Identity thieves, scams ignore normal boundaries to steal

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Martha Allbritton of Brookhaven did the right thing Fridaymorning when a caller requested her bank account number by refusingto provide the information, according to identify theftexperts.

The caller, who identified himself as a representative of agasoline card company used by Allbritton, told her she had won acompany promotion and needed her bank account number to deposit$5,000 into her account.

She refused to provide the information and asked to speak to theman’s supervisor, ostensibly to get more information on thepromotion. The call was terminated during the alleged transfer.

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“I might have said more had I not been in a rush, but I stillwould not have given my account number,” Allbritton said.

The call showed as unavailable on her caller identificationdisplay, a ploy typically used by scam artists.

A call to the company verified her suspicions, Allbritton said.A company representative denied a promotion was in effect and addedthat the type of promotion explained by the caller was not one theyused.

“I wish it was true,” she said. “I would be upset if I turneddown $5,000, but you can’t be too careful.”

Unfortunately, too many people are not careful enough, saidDevagus Waters, a consultant for Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc.,which provides an identity theft shield service.

He cited statistics from a 2004 Federal Trade Commission studythat showed more than 10 million people were victimized by identitytheft in 2003.

It’s not a crime that pays attention to geographic ordemographic boundaries, a fact Merlene Myrick of Brookhaven couldattest to.

Last year, Myrick’s identity was stolen and more than $50,000was charged on credit cards created in her name. Fortunately,following a long ordeal, she was able to reclaim her identity andwas not held liable for the money.

According to the FTC, credit card fraud is the most common formof identity theft, accounting for approximately 28 percent ofcomplaints received by their office. Phone or utilities fraudfollows at 19 percent, trailed closely by bank fraud at 18 percent.Employment-related fraud accounts for approximately 13 percent offraud cases followed by government benefits fraud, 8 percent, andloan fraud, at 5 percent.

One of the most common ways thieves steal their victim’sidentity is through a method called dumpster diving, Waters said.Thieves steal a potential victim’s household or business trash andsort through it for credit card offers and billing and bankingstatements.

A preapproved credit card offer is a potential gold mine forthieves, he said.

Many come complete with a ready-to-sign card in the envelope.Anyone can simply sign the card, call to activate it and startshopping.

Any trash with personal information is suspect, however, becausemany of the thieves are organized and can use any personalinformation to gather more through the Internet, other pieces oftrash, or even mail theft, which is another low-tech method thievesuse to commit fraud.

When a piece of suspected mail is overdue, Waters said, peopleshould verify it was mailed and when. Once mail is verified asstolen, contact the post office to notify them of the theft andthen begin notifying credit card companies and other financialinstitutions to put a possible fraud alert on your accounts.

Some identity thieves are more high-tech. They use the Internetto gather their information through “phishing” and “pharming.”

“Phishing” is a term used to describe when consumers are trickedinto entering personal information through fake e-mails or aninnocent-looking Web site.

Many times, a telephone call to the company can verify if thee-mail is valid, Waters said. Regardless, a person should alwayscall the company directly, using valid telephone numbers and notones that may be provided on the e-mail, when providing personalinformation.

“Pharming” occurs when scammers make a Web site that appearsidentical to an existing company’s, complete with logo, and link itto another site. Thieves lure in victims, for example, by promisinggreat rates on a credit card or a mortgage to entice people toclick the link. Instead of getting the company’s genuine site,however, they are directed to the scammers.

Waters advised that Internet surfers should always go directlyto a company’s homepage without the use of related page links toavoid being “pharmed.”

Waters said one of the best methods to protect against fraud isto take a few simple precautions, such as shredding all importantpapers of a personal nature before disposing of them in the trashand verifying credit card charges and other financial accounts.

“Always compare your billing and banking statements with yourknown charges to ensure there are no additional charges,” he said.”That’s one easy way to discover if your identity has beenstolen.”