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ID theft

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

April 2011 - Posts

  • When it comes to phony e-mails, when in doubt, don't

    You probably receive dozens of spam e-mails a day. Among them you see warnings that say you must contact your bank to prevent your account from being frozen, or that you must download information to double-check a purchase you don’t remember making.

    These are common examples of e-mail identity theft scams. Consumers must learn to recognize them in order to keep their personal information safe. Here’s how:

    1. Evaluate whether the subject line or the e-mail is aimed at scaring you into immediate action. Identity thieves do this so that you act without thinking, revealing information you wouldn’t normally give away.
    2. Read the e-mail to see if it refers to you by name. Most scams refer to the recipient in generic terms, like “Dear Customer,” or “Dear Account Holder.”
    3. Check the e-mail address of the sender. Many scammers don’t bother to disguise their return address, even though they claim to be representing your bank or a government agency.
    4. Move your mouse over any links in the e-mail to see where they would actually send you, but don’t click. The link won’t correspond with the bank URL if it’s not legitimate.
    5. Skim the e-mail to see what information is being requested. Scammers are usually looking for names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers and credit card numbers.
    6. Note whether there are any attachments within the e-mail. If so, it’s likely a phishing attempt, aimed at getting you to submit your personal information or downloading a virus that can steal information from your computer without you even knowing it.

    The key to protecting yourself from identity theft is to always move slowly and carefully analyze the source, as well as the information or request itself. The safest bet is when in doubt, don’t.

    Posted Apr 26 2011, 10:20 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Be smart when banking online

    For those who know how to use it, Internet banking is a great convenience. There’s free online bill payment, next day bank-to-bank funds transfer and much more. It all makes our lives so much easier.

    But all this bliss could mean trouble. One of the worst things that could happen to you is someone stealing your personal information and using it to obtain loans, credit cards and even commit crimes. This is called identity theft.

    A thief only needs two pieces of information to impersonate you: your Social Security number and your date of birth. These are the keys to your bank accounts, credit files, credit cards and health information. No matter how foolproof banking may seem these days, each and every consumer is at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.  But there are some steps you can take to prevent it.

    Don’t write checks to people you don’t know. Give them a money order, bank draft or cash instead. Anyone can use the information on your check to pull funds from your account via the Internet.

    Before dumping your bank statements in the garbage, remember that hackers don’t have access to your home, but they can easily get into your trash. Buy a shredder and use it. Destroy any and all documentation that contains your personal and banking information. You may want to consider signing up for online statements, rather than receiving them in the mail.

    Destroy your expired credit and debit cards. Be sure to sign the back of these cards. You may even wish to place a piece of transparent tape over the signature so that it can’t be tampered with.

    Don’t use public computers, such as in libraries or at your workplace. Be sure to shut off your home computer when it’s not in use to prevent hackers from gaining access.

    The bottom line is that you should use common sense when it comes to protecting your most personal information. Make it hard for a criminal to steal your identity.

    Posted Apr 19 2011, 10:22 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Identity thieves: How are they punished?

    There are more than 10 million people victimized by identity theft in the United States each year, and identity theft is one of the most serious crimes in the country. It's a crime that targets not only your finances, but also your reputation. Years of good credit can be wiped away in a matter of hours, and it often takes years to rebuild. 


    Because this crime is so serious and because of the rapid rate at which it is growing, most states have implemented laws aimed at punishing identity thieves. On a federal level, the Identity Theft Penalty Act was signed by former President George W. Bush in 2004, requiring harsher punishments for those who would commit this type of crime. 


    The law was a landmark step in identity theft prosecution, and changed the former slap-on-the-wrist punishments to actual federal prison time. The law elevated the maximum federal prison sentence from three to five years, and added two years of jail time automatically for those found guilty of phishing. 


    In addition, aggravated identity theft was added to the list of offenses. Criminals can now be charged with more than one offense, garnering an additional two years added to their sentence. Under aggravated identity theft, any terrorist-related offenses will automatically mean an additional five years. There is a maximum of 25 years for this offense.


    Most states have their own versions of identity theft laws, and depending on the nature of the crime, most states will have a series of charges that range from fines to misdemeanors to felonies. The most basic penalty is compensation for loss, while the penalties for more serious crimes can range from a $50,000 fine plus five years in prison to a $100,000 fine plus a minimum of 10 years in prison.


    How can you fight back? The best thing you can do is make it hard for a criminal to get your information. Safeguard it, shred documents and be vigilant about checking your credit reports, as well as credit and bank statements. If you do become a victim, report it immediately. The quicker it's reported, the better your chances of finding the criminal and recouping your losses.

    Posted Apr 12 2011, 10:46 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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