All about how it happens and how you can keep it from happening to you.
The U.S. Justice Department celebrated Cyber Monday in its own way this year – by shutting down 150 websites selling counterfeit goods ranging from sports jerseys to handbags to the P90X exercise program.
According to the National Retail Federation, nearly 123 million people shopped online on Cyber Monday, up nearly 15 percent from last year. Cyber Monday now rivals Black Friday in popularity and in sales.
But with this growth comes an increase of risk for consumers. Many consumers are fooled into buying fraudulent merchandise or become victims of identity theft. The Obama administration is expected to launch a public awareness campaign today on intellectual property theft. According to government data, federal agencies seized $188 million in counterfeit products last year.
To avoid falling victim to these types of scams during the holiday season and beyond, consumers should watch for inaccurate grammar and frequent misspellings on sites, and make sure that contact information on that particular business is posted on the site.
Consumers should also be wary of online contest, because by entering them, consumers may unwittingly unleash viruses that can compromise their computers' safety. Consumers are also advised to keep an eye on their credit reports for any signs of fraud, and to watch their bank and credit card statements carefully as well.
Be careful with your personal and financial information this holiday season. And remember, don't chat about or post your holiday plans on social networking sites. Don't forget that criminals have Facebook profiles, too.
Thanksgiving is this Thursday, and immediately after is the day shoppers everywhere wait for each year – Black Friday. Shoppers will be out in droves and the holiday shopping season will officially be underway.
When the rush to get the perfect gifts for everyone on your list gets into full swing, it becomes a lot easier to become complacent about identity theft. But don't forget: the threat is still very real, and identity thieves are counting on you to be less than vigilant during the holidays. Here are a list of this year's top scams – things you should be on the lookout this season.
1. Mobile malware, which is targeted specifically at smartphones.
2. Malicious phone apps for your smartphone that contain malware.
3. Phony Facebook promotions and contests will abound. Don't click on links or giveaways.
4. Scareware and fake viruses will come your way as windows pop up on your computer screen, telling you that you have a virus.
5. Holiday screensavers – everyone loves them. But if you download one from a questionable source, you could also get some malware.
7. If you have a Mac, be aware that there are new forms of Mac malware out there. Keep your eyes peeled, and don't click on an unsolicited offers.
8. Phishing scams will increase during the holidays, with phony notices from UPS and banks.
9. Online coupon scams will come your way promising free iPads and coupons, but require you to submit your credit card or banking information – don't be fooled.
10. "It" gift scams are what criminals will use to cash in on the hottest gifts of the year.
Here's the best tip you'll get all year: If you get an unsolicited offer, e-mail, text from an unknown source or pop-up window, don't click on anything contained within it. You will very likely regret it.
Occupy Wall Street protesters have gone high tech, with some hacking and attacking those they feel are responsible for their situation.
According to reports, Bank of America's web page on Google Plus appears to have been hacked, and it doesn't look like B of A people are behind the page either. The page actually appears to have been created by attackers, seeking to trick Google into giving them a business page under B of A's identity.
The introduction says things like, "We took your bailout money and your mortgage rates are going up," and "We are committed to making as much money as possible from usury, coercion, bribery, insider trading, extortion and debit card fees as possible."
There are also several posts that are snarky and an obvious attempt to cast a negative light on the bank.
The posts appear to have begun after Nov. 8, right after Google launched the official service for businesses.
There hasn't been a lot of reported abuse on the Google Plus service, but this has got to be just the beginning. Google has a real names-only policy, but their verification process obviously has some major holes.
A new phishing scam is making the rounds – and if you use PayPal, you could fall victim.
The e-mail looks like it is from PayPal's account review team, and states that the site's security system has "blocked unusual charges to a credit card linked to your account." The message further states that there has been an intrusion to the e-mail recipient's account, and it appears that someone has tried to use your account. The e-mail contains a handy attachment which, after you download it, will allow you to enter information and take steps to "restore your account success."
When you receive a message such as this, you would immediately want to make sure your account is safe and the emotional rush that comes in a moment like this can cloud your judgment.
PayPal has the controls in place to prevent fraudulent transactions, but their system isn't foolproof. This is where this particular scam shows its effectiveness. Since you trust PayPal to protect your account, and the scam e-mail says PayPal has locked your account for your protection, you're more apt to fall for it.
The information requested in this scam includes cardholder name, birth date, mother's maiden name, Social Security number and home telephone number. It also asks for your home address. The form does not ask for a PayPal e-mail address.
When you receive e-mails and you don't know where they came from, do not click on links included in the e-mail or download anything. If you are unsure whether it came from the source it claims, contact the source directly and ask. In this case, you could look up PayPal and contact them directly, using contact information from PayPal's official site, not from the e-mail you received.
The best advice when you receive unsolicited e-mails? When in doubt, don't.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia released a paper recently entitled "The Socialbot Network: When Bots Socialise for Fame and Money." The paper makes the claim that Facebook's in-built security systems are not effective at stopping automated identity theft. The researchers ran a large-scale infiltration of the network using socialbots.
During the test, researchers said they were able to collect private data from thousands of Facebook users and infiltrate their friend networks using socialbots. A socialbot is automated software that can control a social networking account and perform basic functions like posting messages and friend requests. The bots pass themselves off as being a human being rather than computer code.
Facebook does have in place precautions that are supposed to avoid the automated creation of accounts, specifically the use of CAPTCHAs, but researchers accounted for that, saying they used online services to break them. They also created status updates using an API provided by a website that provided random quotes automatically.
The scary part is that socialbots can be used to harvest personal information like e-mail addresses and phone numbers. One person can use several socialbots and control the information and social profiles of several people.
The process went like this: A Facebook user gets a friend request from someone and accepts it. If the bot was already listed as a "friend of a friend," the bot was accepted much more quickly at new friend requests. Once the connection is made, researchers were able to gather personal information not only from the new "friend," but also from that user's network of friends.
Clearly, this shows the importance of being careful about who you accept as friends on social networks. It also shows that Facebook has a long way to go when it comes to its in-built security systems, which are supposed to protect users from this type of thing. It's an alarming thing, said researchers, how easy it is to automate identity theft on Facebook.
Want to put a big, fat target on your back for identity theft? Dumb question, huh? No one wants to be victimized by an identity thief. But if you've applied for a bad credit loan, you may become just that – a target.
Some of the online bad credit loan companies use or sell your personal information. In fact, there are many bogus sites that offer loans, but that are really in the business of scamming consumers. Hundreds of people, already dealing with bad credit, are now being bugged by debt collectors for debts they don't owe – debts racked up by identity thieves who got their victims' information after the information was compromised following the application for an online loan.
These thieves know exactly what they are doing. They prey on those desperate for help, and promise loans to those who have been turned down everywhere else. But many of these sites do nothing more than sell your information, which can then be sold online to those wishing to commit crimes.
But bear in mind: Not all online loan sites are scams. There are those that legitimately offer loans to those with bad credit, and these sites have made sure their sites are secured. When you're looking for a bad credit loan, be sure you thoroughly check out the site and the company behind it before you provide any personal information.
You'll also want to find out if there are any complaints against the company. You can type in the company name and the word "complaints" to see what pops up. Lots of complaints is a red flag, telling you that you should move on.
Remember, don't pay money up front for a loan. Do your homework before you sign on the dotted line, and know what you're getting into.
More than 430 million people around the world have been affected by cybercrime, according to a recent report released by Symantec.
The report was based on interviews with nearly 20,000 people from 24 countries. The study showed that 14 adults are victims of cybercrime ever second, which means there are more than 1 million victims every single day. Digital offenses cost victims more than $139 million in costs and lost time annually in the U.S. alone.
About 69 percent of adult Internet users have experienced cybercrime, according to the report. Viruses and malware are the most common types of crime, followed by online scams and phishing. Viruses and malware are also easily prevented.
Risks posed by mobile devices are also growing. Ten percent of users have experienced cybercrime on their cell phones.
To prevent cybercrime, make sure your spam blocker is turned on. Most Internet providers supply a spam blocking feature to prevent unwanted messages from getting into your mailbox. This will prevent fraudulent e-mails and phishing attempts.
Make sure you have loaded anti-virus software onto your computer, and use your computer's firewall protection feature. Always keep it turned on. You should also encrypt important data you don't want compromised.
Be wary of providing personal information via a website that's new to you or that you know little about, especially if the site requests your bank account or Social Security numbers.
If you do business or shop online, make sure you do so only on secured sites that feature "https" in the URL, not just "http."
Authorities in Brooklyn, N.Y. have charged more than 100 people in what they're calling the largest identity theft bust in recent history. The theft ring stole credit card information, which they then used to make purchases totaling more than $12 million. Most of the merchandise was resold overseas.
Law enforcement personnel didn't just point the finger at those they arrested in this case – they also blamed credit card companies, saying the companies put too much money into marketing and not enough into security.
Deputy Inspector Gregory T. Antonsen, commander of the New York Police Department Identity Theft Squad, was quoted as saying that the bust shows the need for computer chips implanted in credit cards to deter fraud – in other words, smart cards.
Many European countries already have smart cards, which require cardholders to enter a personal identification number on a keypad, like you do when you use a debit card. The cards deter fraud because they contain chips that encrypt transaction information and require thieves to not only steal card data but also know the cardholder's PIN. The chip can also generate one-time-only passwords for more secure online commerce.
Experts say smart cards make it much harder to commit fraud. But U.S. card companies have been reluctant to issue smart cards because it would force retailers to install expensive upgrades to their payment systems.
But credit card companies are beginning to shift toward smart cards. In August, Visa announced that retailers who do not support smart cards by 2015 would be held liable for fraudulent transactions. MasterCard has said that ATM owners must accept smart cards by 2013 or they will be held liable for fraud stemming from their machines.
But experts also say smart cards are not without issues. Researchers at Cambridge University found last year that they could make a payment using a smart card without the PIN by using a device to intercept communications between the card and the terminal. Those researchers concluded that smart cards technology is seriously flawed.
Identity theft is a terrible crime. It's victims feel violated by someone they've never even met, who takes their personal information and pretends to be them in order to commit crimes.
But what if that someone is a person you know? Or someone you're related to? What if it's your own parent?
A recent study looked at billions of credit applications in order to find the same Social Security number and last name, but different first names, specifically seeking out incidents of child identity theft. In the 18- to 25-year range, there were about a half million kids under 15 sharing their Social Security numbers and last names with adults who were 25 to 40 years old – which means they are likely victims of identity theft, committed by their own parents.
The same study also looked at people in their 70s and 80s who shared their Social Security number and surname with someone about 20 years younger. The study found that about 2 million senior adults are sharing a Social Security number with their adult children.
The statistics are alarming. The elderly are more vulnerable and are often dependent on caretakers who are very often their own children. The face that their trust is breached is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that this crime often goes undetected for long periods of time, and when it is discovered, many parents don't want to press charges against their own children.
If you have an elderly parent, make sure to warn them of the potential for identity theft. The elderly are often targeted for telephone scams, in which the caller asks for personal or financial information. Senior adults should never volunteer their information if they didn't initiate the call.
Likewise, they shouldn't give their information to anyone they are unsure of. Personal and financial documents kept at home should be locked away if there is a caretaker in the home.
Social media sites have been abuzz with commentary about the most recent changes made to Facebook. Among those changes are a new ticker, a real-time list of what your friends are doing, positioned to the right of the screen. This new feature is being added on a staggered rollout, so you may not have it yet. But rest assured, everyone will soon see this next to their news feeds.
The ticker is collapsible, meaning you can click on it and keep fully up to date on your friends' activities. But there is a problem. With this new feature, you can eavesdrop on "conversations" between your friends and people you don't know. You can even read what the stranger originally wrote.
If you have your privacy settings set high, they will still work with this new feature. However, the enforced eavesdropping will be due to lax or non-existent privacy settings amongst your friends.
In other words, if you have "friends of friends" or "public" as the privacy setting for your posts, then one of your friends clicks "Like" on your post, all of the people your friend is friends with will be able to read the commentary. Your friend's privacy settings can't block this from happening, but your privacy settings can protect your friends' privacy.
So what should you do? First of all, stop using the "friends of friends" setting for your posts. If you use the "public" setting, let your friends know you are doing so. This gives your friends the option to decide if they want all of their friends, or yours, to be informed of their comments.
You should limit all previous posts you have made via the privacy settings, which will change everything to "friends only" and will stop people you have deleted, people who sent you friend requests that you chose to ignore, and friends of friends from seeing your activity.
You can use lists to decide who you want to see things by using the privacy controls in the top right of your posts, and you should encourage your friends to restrict their settings to "friends" or custom lists as well.
How do you know if a post will be broadcast to all of your friends? Under each post on the right is an icon which will tell you who it was shared with. If there's a globe, it means it was public. A "friends" icon means it was shared with friends only, and if there's a "custom" symbol (a gear), it means your settings are either friends only or customized, which means the post is safe to comment on because there will be no sharing with strangers via the ticker/news feed.
The bottom line here is simply this: Don't post something you don't want shared. Once it's out there, it can never be retrieved.
You just found out that you are a victim of identity theft. So many things are crashing through your brain, including what your first step will be. Here's a list of things you should do if you've been victimized by an identity thief.
1. If you've gotten collection calls for debts you don't owe, speak with the debt collector or credit card issuer. Take notes about the conversation, and get the name of the person you're talking with, and his or her phone number and address. Follow up the phone call with a certified letter so that the collector also has a record of your conversation. It's important whenever you receive collection calls, that you are pleasant, and that you collect and record information about the debt. Check into any charges or debts immediately.
2. Opt out of programs that share personal information – this includes your bank, broker, credit card issuer and department stores.
3. Change your passwords online. Make them difficult to discern, and use upper and lower case letters, as well as symbols and numbers.
4. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. You can call Equifax at 1-800-685-1111, Experian at 1-888-397-3742, and TransUnion at 1-800-916-8800. You should also get a copy of your credit reports, and carefully review what's there. If you find errors, report them to the respective bureau.
5. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. You will also want to let other creditors know about the theft, even if the accounts you have with them are untouched.
6. Notify the Social Security Administration of the theft, even if your card wasn't stolen. You can call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213.
7. File a police report with local law enforcement, and notify the Federal Trade Commission as well by calling their hotline at 1-877-438-4338.
8. You may refuse to pay off debts you did not create, but tell the debt collector you are willing to cooperate. You will need to put your dispute in writing, and send it to the creditor. If creditors or debt collectors harass you, report them to the FTC at 1-312-353-4423.
Last of all, from here on out, make sure that your personal and financial information is secured. Shred any document that bears your information before disposal, and be careful online. Identity theft is a part of life – it doesn't, however, have to be a part of your personal experience.
Retail stores have already set up Halloween displays, and are selling costumes and candy – and Halloween is still more than a month away.
Identity theft is often seen as a sophisticated crime – involving the Internet or some extensive scam. But it can also be as simple as a stolen wallet or break-in. Halloween provides a prime opportunity for thieves to steal your wallet or break into your car or home, using the Halloween festivities as a cover-up.
It's important to protect yourself from would-be thieves every day, but particularly on Halloween. It's a fun day for kids, but adults use the opportunity to "let loose" as well. When you're out and about on this holiday, be aware of your surroundings, and who's around you. If you host a party, make sure you know who your guests are, and lock up valuables during the party, including purses and wallets. If you're attending a party, lock up your valuables, and leave credit cards at home.
At no other time of the year would we open our doors to complete strangers – but we do it willingly on Halloween. But don't get so caught up in the fun of the night that you forget to be just as cautious when opening your door to people you don't know as you would be any other night. Look out your peep hole or window before opening the door, and don't open your door at an unreasonable hour. Most kids are done trick or treating between 7 and 8 p.m., so it would be a good idea to turn your porch light off after then. Even if your doorbell rings, don't answer it any more.
If you won't be home that evening, remember that thieves use the holiday to check out who's home and who's not by posing as trick-or-treaters. Don't leave a note on your door and a bowl of candy – this is a dead giveaway that you're not home. If you won't be home, ask a friend to man the candy bowl for you, or ask a neighbor to keep an eye on your house. You may even wish to call your local police and ask them to drive by and check your home.
Halloween should be a little bit scary – not downright terrifying. By taking these precautions, you'll make sure it stays that way.
Identity theft can happen to anyone – even those who are famous.
The latest victim is Grey's Anatomy star Sandra Oh, who reported to the police that she is an identity theft victim. Apparently, the IRS has been after her for failing to pay taxes for a hotel job she held in 2009 – which she never held.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Police Department, the thief used Oh's Social Security number to obtain the hotel job, not to pose as the actress.
There are things you can do to protect yourself. First of all, never carry your Social Security card. Keep it locked away and only bring it out when necessary. You shouldn't give your SS number to anyone unless it is absolutely necessary, and only if you know for sure the person you are giving it to is legitimate, and you know how your information will be handled.
Make sure you shred all documents bearing your personal and financial information before you throw them away. Identity thieves love to dig through trash to find documents they can use to piece together a person's identity.
Be careful online as well. Don't click on embedded links in unsolicited e-mails, and if you receive an e-mail that appears to be from your bank or credit card issuer, don't click on the links contained within and don't give out your personal or financial information. You should contact the bank or card issuer first to verify that the request is legitimate.
Make sure your computer is equipped with the latest in protection software, and that you make your passwords difficult, and change them often.
Doing these things may seem insignificant, but these small steps can help prevent you from becoming a headline – like Sandra Oh.
It's that time of year again – students are headed off to college, many of them for the first time. They will experience a college class for the first time. They will live in a dorm for the first time. They'll meet new people, and go new places. But what you don't want them to experience is identity theft.
College students are often targeted by identity thieves, so it's important to make sure that before you pack your son or daughter up to go off to campus, you discuss what to do to prevent identity theft.
Your child will be hit with lots of pre-approved credit card offers. In addition to explaining to your child why he shouldn't open multiple credit card accounts, explain that he should shred these offers before throwing them away.
Explain to your child that he should never leave his laptop unattended, and that he should always sign off of any site he's using before shutting down. Make sure he knows the importance of using good passwords, and changing them often.
You child should check his bank account on a regular basis, but he should also check his bank and credit card statements, to be sure there's no monkey business going on. If you can catch fraudulent activity in the early stages, much less damage will be done – if any.
Encourage your child to get his credit report annually. All consumers are entitled to one free copy of their credit report each year, and your child should take advantage of this. Review the report together, being careful to look for any errors or fraudulent entries.
If your child has become an identity theft victim, contact his bank and credit card companies immediately, as well as campus security. You should also help him contact the three credit bureaus, and place a fraud alert on his credit report, so no more accounts can be opened. The alert lasts for 90 days.
You should also report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
By taking these steps, your child will likely only have two things to worry about this semester – finals and which fraternity or sorority to pledge.
Credit card issuer USAA is using technology to help fight identity theft.
The company is now sending text messages whenever any unusual or suspicious activity is detected in a customer's account. USAA says it's the first to offer this kind of "tenting" to protect customers.
Customers may also get messages asking about attempted purchases, and they are expected to respond whether they are using the card or not.
"This service will actually send a message to the member to ask them if this is a valid transaction or potentially fraudulent, and they can actually reply," said Tom Shaw, USAA vice president.
The service will also text you if there is a problem with your card. So if you're out to dinner with friends and your card is rejected or there's some other issue, you'll be notified in a more discreet manner.
USAA customers are asked to sign up for the service now.
USAA is a bank that serves members of the military and their families. The company launched an app for iPhone in August 2009 that allows customers to deposit checks by phone. The app was installed 150,000 times and processed $150 million in deposits its first three days.
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