Phishing occurs when an identity thief lures you through a phony email that purports to be from a bank, another legitimate company or even the IRS or other governmental agency to a phony website that looks like the website of that legitimate company, but actually is just a con to entice you into providing personal financial information. Often phishing scams prey upon our fears by telling us that our accounts have been compromised and that if we do not provide verifying information, our accounts will be closed.
Clicking through to the phony websites also carries the risk of unwittingly downloading malware such as keystroke logging programs that once installed on your computer provide the scammer with all of the information found about you on your computer. This information can be used to make you a victim of identity theft or even to empty your bank accounts if you use your computer for online banking.
Never click on a link to a website unless you are totally sure that it is legitimate. Trust me you can’t trust anyone. Even if you receive an email from someone you trust, it may not be from them at all, but rather from someone who has hijacked their email or even if it is from them, they may have, in turn, fallen prey to a scam artist and may be passing along dangerous malware without even knowing it.
Install antiphishing software on your computer to warn you before going to a website that may be tainted. A good, free antiphishing software can be found at www.toolbar.netcraft.com.
Medical identity theft occurs when your medical insurance information becomes compromised. The effects can be tremendously harmful. In addition to the usual damage to your credit for unpaid bills, your medical records may become tainted with the faulty medical information of the identity stealing patient. Your own health care can be jeopardized by receiving improper treatment based upon the medical information of the identity thief that appears on your record. And as difficult as credit reports are to correct following an identity theft, correcting medical records can be next to impossible due to medical privacy laws.
Always review your medical insurance bills carefully to uncover any evidence of medical identity theft as quickly as possible. Ask your physicians what there policy is for data protection as much of medical identity theft has been as the result of an inside job.
Your credit report is one of the most important documents in your financial life. The information in your credit report as maintained by the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian is used to calculate your credit score. This is used by financial institutions to evaluate your credit worthiness and can affect your ability to get a credit card, mortgage loan or a car loan. It also can affect the rate that you will be charged on such loans. Your credit score is also used in many states by companies in making employment hiring decisions. When you are the victim of identity theft, the effect on your credit score can be devastating. It is a complicated, frustrating and time consuming task to correct your credit report after you have been the victim of identity theft.
Make sure that your credit report and your credit score are accurate. Get a free copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.
Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information, such as a credit card number or a Social Security number, and then either uses this information to gain access to your financial accounts and assets or uses the information to obtain credit in your name and runs up enormous bills that come back as black marks on your credit report.
Identity theft is a growth industry in the criminal world where it represents the perfect storm of crime. It is both easy to accomplish and hard to catch. It can be done in a manner that is either high tech, low tech or no tech. It is done through sophisticated computer tactics that trick you into providing your personal information or it can be done by going through your garbage for information, such as credit card bills that you may have thrown out in your trash.
Use a shredder to destroy documents that you are throwing out and make sure that you use a cross shredder because identity thieves are able to use readily available computer software and scanners to read shredded material cut by a vertical shredder.
Scams and fraud have been a part of history since the beginning of time. Many of the new scams that we see today are not really new at all, but merely variations on old cons. One such scam that was perpetrated in the 1500s when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Scam has evolved over the years into the Nigerian Letter Scam of today. Scams relating to medical treatments and diet were as attractive to early American colonists as they are to us, in what we perceive to be more enlightened times.
The old French proverb is indeed correct. “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Age old human desires don’t seem to change. Clever con artists can manipulate those desires to their own benefit. Con artists are indeed criminals, but they are also the only criminals we refer to as artists because as much as we deplore their actions, we also recognize their art.
Scam artists adjust their art to paint whatever picture they sense will make us vulnerable to their con. They have a knowledge of psychology that would make Freud envious. They know how to appeal to our particular weaknesses and psychological makeup. They appeal to whatever works. They construct a network of “people like us” whom we trust; they appeal to our fears; they appeal to our friendship; they appeal to our optimism; they appeal to our generous, charitable instincts; they appeal to our desire for quick and easy solutions to life’s vexing problems and they appeal to our greed. Sometimes they even appeal to and exploit that little kernel of dishonesty that many people have.
According to the Federal Trade Commission Americans lose billions of dollars to scams every year. Interestingly, the largest group of victims is between the ages of 25 and 44; ages when you are young enough to know everything – which, of course, makes you more vulnerable to a scam artist. Particularly troublesome is a study done by the National Association of Securities Dealers that indicated that wealthy people who are financially literate and astute are actually more likely to taken in by an investment scam.
Smart people can get scammed. Just ask any of the victims of Bernie Madoff.
The threat of scams and identity theft is not as bad as you think. It is far worse and getting more serious every day. Modern technology has been a boon to mankind, but it has even been a bigger boon to scam artists and identity thieves who are able to use the latest technology to scam you and steal your identity from your cell phone and every other mobile device.
Technology may be a part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution.
But the biggest solution is knowledge and skepticism.
And that is where I come in.
I can teach you how to recognize scams and risks of identity theft as well as how to avoid them. I can provide you with the telltale signs of scams and identity theft and I can alert you to the latest developments in scams and identity theft.
What you don’t know, can hurt you. I can educate you to spot the dangers in places you may never have considered, such as your television or your cell phone.
And if you have become a victim, I can show you what to do.
In this age of information sharing, everyone is vulnerable to identity theft and scams because even if you are doing everything right, the many companies and institutions with which you do business and operate with in your everyday life may not be protecting you as much as they can. I can show you how to minimize those risks.
Many years ago I worked as a professor in a college program in the state prison system in Massachusetts. One of my students was doing two consecutive life sentences, which meant that after he died, he would start his second sentence. When he told me about this I told him about how I always wondered how that worked. He said that he had too and that when he was sentenced, he yelled at the judge, “How do you expect me to do two consecutive life sentences” to which the judge responded, “Just do the best you can.”
There are no guarantees in life and there certainly is no guarantee that you will not become a victim of identity theft or scammed, but by doing the best you can, you can certainly narrow your chances of becoming a victim.