerous online scams that consumers should be aware of this holiday season, ranging from iPad offer scams to fake gift cards to holiday downloads. 


    1. iPad offer scams – With Apple products at the top of many a Christmas wish list, scammers are busy sending bogus offers for free iPads. In the spam version of the scam, consumers are asked to buy other products and provide their credit card number to get the free gadget. 


    2. Help, I've Been Robbed! scam – This travel-themed scam sends bogus distress messages to family and friends requesting money to be wired or transferred so the stranded party can get home. This scam is expected to increase during the  busy travel season.


    3. Fake gift cards – Social media sites are used to promote fake gift card offers with the goal of stealing consumers' information, which is then sold n the black market or used for identity theft. One recent Facebook scam offered a free $1,000 Best Buy gift card to the first 20,000 who signed up for a Best Buy fan page, which was a spoofed site. To qualify, those who signed up had to provide personal information and take quizzes.


    4. Holiday job offers – With the extra spending that comes during the holidays, more people are seeking opportunities to make some extra cash. Twitter scams have been offering dangerous links to high-paying, work-at-home jobs asking for personal information.


    5. Smishing – Cyber crooks are now sending phishing text messages, also known as smiting. These texts appear to come from a consumer's bank or an online retailer, saying there is a problem with the account. To resolve the issue, the user must call a number to verify his or her account information. 


    6. Suspicious holiday rentals – During high-volume travel times, consumers often look online for affordable holiday rentals. To cash in on that, crooks post fake holiday rental sites that ask for down payments on properties by credit card or wire.


    7. Recession scams – Scammers exploit vulnerable consumers with recession-related scams, such as pay-in-advance credit schemes. The scams involve the advertisement of low-interest loans and credit cards if the recipient pays a processing fee.


    8. Grinch greetings – E-cards are convenient and are environmentally-friendly. But criminals create fake versions with links to viruses and other malware. 


    9. Low price traps – If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Shoppers should be cautious about products priced much lower than compared to their competitors. 


    10. Charity scams – It's traditionally the time for giving, but criminals also prey upon the generous. Common scams include phone calls and spam asking users to donate to veterans' charities, children's causes and relief funds for some catastrophe. Give directly to the charity only, not through some outside agency or representative.


    11. Dangerous holiday downloads – Holiday-themed screensavers, jingles and animations are an easy way for scammers to spread viruses and other computer threats. 


    12. Free Wi-Fi – Many travel during the holidays, and they use free Wi-Fi at airports and hotels. Thieves know this and target these places, looking for places to steal personal information.


    When it comes to holiday identity theft, it pays to be Grinchy – don't let criminals get the upper hand.

    Posted Dec 01 2010, 12:32 PM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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