Category Archives: Identity Theft

How to Identify a Phishing Attack

Phishing is when someone tries to “fish” out information from you by pretending to be someone else. Have you ever gotten an email from your bank or credit card that looked suspicious? They usually say something ominous like “there’s been a security breach, we will need you to log into your account and provide your social security number to prevent account closure.” They’re designed to get you to panic and unwittingly click on the link, which takes you to their fake website to collect your information.

Once you try to log into their site with your legitimate credentials, you’re screwed. You’re screwed because they will have captured all the information they need to pretend to be you for just long enough to either steal your money or set up their systems in order to steal your money.

What’s unfortunate is that we’re usually pretty aware of this type of stuff when it comes to banking. A strange email from “Bank of America” is going to set off our fraud radar but a similar one from Twitter or Facebook might not. A lot of social sites send a barrage of notification emails for when people send you a message, when someone adds you as a friend, or when you need to do something in a game. The deluge of email can lower our guard and someone trying to steal your Facebook account might sneak through. While losing your Facebook account is not as bad as losing your bank account, there are still costs to losing it as the thief might pretend to be you and ask your friends for money (the classic “I was traveling in London and was mugged, please wire me money!”).

How do you identify a phishing attack? First, use an email service that has the ability to identify the sender of emails. Gmail, which is 100% free, will tell you if they think the sender’s information (who the emailer says he is) doesn’t match the email header’s information (which computers the email has passed through). Alternatively, if you are computer savvy, you can view the headers yourself for anything strange.

Next, never click on a link in an email. If it’s from Bank of America, go to the Bank of America website. If it’s Citi, go to the Citi website. You might have to jump through a few hoops to find the source but it’ll be worth it.

Finally, phishing goes beyond emails, thieves are also known to call or text you. If someone does call you, the best option is to call them back through the company’s Customer Service number. Ask them for a transaction ID or a call ID number they can reference to speed up the process (if it’s fraud, they usually assign some number). If you think it’s really them, make them authenticate themselves with your information. If they really are with the company, they will have that information. If they aren’t, they’ll probably hang up (remember, it’s a volume business).

In the end, the safest way to interact with a company is to call them directly yourself. If you suspect something is wrong, give them a call and you can sort it out. This will take some extra time but it’s far less than what you would spend if you were the victim of a phishing attack.

Prevent Identity Theft and E-File Your Taxes

TaxesThere are many reasons why you should e-file your taxes. By e-filing your taxes, you get your tax refund faster. By e-filing your taxes, you avoid the post office. But in terms of importance, there probably isn’t any reasons better than avoiding identity theft. Think about all the information you need to include on your tax return and how that information, if you mail your return, is being sent unsecured through the mail system.

Your tax return contains all the personal information a thief would need to steal your identity – your address and your social security number. It also contains information about your family, such as your spouse and any dependents, as well as their social security numbers. If includes the names of the banks and brokerages you use, those are included as 1099s, as well as roughly how much is in each of those accounts (they can assume an interest rate and calculate your balances based on the reported interest). They will know if you own or rent where you live, as well as several other details based on the deductions you claim.

Your tax return contains a frightening amount of information about you and while mailing your return is 99.999% safe, why take the risk when you can e-file and get all the other benefits? E-filing is smart on a number of levels and with the scary statistics involving identity theft, you might as well reduce your risk when it’s as simple as this.

(Photo: davidreber)

Review Your Children’s Credit Reports

Just this week we learned of a new way that identity thieves are stealing identities – scanning for inactive Social Security numbers of children and selling them to other people. One of the weaknesses of the credit reporting system is that there’s no way to determine the applicant’s age from their report. If you think back to your own report, there isn’t a birthday listed because, presumably, your age is not a reliable factor on your credit risk.

Thieves are able to get away with it because children never apply for credit, children don’t review their credit reports once every twelve months, and it’s typically not discovered until the family starts receiving collection notices for debts they never knew about!

The Identity Theft Resource Center has a fact sheet to help explain the problem and how you can fix it. Ultimately, the best solution is to review your children’s credit reports regularly, as you do your own, to detect it as early as possible.

What are Credit Card Skimmers?

A credit card skimmer is a device designed to steal your sensitive personal and financial data when you’re accessing either a point of sale, such as at a gas station pump, or at your bank, on an ATM machine. Last year The Consumerist highlighted a card skimmer on a Bank of America ATM and at a gas pump.

There are two types of skimmers:

  • Cameras: A microscopic camera capable of capturing your card’s visual information, like your name, your card number, the expiration date, and your PIN when you enter it on the keypad.
  • Magnetic capture: A device that sits on top of the card scanner that captures your card’s magnetic information, which includes all the visual data and more.

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Should I Change My Social Security Number?

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ve probably contemplated changing your Social Security Number to prevent future attacks. Unfortunately, changing your Social Security Number doesn’t necessarily protect you the way you think it might. It’s a difficult process and, if you are assigned a new number, your old Social Security Number remains assigned to you. The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t delete or void SSNs, it’s not like a credit card number.

So how do you go about changing your number? You will only be approved for a new number if you can prove that you’ve tried to resolve the problems caused by identity theft but continue to be hurt by your old social security number. The key term is “disadvantaged by misuse” and you have to have experienced financial or personal hardship within the last year. If you can’t get a mortgage loan because your ID was stolen, that’s considered “disadvantaged by misuse.” If the IRS audits you because someone else is reporting income on your SSN, that’s considered “disadvantaged by misused.” The Social Security Administration has a brief bit of information explaining other reasons why you should get a new SSN and unless you actually qualify, you won’t get a new number.

The process for changing your social security number is much like applying for a new social security number – completely Form SS-5 (Application For A Social Security Card), bring documents proving US citizenship (must be originals or certified copies), and evidence you need a new number. Bring all this to your local Social Security Office and apply for a new number.

NOTE: It’s crucial that you request a letter from the SSA explaining why you were issued a new Social Security number. (after you’ve received it) You will need this letter when you go to change over other documents, like your driver’s license, so get this in writing to help avoid headaches down the road. 30-Day ID Protection 30 Day Trial Review

I’ve never heard of ProtectMyID before, however after some quick research online, they seem to be an up and comer in the Identity Theft Protection world.  I decided to give them a once over and sign-up for their 30-day ID Protection free trial but I also had to sign-up for a $1 credit report in the process.  An inconvenience but a small price to pay for a full 30-day free trial.

Signing up is as simple as the rest I suppose.  You enter your personal information, credit card information, then answer a couple of questions about your identity.  As long as everything checks out, you’re through to the dashboard however if you’ve mistyped anything, you may be asked to call in and answer a few more questions.

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Review Your Social Security Statement

Social Security AdministrationEvery year, three months before your birth month, the Social Security Administration will send you a copy of your Social Security Statement. It’s a document that, among other things, lists how much you can expect to receive from the SSA when you reach retirement age. Here’s a sample Social Security statement that should look very similar to yours.

If you’re far from retirement, this document isn’t going to be very important to you because you aren’t planning on receiving benefits yet. You probably shred it the moment you received it, but that would be a mistake!
Continue reading Review Your Social Security Statement

zendough by TransUnion 7-Day Free Trial Review

Zendough, a new and fresh idea to the identity theft and credit score space, is offering a 7-day free trial for those in need of protecting their credit and making sure their score is where it needs to be.  Unlike other free trial offers, zendough not only provides you the credit information you’re looking for but they also provide you a zen score, which rates your overall financial well-being.

Zendough is part of TransUnion, one of the three main credit bureaus.  While you will have access to all credit score and report information during your 7-day free trial, you will only have it from TransUnion.  If you decide to continue your service beyond the free trial, you will be granted access to reports and scores from all bureaus.

I decided to give them a try and signed up for the 7-day free trial myself.  The sign-up process is just as simple as many other services, as you’re required to submit your personal information, payment information (should you decide to keep the services beyond the trial period) and answer a few questions about your identity.  The submission process takes a few minutes and the form is easy to fill out.

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