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ID theft

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

February 2011 - Posts

  • Opinion: Get proactive - don't wait for the police to figure it out

    Last week saw the crackdown on an Armenian gang crime ring, which specialized in identity theft. The gang was using skimming devices placed at 99 Cents Only stores throughout southern California, and 99 members of the more than 200-member organization were arrested.

    The FBI has estimated that the gang stole more than $2 million from customer accounts by stealing their codes and then using the information to create counterfeit debit and credit cards. The money began to disappear from the accounts of the victims slowly, so they didn't even realize they were being ripped off.

    It is clear that consumers are at a much greater risk than ever before, and not just of losing a few dollars. Criminals are getting more and more clever at siphoning off checking and savings accounts, and many have organized into sophisticated, organized crime rings that are, in many cases, more tech savvy than their victims.

    Identity theft is no longer just a crime that affects consumers who buy products online. It's a crime being perpetrated by gang members who easily steal information from hardworking Americans buying items in the brick-and-mortar marketplace - including everything from gasoline to clothes to dinner at a restaurant.

    Law enforcement personnel and the FBI need to become better educated about identity theft, and they must step up their surveillance and investigations. Exposing the American consumer to this level of identity theft is unacceptable. Without a concerted effort to break up such theft rings and the prosecution of these "white collar criminals" to the fullest extent of the law, consumers will suffer.

    For their part, consumers must learn to protect themselves. Shred documentation bearing your personal information. Guard your credit and debit cards, and don't let them out of your sight. Monitor your credit reports and make sure your computer is equipped with the most up-to-date antivirus protection.

    Don't rely on law enforcement to keep yourself safe. Get proactive - and take matters into your own hands. You can be sure that if you don't, some criminal will.

    Posted Feb 22 2011, 11:59 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Watch out for rogue apps on Facebook

    Serene Branson, a CBS reporter in Los Angeles, has become an unwilling YouTube star overnight after speculation spread that she suffered a stroke while reporting from the Grammy Awards Sunday night.

    The footage of Branson stumbling over her words quickly went viral, and Facebook and Twitter users quickly began passing the link to each other. Interest in the footage has continued to swell. 

    CBS released a statement that said Branson's problems were health-related, but that she had been examined by paramedics on site and her vital signs were normal. She was not hospitalized at the time. The statement said a colleague gave Branson a ride home, and that she will be undergoing more tests to find out what happened.

    And now scammers are exploiting the incident, circulating a link in Facebook. The link looks as if it came from one of your FB "friends." If you click on the link, you will be presented with a screen that indicates the information is being shown via a "verified app." The app is really a third-party rogue application, designed to make money for the scammers who instigated it.

    Once you've clicked on the app link, your own Facebook page will publish the link to your online friends, encouraging them to also click on the link. This causes the link to go viral.

    How do scammers make money with these links? By presenting you with the all-too-familiar survey scam before you watch the video footage, and soliciting your response, the scammer makes a small commission.

    If you make the mistake of approving this rogue application, you should remove it immediately, and remove the offending messages from your Facebook profile before your friends get sucked into the scam.

    To be on the safe side, stay away from these types of posts and don't enable apps like this in Facebook. Don't click on links from even those sources you trust – if you must view the footage, you should instead go to a trusted source, rather than click on links in Facebook. 

    Posted Feb 15 2011, 11:19 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Google throws down the Chrome gauntlet

    When you think of "hacking," it's highly likely you think of a computer geek/criminal hybrid sequestered away in a room somewhere, seeking to gain access to personal information in order to commit identity theft.

    But security experts often do what's called "white hat" hacking, as a means of testing for vulnerabilities. Last year, during the Pwn2Own contest, white hat hackers spent two days attempting to hack into Internet browsers, and they all fell, except one. Google's Chrome was seemingly hack-proof. 

    For this year's event, Google wasn't on the invite list, because organizers thought it futile to even try. But Google begged to differ, offering up an additional $20,000 in prize money, bringing the total to $125,000 to the person who could break into Chrome. As a qualifier, the break-in will have to involve compromising a Windows 7 system through Google Chrome vulnerability and a sandbox escape.

    The Pwn2Own contest is in its fifth year, and the focus of this year's competition will be browsers and mobile phones, given the popularity of these two areas of interest in recent months. Other prizes include $15,000 each for other browser vulnerability and mobile vulnerability hacks, laptops, smartphones and Zero Day Initiative reward points.

    So…in other words…Google has effectively said to hackers everywhere, "Bring it." Google worked with conference organizers to come up with rules for hacking the code found in Chromium, the open source browser on which Chrome is based. 

    This handing out cash in the face of challenge isn't a new thing for Google, and it's turning out to be a smart strategy. It shows that Google is taking security very seriously.

    Besides…it's way cheaper to test their product's safety this way than to hire people to do it.

    Posted Feb 08 2011, 11:49 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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  • Weigh the pros and cons when it comes to ID theft protection at your local bank

    Banks all over the country are beginning to push sales of identity theft services, but the question is this: Can you get the same level of protection you’d get with a company that specializes in identity theft protection?

    Many banks are ramping up their marketing of protection packages through pop-up and banner ads on banking Web sites, and through customer service pitches in branches, as well as on the phone or in the mail. Pricing is similar to what is being charged by identity theft protection services. Some banks are offering a promotional rate of $1 for the first month, then the regular rate afterward.

    The services provide daily credit monitoring, and promise to send alerts about new accounts being opened by someone else in a customer’s name. They also give customers access to their credit reports. Banks are offering the service to fill revenue gaps left by the absence of overdraft and interchange fees, and other traditional sources of income.

    The banks are pitching these services, which are mostly unregulated, to their existing customer base. In fact, there are reports that some people have even been signed up automatically when they opened a new account. They were unaware of the service until they noticed charges on their statements.

    But the fact is that most of these services only offer credit monitoring, which tracks credit reports for changes indicative of fraud, like an address change or new credit card application, and then alerts the customer. Some go a step further by monitoring online chat rooms where data thieves sell information, which represents a very small percentage of identity thefts overall.

    Another fact is that the banks don’t provide the service themselves – they partner with other firms that do the actual monitoring. Many of these firms have numerous complaints registered against them and poor grades with the Better Business Bureau, as well as lawsuits from state attorneys general.

    Although you may have done business with your bank for years, you should be leery of this type of identity theft protection. While it may look good on the outside, you may find that you’re not getting any value for your dollar.

    It's our opinion that this type of protection isn't something you should be paying for – not when you can do this much on your own for free. And being coerced into signing up for it is never a good thing. Fear tactics should never be employed to sell anything, particularly when it comes to finance or identity protection. People are already scared enough about the economy, its effect on them, and the growing problem of identity theft and what it could mean for their situation.

    When it comes to identity theft protection, weigh the pros and cons, and figure out what will work best for you. It may be that you feel comfortable taking care of things yourself. It may be that you feel more comfortable signing up with a service to watch over your personal information. You may even decide to sign up with your bank.

    Whatever the case…do something. Don't let your good name and credit go unprotected. 

    Posted Feb 01 2011, 10:59 AM by IdentityTheft with no comments
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