Scam of the day – December 9, 2015 – Is the letter you received from OPM real or a scam?

As you all know by now and as I first reported to you in 2014 and again last summer, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked by Chinese hackers who stole personal information of more than 21 million present and former federal employees as well as non-employees whose information was gathered by the OPM during the course of background investigations of federal employees.  In October, the OPM began notifying victims of the massive data breach about the identity theft protection services the government will make available to them for the next three years.  The notification process is taking about three months with many notification letters only recently having been sent.  I have been contacted by clients of mine inquiring as to whether the notices they received are real.   It is important to remember that the official notice is only being sent by regular mail.  No email notices will be sent so if you get an email that purports to be from the OPM, it is a scam.   The federal government has chosen Identity Theft Guard Solutions to provide  three years of identity theft protection to victims. In the notification letter you are urged to contact the OPM’s security website to enroll in the free identity monitoring program and you are provided a PIN to use in order to enroll.

Identity thieves have been copying the letter and changing the website address where you are directed to go to enroll in the identity theft protection services, directing people to a phony website where they will be prompted to provide personal information purportedly to enroll in the program.  If you provide personal information to these scammers, you will end up a victim of identity theft.  Here is a link to the official website for enrolling in the credit monitoring services being offered by the OPM:  https://www.opm.gov/cybersecurity/#Services

Once there you will be prompted to input your PIN and only the last four digits of your Social Security number.

TIPS

If you were a victim of the OPM data breach, you should be on the lookout for a notification letter with information about how to apply for benefits under the program.  The OPM is only notifying people by regular mail.  If you have been notified by email, text message or telephone, the notice is a scam and you should ignore it.  Even if you receive a letter, you should make sure that the web address you go to is accurate.  For convenience, you can use the web address I have indicated above.  In any event, remember, the legitimate website will not ask for your complete Social Security number.  It is important to remember that no identity theft protection company can prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft.  The best they can do is notify you earlier that you have become a victim.    In fact, the OPM is offering these services a year after the data breach actually occurred so the danger of identity theft has increased.   None of the identity theft protection companies help you with the one best step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft which is to put a credit freeze on your credit report.  With a credit freeze on your credit report, even if someone has your personal information including your Social Security number, they cannot access your credit report for purposes of gaining credit or loans in your name.  You can find information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies by going to the Archives section of Scamicide and putting in the words “credit freeze.”

Scam of the day – October 12, 2015 – Most data breaches not caused by hacking

With the news constantly filled with stories of major data breaches such as last week’s disclosures of data breaches at Experian, Trump Hotels and Scottrade, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that hackers planting keystroke logging malware in the computers of their targeted victims would be the primary source of data breaches.  However, that conclusion is wrong.  According to a just released study done by the security firm Trend Micro, using data compiled by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, while 25% of the data breaches indeed were attributed to malware planted by hackers, 41% of the data breaches were attributable, according to the report, to the loss of “sensitive information stored on employees’ laptops, mobile devices, and thumb drives.”  Further complicating the problem is the fact that often the information contained on these devices was unencrypted, which should come as no surprise to those who remember the 2006 data breach at the Department of Veterans Affairs in which unencrypted personal information including Social Security numbers of more than 26 million present and former military personnel was stolen through the theft of a laptop from the home of a VA data analyst.

TIPS

Once again, the lesson is that regardless of how careful you are to protect the privacy of your personal data, you are only as safe as the companies and agencies with the weakest security that hold your personal information.  Therefore, it is not a matter of if you will become a victim of a data breach, it is a matter of when.  Knowing this it is important to first, as much as you can, limit the places that have your personal information.  Many times you are asked for such information by companies without a need for that information.  Your physician does not need your Social Security number.  When possible, refuse and offer another form of identification, such as your driver’s license number.  Second, you should be prepared for the inevitable data breach and put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies so that even if someone does obtain your personal information, they cannot use that information to get access to your credit report and run up debts in your name.  Putting a credit freeze on your credit reports is the simplest and best protection you can have against identity theft.  To learn more about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports, go the archives of Scamicide and type in “credit freeze.”

Scam of the day – October 3, 2015 – 15 million T-Mobile customers in danger of identity theft

T-Mobile has announced that personal information on 15 million of its customers has been stolen as a result of a data breach that occurred between September 1, 2013 and September 16, 2015.  The stolen information includes names, birth dates and Social Security numbers.  This type of information can readily be used by a criminal to steal the identities of the people whose personal information was compromised.  Because identity theft can be a devastating crime, this is a major problem if you were a customer of T-Mobile during that time.  It is important to note that it was not T-Mobile’s computers that were hacked.  Rather it was a server used by the credit reporting agency Experian that was hacked to steal this customer information.  T-Mobile used the services of Experian to run credit checks on people applying for T-Mobile services or devices.  A number of questions are brought up by this hacking including why Experian continued to store this personal information long after the determination of creditworthiness had been done.  Also, there are questions about the encryption program Experian used to protect its data because the encryption proved ineffective.

TIPS

T-Mobile is offering free credit monitoring services through ProtectMyID to affected customers for two years.  However, it should always be noted that credit monitoring does not help prevent identity theft, but merely helps you learn sooner when you do become a victim of identity theft.  Somewhat ironically, it should also be noted that ProtectMyID is owned and operated by Experian, the same company responsible for the data breach.  For more information about obtaining the free credit monitoring services if you have were affected by this data breach, click on this link which provides instructions from T-Mobile about signing up for the service. http://www.t-mobile.com/landing/experian-data-breach

Meanwhile, everyone should consider putting a credit freeze on their credit reports to actually help prevent identity theft.   With a credit freeze in place, an identity theft who has your personal information including your Social Security number will be prevented from accessing your credit report to obtain credit or make purchases in your name.   For more information about credit freezes, go to the archives of Scamicide.com and type in “credit freeze.”

Scam of the day – September 13, 2015 – Another major health care data breach

Health insurer Excellus Blue Cross/Blue Shield became the latest major health insurer to disclose that it had suffered a data breach affecting 10.5 million people.  The compromised information may include names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, member identification numbers, financial account information and claims information.  This hacking, which was just announced, but has been going on since December of 2013 is the fourth major health care data breach this year with anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield being the largest, having affected upwards to 80 million people.  As I warned everyone in my USA Today column in which I made my cyberpredictions for 2015, the health care industry is tremendously vulnerable to data breaches and we can expect these data breaches to continue.  Here is a link to that column.  http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/12/20/cyber-hack-data-breach/20601043/

A recent audit of health care companies and insurers showed that more than 81% of these companies have suffered a data breach in the last two years alone and that number only relates to the data breaches that have been discovered.  There may have been more that remain undiscovered.

The potential consequences of medical company data breaches can be tremendous to affected individuals.  The medical records of an identity thief accessing your medical insurance can become intermingled with your medical records such that you can mistakenly receive improper treatment, such as a potentially deadly blood transfusion of the wrong blood type.

TIPS

Excellus will be sending out snail mail letters to those people affected by the data breach shortly.  If you receive an email purportedly from Excellus asking you to click on links for information about the data breach, it is a phishing email aimed at getting you to download malware on to your computer and make you a victim of identity theft.  As many hacked companies do, Excellus is offering two years of free credit monitoring, however these services will do nothing to protect you from identity theft.  In order to do that, I suggest that you put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies in order to prevent someone who already has your personal information such as your Social Security number from accessing your credit report to run up debts in your name.  You can find information about how to do a credit freeze in the Scamicide Archives.  For more information about the Excellus data breach, you can either call their toll free hotline number of 877-589-3331 or got their website by clicking on this link. http://www.excellusfacts.com/

Scam of the day – September 8, 2015 – Company picked to provide identity theft protection for victims of OPM data breach

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which was hacked by Chinese hackers who stole personal information of more than 21 million present and former federal employees has chosen Identity Theft Guard Solutions to provide  three years of identity theft protections to the victims.  Notifications will be going out from the Defense Department to the victims starting at the end of September and it will take about three months to notify all of the victims.  Also covered by the program will be more than 6 million children whose parent’s information was compromised in the data breach.   When the data breach was initially discovered, the OPM hired another company to provide 18 months of identity theft protection services, however, the company had its website crash and the call center answering questions about the services to be provided often had delays of hours before callers could speak to a representative.

TIPS

If you were a victim of the OPM data breach, you should be on the lookout for notification from the Defense Department with information about how to apply for benefits under the program.  However, it is important to remember that no identity theft protection company can prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft.  The best they can do is notify you earlier that you have become a victim.  None of the identity theft protection companies help you with the one best step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft which is to put a credit freeze on your credit report.  With a credit freeze on your credit report, even if someone has your personal information including your Social Security number, they cannot access your credit report for purposes of gaining credit or loans in your name.  You can find information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies by going to the Archives section of Scamicide and putting in the words “credit freeze.”

Scam of the day – August 24, 2015 – Plenty of Fish dating site hacked

Plenty of Fish (pof.com) an online dating website with more than a hundred million members had its website corrupted by hackers who managed to install a keystroke logging malware program known as Tinba that enables the identity thieves to steal credit card and banking information from its victims.  What makes this hacking particularly noteworthy is that the hackers did not hack into the computers of Plenty of Fish to install malware as was done in the recent hacking of Ashley Madison.  Instead, they hacked into the computers of a legitimate advertising company, Improve Digital that distributed online advertisements to Plenty of Fish.  The malware was attached to legitimate online advertisements placed by Improve Digital on the Plenty of Fish website.  And as I always say, “things aren’t as bad as you think, they are worse.”  In this case, it was not even necessary for someone visiting the Plenty of Fish website to click on the infected advertisements to permit the malware to be downloaded on to their computers.  All that was necessary was to merely go to the now infected website to have  your computer, in turn, infected with this dangerous malware.

TIPS

If you are a user of Plenty of Fish, you should monitor your bank accounts and credit card accounts closely.  You also would be wise, if you already have not done so, to put a credit freeze on your credit report.  You can find information as to how to do this here on Scamicide.  Just go to the archives and enter the words “credit freeze.”  You also should make sure that you are using the latest anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer and run a scan for any viruses or malware.

Scam of the day – July 24, 2015 – Major identity thief convicted

Hieu Minh Ngo has pleaded guilty to a number of identity theft related charges in the Federal District Court of New Hampshire and been sentenced to 13 years in prison.  Between 2007 and 2013 Ngo obtained access to as many as 200 million consumer records from large data brokers including Court Ventures, which is 2012 was acquired by Experian, one of the three major credit reporting bureaus.  Ngo was able to access these records by posing as a private investigator.   Putting this number into perspective, it represents 60% of the population of the United States.   He then sold to identity thieves comprehensive packages of consumer data, referred to in the world of identity thieves as “fullz,” made up of individuals’ names, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates bank account numbers and bank routing numbers, on black market websites he operated called Superget.info and findget.me.  According to the Justice Department, Ngo sold fullz to 1,300 identity thieves, who in turn committed large numbers of identity theft including 65 million dollars in income tax identity theft alone.  Ngo could have been sentenced to 24 years in prison, but through a plea bargain got a reduced sentenced in return for his cooperation in identifying his former identity thief customers.

Now, a class action lawsuit has been filed in the Federal District Court for the Central District of California against Experian alleging it was negligent in failing to protect its consumer data from Ngo.  The class action is seeking to have Experian ordered to notify all affected consumers, provide free credit monitoring services to affected consumers and establish a fund to reimburse those who became victims of identity theft due to Experian’s negligence.  I will keep you informed as further developments in this case occur.

TIPS

This case is yet another example of how vulnerable we all are to identity theft because we are only as secure as the companies and governmental agencies that have our personal information.  One thing, however, we can all do to protect ourselves is to put a credit freeze on our credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, which will prevent access to our personal credit records and the information contained therein.  Go to the Archives section of Scamicide for further information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports.

Scam of the day – July 23, 2015 – FTC accuses Lifelock of misleading consumers

In a recent court filing in the Federal District Court of Arizona, Lifelock, one of the most well known companies offering identity theft protection services has been accused by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of failing to live up to a settlement Lifelock made in 2010 with the FTC as well as 35 state attorneys general regarding charges that Lifelock used misleading and deceptive advertising as well as failing to adequately protect the security of the personal data of its customers.  According to the FTC, Lifelock violated the 2010 settlement by failing to maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect its users’ sensitive personal data, including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and bank account numbers as well as by falsely advertising that it protected consumers’ sensitive data with the same high-level safeguards as financial institutions.  Lifelock has publicly disputed the allegations.

TIPS

If the charges are proved to be true, this would be very disturbing to Lifelock customers because any company holding such tremendous amounts of personal information would be a prime target of hackers and identity thieves.  It is also important to remember that neither Lifelock nor any of the other identity theft protection services are able to truly protect you from identity theft.  They merely help you take certain steps to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft and help you monitor your accounts to let you know sooner if you become a victim of identity theft.  In fact, none of the identity theft protection services assist you in putting a credit freeze on your credit report which may be the single best step you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.  You can find instructions for putting a credit freeze on your credit reports here in the Archives of Scamicide.   None of the things that any of these companies do for you are things you cannot do for yourself at less cost.  In fact, although it is obviously self-serving, the cost of my book “Identity Theft Alert” in which I provide you with precise steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft is less than a month’s cost of most identity theft protection services.