Holiday Phishing by Marc Hurwitz
Crossroads Investigations has seen an uptick of identity theft cases. In one recent case, a fraudster used a client’s personal information to create corporate entities and purchase properties. It should come as no surprise, since the Federal Trade Commission has given Florida the top prize in highest per capita rate of identity theft in the nation. Across our country, more than 11.6 million Americans were victims of identity fraud last year, up 13 percent from the year prior.Once someone learns your basic information, including your name, date of birth, address and social security number, they have more than enough to do some serious damage. And take it from me, as a licensed private investigator, that information is not hard to obtain. Don’t make it easier than it already is.Here are some handy tips you can employ to keep your identity safer during the holiday season:
- Pay with a credit card rather than a debit card or checking account. This gives you the most legal protection in case the goods or services are misrepresented or never delivered.
- Get off marketing lists for pre-approved credit. Crooks may steal these offers from your mail and use them to obtain credit in your name. You can opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit offers for no charge by going to www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Don’t sign up for store credit cards at the checkout counter. Take the application home and fill it out in privacy. Completing a credit application in a public place potentially exposes identifying information to prying eyes. No 10% discount is worth that risk!
- Use smart passwords – a combination of numbers, letters and symbols that may make sense to you (examples: Str8t, Bil$$). Do not use your date of birth, the last four digits of your SSN, your mother’s maiden name, a pet’s name, or consecutive numbers that could easily be discovered by thieves. Don’t forget to use password security on your smart phone. And, change your passwords often.
- Take care with contests. Online contests to win cash, cars, computers, and tickets, etc. can be a source of computer viruses. Many contests, online and offline, are designed to collect your personal information for marketing purposes.
- Check your credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus once a year. Check them carefully and inform the credit bureaus if there are any inaccuracies or signs of fraud. Verify that all accounts listed under your name were opened by you.
- Protect yourself from porch pirates. Thieves follow delivery trucks and grab the packages before the real recipients can retrieve them. Not only will you lose your package, but this can lead to identity theft if the contents of the package contains personal information or account numbers. Consumers should require a signature upon delivery or have a neighbor accept packages on their behalf if they won’t be home.
- Look for internet addresses that start with “HTTPS” and has a small padlock icon in your web browser near the address bar or in the bottom right corner. Do not complete an online purchase if you don’t see these security features.
- Be wary of unsolicited phone calls from a financial institution or creditor. If you are asked to provide information, get the caller’s name, location, telephone number, and reason they are calling. Call them back at the phone number on your billing statements to verify the caller’s identification.
- Beware of email scams. Remember: no legitimate company or organization will ask for your personal information via email. Using the knowledge that many people send gifts during the holidays, online criminals send emails that appear to be from FedEx, UPS or the postal service. These emails often have attachments regarding a delivery status, but the attachments are actually viruses that infect your computer and steal your personal information. Other holiday email scams include fake digital greeting cards or links that appear to be from a friend. Don’t open any attachments until you run them through a virus scan. If there is any reason to doubt the authenticity of an e-mail message from a company you do business with, don’t click on links or buttons in the message. Instead, type the Internet address of the company into your browser, log on as you usually do, and examine your account information. You may also telephone a company to ask if an e-mail is legitimate. Delete, without replying to, any suspicious e-mail requests.
Wishing you a secure holiday season!