16 January 2011
They’re Winning: 5 Things Identity Thieves Don’t Want You to Know

Imagine if you stopped for gas on the way home and wound up swindled in a high-tech scam. Thieves can use skimmers secretly installed inside pumps at gas stations to capture credit card numbers, and then transmit the stolen data to the crooks via basic Bluetooth.

It’s a dirty little secret that law enforcement isn’t quick to admit — identity theft is at an all-time high. Identity thieves and online scammers are hard to catch and are rarely punished (on average, only one in 700 go to jail). And they have plenty of secrets!

1. “We found everything we need to know about you online.” If you’re like most social media users, you are sharing at least three pieces of information that could be used to steal your identity. The prime offender? Your birth date. Instead of simply posting their age, many users list their actual birth date (all the better to receive all of those birthday greetings from online friends). Thieves also know that the names of your pets, your children and even the address of your last house are all commonly used to create passwords and as answers to online security questions.

Your move: Obviously, watch what you reveal online. And be sure to set the controls on your social media accounts so that only users authorized by you can read personal data. Review your account and privacy settings on a regular basis, as settings often change. A good way to keep up to speed is by becoming a fan of the official security page on Facebook so you can receive regular security updates.

2. “Your password isn’t as uncrackable as you think.” In September 2008, the Yahoo e-mail account of then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was hacked. Someone was able to use basic research to find the answers to two of the vice presidential hopeful’s security questions (her ZIP Code and date of birth) and was able to guess the third (where Palin met her husband Todd).

Your move: Make passwords long, random and memorable. Here’s a great example: Tp4tci2s4U2g! (The password for (4) this computer is too (2) strong for you to (4U2) guess!) This password gets its strength from multiple words, random punctuation, random capitalization and random simple substitutions. It’s hard to crack, but easy to remember.

3. “Wireless network? We’re listening!” Airports, food courts and public areas are the new hot spot for scammers. They clone popular wireless networks, offer them for free and wait for the victims. If they are lucky, you turn on your laptop, choose the cloned network and the scammers now have complete access to your computer.

Your move: Avoid suspiciously titled networks (e.g., abracdabra21001 or mocha5), which provide no clue as to the origin of the wireless signal. And monitor your wireless signal constantly. Some network cards have an auto-connect feature that allows them to jump onto networks without you actually doing anything. Check from time to time to see that you are still connected to the legitimate network that you were using. If you get auto-connected to a strange network, disconnect promptly.

4. “We’re waiting at your mailbox.” To you, that pre-approved credit card offer is junk mail. To an ambitious identity thief, it’s gold. These offers, along with paid bills and other papers, often contain enough information to get the ball rolling. Sneaky thieves are always on the lookout for people on vacation or moving away (they circle back around hoping they can intercept a credit card statement in the mailbox of the old house).

Your move: If you move, report your new address to your credit card issuers immediately in addition to filling out a change-of-address form at the post office. For outgoing mail, especially checks, make sure it goes into a secured mailbox, or drop it off at a USPS mailbox or post office.  

5. “Smile! We’re taking your picture.” That guy fiddling with his cell phone in line behind you? He’s not talking; he’s taking a picture of your credit card with his cell phone.

Your move: Always keep an eye on the people around you.

Protect Yourself from Fraud and Identity Theft

Nevada State Bank asked Frank Abagnale, one of the world’s most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement and identity theft, to help our clients protect themselves from fraud and identity theft. Click the link today for some valuable information!.

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