Category Archives: Identity Theft Prevention

Personal files containing financial data mistakenly sold at Goodwill stores


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As the holiday approaches I begin to clean out my house.  I do this for several reasons.  First, I know that with the holidays there is going be some presents underneath the tree that are going to need so space to be stored in when they are not being played with.  I also know that especially during the winter months and holiday season charitable organizations are in big demand and can use all the help they can get in the form of monetary as well as physical donations to help meet the needs of the hundreds that call upon them.  Last but not least, I don’t like anything to go to waste and the coat my daughter wore four times (it doesn’t get really cold here in Houston) and has now outgrown doesn’t belong in the trash, but it does belong on another little girl who could use one.  But with all this peace on Earth and good will towards man, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going out the door and into the hands of others.

We have talked before about the importance of clearing your electronics like cell phones and computers of information, personal data and stored information and images.  But what I never imagined I would find is that important papers could be lost and then found again, but quite possibly the wrong person as many of us clean out closets and make donations.

NBC News recently reported about a purchase made at an Indiana Goodwill Outlet Store.  Edith Watson purchased a box during a bulk sale not knowing what it contained, but they were selling it for pennies per pound.  Hoping to find something good, she realized after she got home that if she was an identity thief she definitely would have “struck it rich” as the entire box contained document after document of financial information, social security numbers, credit card bills, medical records and more. After reporting it to her local televisions station a look at other Goodwill locations occurred, finding that this was not a singular incident.

Yahoo News reports:

Goodwill’s Marketing Vice President Cindy Graham admitted their mistake and told WTHR, “We do take this very seriously…They don’t want us to have it and we don’t really want to have it either.” Policy changes are on the way after the charity completes their internal investigation. Cindy Graham said, “We’re going to take a look and see how we can prevent that from happening. Our process would have been and should have been and will be, ‘Let’s shred this.’” She also adds that Goodwill encourages all donors to be cognizant of what they are donating so that sensitive documents do not mistakenly end up at their retail stores.

How did this happen?  Several different ways including cleaning out the home of a deceased family member and the cleaning service not properly disposing of or passing the information on to the family. In another case boxes marked for storage were sent to Goodwill instead of storage.  Apparently theses boxes were never inspected by Goodwill, simply placed in the outlet stores.

Graham told the Indy Star, “We’re looking at every one of our processes,” she said, “and seeing what needs to be done differently so that there isn’t a gap and that material that was donated doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”

I think it’s happened to everyone. You are cleaning out drawers and dressers, closets and desks and make stacks of to go, to stay to donate.  I know in our home one of my daughter’s beloved characters for her homemade videos were accidentally donated.  Not exactly on the same level as letting my personal documents out of my hands, but it’s just a small example of how anyone can make a mistake.

So, keep in mind this holiday season as you show goodwill toward men to double check your boxes, computers, cell phones and other items for anything personal.  It’s one thing to be charitable, it’s another thing to have your whole identity stolen.

Don’t Double Swipe Your Credit Card


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don't double swipe your credit cardThe Credit Card Association of the Philippines (CCAP) has given the message “Don’t double-swipe credit cards” to commercial establishments and retailers. The advice is good for customers, too. The practice of “double-swiping” can compromise the data security of credit cardholders.

Alan German, a spokesman for CCAP, said that criminal groups are targeting Point-of-Sale systems, stealing card data and customer PINs.

German told ABS-CBNnews.com, “In many cases, the second swipe results in the credit card’s full data to be retained by the merchant in its own system. Effectively, this unnecessary practice increases the merchants’ vulnerability to potential data compromise… This loose data, so to speak, can then be used to create counterfeit cards, engage in identity theft, and perpetrate fraud.”

The reason “double-swiping” has become common among retailers is because it is often used for customer loyalty programs, record-keeping or other aspects of the retail-operations.  The second swipe of a credit card is most often unrelated to authorization or transaction settlements with the retailer.

German believes that if card issuers and merchants understand the risks in double-swiping cards, they will undertake measures to protect their businesses.  Understanding the risks would also protect credit cardholders from potential identity theft and other types of fraud.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says the bad news is that we are all vulnerable to identity theft, but there are ways to protect yourself: “First, don’t carry your social security number on any documents in your purse or wallet; change your driver’s license or any other documents to different numbers. Next, lock your mailbox and be sure to stop mail when you’re out of town for more than a few days. Shred your trash with a cross cut shredder. Be careful what you say about yourself in public –especially when you’re on your cell phone. Finally, you can protect your computer with a fire-wall, anti-virus software, or a program that removes spyware.”

Another item that the FBI might list on their website to protect customers and retailers is “Don’t double-swipe your card.”

Credit Card Fraud Getting Smarter With Security Code Calls


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credit card scamsGenerally speaking, credit card fraud is a pretty straightforward crime. Information is stolen and the card is used fraudulently. These days, however, scam artists are getting smarter. Now, they need only get part of your information. The rest they are getting right out of our own mouths. A recent credit card scheme in Boulder, Colorado is actually using the victims themselves to get the final piece of the puzzle.

Criminals are obtaining partial credit card information and then calling the victims posing as members of the Security and Fraud Department of your credit card. After giving you the information they have for your card, they then ask you about a suspicious purchase that never happened. When you say you did not make that purchase, they then promise you a credit to your account to make up for the fraud.

They confirm your address and then they claim they are starting a fraud investigation. They advise you to call the 1-800 number if you have questions and give you a fake control number. Finally, they have you “verify” that you have the card and ask for your security code on the back of the card. For the exact wording the criminals use, you can go here.

Most victims that have followed up with the real credit card companies quickly realize that they were had. Almost immediately, fraudulent purchases will show up and the gig is up. What folks don’t realize is that real security would never need information off your card. They were the ones that produced the card and gave it to you. They would have no reason to ask you for it.

What this particular scheme tells me is that people need to realize that phone calls from companies are not to be trusted. The bottom line is this. If you get an unsolicited phone call from a bank, credit card company or solicitor of any kind, hang up and call the company directly. Nothing good can come from a phone call that is instigated by someone other than you for business.

Of course, the scary part of this scam is how they got the information off your card in the first place. Perhaps they used a slider, skimmer or simply saw it when you were paying for something. The ways in which information can get stolen these days is amazing, so keep your information close to the vest. Doing so will ensure that you don’t have to worry about this in the future. This is only the newest thing that is happening but they will continue to evolve and change. Keep on top of things and protect your information like gold.

Photo-Sharing Programs are Latest Portals for Scam Artists


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According to the latest FBI reports, cyber criminals have been using photo-sharing programs more often to reach into our pockets without permission. Of course the process is not quite so straightforward, but the end result is always the same. One of the most common methods involves utilizing vehicle advertisements to lure in trusting potential buyers. It is a new twist on an old plot to be sure, but it seemingly is still effective with a number of people.

To get the information they need, they use Continue reading Photo-Sharing Programs are Latest Portals for Scam Artists

Oklahoma Disaster Officials Are Now Fighting Off Fraud


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It might seem hard to believe, but even areas that are suffering are not immune to fraudsters and scam artists. In fact, these areas seem to draw them in like crazy. In Oklahoma, where the tornadoes and disasters touched down with regularity over the past few months, the scam artists are already trying to take advantage of insurance and government programs. The tornado outbreak started around May 19 and the anti-fraud units in Oklahoma have been on high alert. In fact, officials from North Carolina have come in to aid in the fight as well.

The fraud is multifaceted and includes fraud of the victims, fraud of the system and insurance fraud to name a few.  Tornado victims are being counseled to teach them what to look out for, but it seems inevitable that there will be victims that were victims to start with. How someone can victimize people that have been through so much is hard to understand.

The other part of policing the situation includes Continue reading Oklahoma Disaster Officials Are Now Fighting Off Fraud

What You Should Know About Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards


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chip and pin technology credit cardsIn a world where keeping your information safe has become the number one priority, it is amazing that the United States has not moved wholesale to chip-and-PIN technology where credit cards are concerned. This chip system eliminates the old fashioned magnetic strip technology and is considered much more secure. Here are some things to consider about this wonderful way of doing business safely:

The primary thing to know about chip-and-PIN technology is that it uses a chip rather than a strip. The difference is that the chip is impossible to get to with readers. You have to stick the card into the reader to actually glean the information. Today’s magnetic strips are being read through our pockets, at gas stations and even at ATMs throughout the United States. This means that our technology is far outdated. Banks now are realizing this stateside and changing over slowly to chip technology. You should ask for one now if you haven’t already.

Another disadvantage of magnetic readers is that most of the world is on the chip now. Europe uses the chip almost Continue reading What You Should Know About Chip-and-PIN Credit Cards

Five Reasons Instagram Might Be A Bad Idea for Your Teen


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teens and instagramInstagram is one of the hottest social media apps on the market and they are growing quickly. In the past year alone they have doubled their subscription base and that does not appear to be slowing down. Because the app is used primarily on phones and tablets, it has been particularly popular with the younger crowd for sharing pictures with friends. The problem with Instagram is that it is not meant for kids younger than 13 per their terms of service. Despite this, kids sign up all the time with little to stand in their way. Here are five good reasons why you might want to stop your kid from using Instagram at such a young age:

Instagram is public

Like any other social media site, anyone can see your kid’s pictures if they don’t set the account to private. If the kid posts a picture at the park with friends and the account is set to public, anyone can know where your kid is, what they look like and who they are with. The danger is obvious.

Instagram can be brutal

We have all heard the stories of how social media can hurt a kid. Instagram allows Continue reading Five Reasons Instagram Might Be A Bad Idea for Your Teen

Why We Need To Pay Attention To Medicare Fraud


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It is hard to imagine, but our seniors are being unwittingly used in a Medicare scam that is costing taxpayers billions. In fact, the numbers are staggering. Medicare fraud has numbered 27 billion over the last four years. The latest method, however, stoops to lows that most people never think about. Home medical supplies, scooters, wheel chairs, diabetic supplies and countless other materials are being billed under senior citizen’s names but they are never ordered or asked for.

These medical supply houses will hound a Medicare recipient sometimes up to three times a day to try to get their information or help. There are a ton of warning signals that jump out where these fraudulent companies are operating. Keep an eye out for:

  • Companies offering low or no deductible even though you know you generally owe one.
  • Companies offering a free scooter or wheelchair
  • Equipment being billed for you that you never receive
  • Companies that will not leave you alone even after you have asked them to do so
  • Something sounding too good to be true.

These are some good general guidelines but the key is to go with your gut. If you think something feels fishy, then check it out with your doctor or call the Medicare office at 1-800-MEDICARE and find out.

Many of these companies are being investigated and will soon be answering for some of these crimes. The fact is that there are some good companies that offer good services to our seniors. The key is that they need to be transparent. If a product is billed to Medicare and to the American people, then they need to make absolutely certain that it is legitimate. The government and the taxpayers deserve to know that is being followed.

If we continue to let these types of thing go, we will not even have Medicare when our kids are older. That is a risk we are already undertaking, but allowing things such as this to slide without stiff punishments are what forced us into this position in the first place.

Medicare fraud is a very serious issue and it needs to be addressed not only by Congress, but by the American people through information and our votes. If our representatives are not going to take this seriously, then perhaps we should change who we are voting for.

How to avoid cyber impersonation of your kids


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Recently a huge story broke about a young girl named Katie that had her picture stolen to get Facebook “likes” and make money. What made this story even more notable was the fact that young Katie suffers from Down syndrome. These horrible crooks stole the picture, changed the girl’s name to Mallory and then used a sob story to gain nearly 3.5 million likes from unsuspecting folks looking to make the girl feel good.

Needless to say Katie’s family was infuriated as this latest cyber stealing crime has stooped to new lows. What is particularly scary is that it is remarkably easy for crooks to do this. All it really takes is a picture online to create a similar scam and dupe people based on their heart strings. The crooks put up a story about how “Mallory” was thinking she was not beautiful and that the likes would help her to feel otherwise.

What makes this particularly ridiculous is that Katie is indeed, beautiful. I feel rather certain that she knows this and that she needs no “likes” to discover this about herself.

Cyber impersonation is hardly something new. Continue reading How to avoid cyber impersonation of your kids

Data Breach Report Shows That Password Attacks Are Not Being Forced To Adapt


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Everyone that spends time on the Internet is familiar with the ideas of usernames and passwords. A recent investigation by the Verizon Data Breach Investigations team revealed that our passwords are not doing the job. In 2012, authentication-based attacks were the number one method used by a mile in breaches online. In fact, four of five breaches were accomplished in this manner. What does this mean to us as surfers? Actually, it means quite a bit.

It means we are giving our permission without being aware of it

Most people realize that they should not give out their personal information, but they keep on doing it anyway. In fact, the criminals are counting on it. If we give our authorization to breach our information, what could be easier for an online, anonymous criminal? Phishing emails, asking for your information directly, false websites and countless other methods are out there. Once the password or username is secured, you would be shocked at the damage they can do.

Why change what is not broken?

That is almost certainly what the criminals are thinking. For the last several years the data has not changed hardly at all. By far, the easiest way for criminals to get your information is to ask for it…..and they do. Because we are not forcing a change, they simply keep on doing the same thing.

How do we force change?

The best way is to educate ourselves. You have to understand that any company that asks for password or username in an unsolicited email is fake. No company is going to do this in our modern online world without them having an ulterior motive. Never click a link you are uncertain about. Never visit a website with a bad reputation. You can see this by checking it with your anti-virus and other online tools. Most of all, we need to change how we pick our passwords.

How can we get a great password?

The easiest way to do this is to use a system like Roboform to store your passwords after you create them.  A website like strongpassword generator can help you create a great one if you have problems making something that will be hard to crack. This is a very easy way to come up with one that won’t be discovered. Of course, many will want to do it themselves and that is fine. Just don’t use anything that is obvious like a pet name or variation of your name. The criminals are very good at discovering your information. Use a letter, number and capitalization mixture for the best results.