Scam of the day – July 14, 2014 – Chinese hackers steal information from Federal Office of Personnel Management

Hacking of American companies by Chinese hackers is not particularly startling as it is going on all of the time, however the federal government is now admitting that back in March Chinese hackers were able to hack into the data bases of the Office of Personnel Management and gain access to personal information on thousands of government workers.  What is particularly troublesome is that the Office of Personnel Management manages a program called e-QIP where federal employees who are seeking security clearances must provide much personal information including personal financial data.  It is not known what the purpose of the hacking was and whether or not it was government sanctioned or not.  What is known is that, just as the hacking into the computers of the United States Department of Energy last week, showed, government databases are just as vulnerable as those of private companies.

TIPS

So what does this mean to you?

First and foremost if you are someone whose information was maintained by the Office of Personnel Management you should be on heightened alert for identity theft.  You should check your credit report with each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.  You also would be wise to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit bureaus to prevent someone with personal information about you from gaining access to your credit report and utilizing your credit.  You can find a detailed explanation of credit freezes along with instructions for getting one in the right hand column of the first page of Scamicide.  As for the rest of us, this is yet another lesson that you are only as safe from identity theft as the places with the weakest security that hold personal information about you.  Whenever possible limit the amount of personal information held by companies and governmental agencies with which you do business.  Also, do not leave your credit card number on file with any retailer with which you do business regularly.  It may be convenient to do so, but it increases your risk of identity theft if the company is hacked and your data is compromised.

Scam of the day – March 20, 2014 – Maricopa County Community College hacked

As the old saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”  Recently the Maricopa County Community College revealed that its computers had been hacked and personal information including Social Security numbers and banking information of more than 2.4 million students, former students, employees and vendors covering a period of more than thirty years was compromised.  As I have indicated to you in a number of Scams of the day, colleges and universities have been prime targets for hackers because they provide the perfect combination of often lax security and large amounts of personal information.  What makes this security breach even more egregious is the fact that Maricopa County Community College was hacked back in 2011, but steps to improve the security of their computer systems were not taken despite the recommendations of employees of the colleges information technology department and their warning that the 2011 breach which only affected 400 people exposed a flaw that could affect many more people.

TIPS

Presently a class action is being prepared by the Phoenix law firm of Gallagher and Kennedy. If you have been affected by the data breach, you may wish to contact them.  You also should check your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion in order to look for evidence of identity theft.  You should also consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report to prevent it from being accessed by an identity theft armed with your Social Security.  You can find instructions here on the Scamicide website as to how to put a credit freeze on your credit report.  This data breach also brings up the question again as to why Maricopa retained personal information on people who have long ago ceased to have a relationship with the college.

Scam of the day – February 11, 2014 – More problems with the Death Master File

Although the Death Master File sounds like a list kept by Darth Vader, it actually is a federal database that contains the names and Social Security numbers of more than 83 million dead Americans.  The list was initially established to help federal agencies, insurance companies, tax collectors and others be able to prevent fraud by being able to confirm when someone has died so that further lifetime benefits would not be issued under that name.  However, as an unfortunate byproduct of the Death Master File, identity thieves regularly check it after getting names from obituaries (the file is available to absolutely anyone) and get the Social Security numbers for recently deceased people.  They then access credit in the names of the deceased as well as file phony income tax returns on behalf of the deceased and other identity theft tactics.  When Congress finally was able to reach a budget agreement and stop the federal shutdown, a part of the budget law included removing public access to the Death Master File.  However, as of today the list is still available to anyone, including identity thieves because the National Technical Information Service, the federal agency that manages the Death Master List has not closed it because it still needs to make provisions for access to the list by organizations that need the information for legitimate purposes.  It is expected that this process could take months before it is completed.  Meanwhile, a recent study by the federal government’s General Accountability Office indicates some federal agencies that need this information to prevent fraud are not getting the acce1ss that they need.

TIPS

Identity theft from dead people is a significant problem, but there are steps that you can take to limit this as a problem in your own family.  First, you should consider limiting the personal information that you put into a family member’s obituary.  Often this information is exploited by identity thieves to assist them in making your deceased family member a victim of identity theft.  Additionally, you should contact the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to inform them of the death of your family member and to instruct them to close the credit report of your family member in order to avoid someone with access to your family member’s Social Security number from getting access to his or her credit report to use to make large purchases.

Scam of the day – May 24, 2013 – Memorial Day scams

As we enter the Memorial Day weekend, it is a good time to honor and remember all our veterans and active duty members of the military as well as thank them for their service.  Unfortunately, not everyone feels this way and scam artists look upon veterans as well as active duty members of the military as just potential victims.  There are a number of present scams that specifically target veterans as well as present members of the military.  Often military members serving overseas are targeted for identity theft because the identity thieves recognize that they may not be in a good position to monitor their finances and credit while serving overseas.  In another scam aimed at the military, a flier on a bulletin board at a VA hospital or other facility provides information for new VA benefits and a telephone number for the veteran or serviceman to call to file for these financial benefits.  Unfortunately, this is a scam.

TIPS

Any serviceman going overseas should put an Active Duty Alert on his or her credit report.  There is no cost to do this and it provides protection from the security of your credit report being breached by an identity thief who may get your Social Security number.  You can put an Active Duty Alert on your credit report by going to any of the three credit reporting bureaus as follows:

How to Request an Active Duty Alert
Equifax
Experian
TransUnion
(No Online Form)
1-800-525-6285
(No telephone number
for Active Duty Alerts.)
1-800-680-7289
(After entering your zip code
select option 1 then select option 3.)

As for the phony benefits flier.  Never trust any flier promising benefits while it asks for personal information from you that can be used to make you a victim of identity theft.  Instead contact the VA at a number that you know is correct to inquire as to any potential benefits for which you might be eligible.

Scam of the day – March 19, 2013 – Philadelphia identity thief sentenced

The FBI recently announced that identity thief Lawrence Fudge was convicted and sentenced for running an identity theft ring in Philadelphia for at least six years before being caught.  Fudge obtained personal information  from rogue employees he bribed in banks and insurance companies who accessed their company’s records and gave the information about their customers to Fudge who used it to both steal money directly from the victims’ bank accounts as well as use their names and credit to open accounts in his victims’ names which he used to make purchases for himself.

TIPS

You are only as secure as the weakest security of a company with which you do business.  This is an unfortunate fact of life.  However, recognizing this fact, it is important to both limit the personal information you provide companies with which you do business as much as possible as well as make sure that you regularly monitor all of your accounts such as bank accounts on a monthly basis, at least.  You also should get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies as is your right under federal law.  The law permits you to get a free copy from each of these companies, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax once a year, however, a smart tactic is to get a free report from one of them and then four months later a free report from one of the remaining companies and finally four months after that a free copy from the last of the companies so that you can get free copies every four months.  Review these reports carefully to uncover any signs of identity theft.

CREDIT FREEZE

A credit freeze is, as the name implies, a freezing of your credit report at your request whereby no one can have access to your credit report even if they have your Social Security number and other personal information about you.  You control access to the credit report through a special PIN that you choose.   Thus, even if someone was able to steal your Social Security number, they could not parlay that into access to your credit report to be  able to purchase things or set up accounts using your name.  If you need to thaw out your credit report at such times as you want to apply for credit in the future, it is an easy procedure to do so using your PIN; then, after your new credit has been established, you can freeze your credit report again.

Here is a link to Consumers Union’s webpage that describes the credit freeze laws for each individual state.  Because the laws differ from state to state, you should check on the laws for your own particular state when putting on a credit freeze because the costs differ from state to state.  http://defendyourdollars.org/document/guide-to-security-freeze-protection

Having your credit frozen will not affect your ability to get your annual free credit reports from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.  It is important to put a credit freeze on your credit report at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Here are the links to each of them where you can go to freeze your credit.

Equifax  https://www.freeze.equifax.com/Freeze/jsp/SFF_PersonalIDInfo.jsp

TransUnion:  https://freeze.transunion.com/sf/securityFreeze/landingPage.jsp

Experian   https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html

Scam of the day – April 25, 2012 – Identity theft from the dead

Not even the dead are immune from identity theft and this particular type of identity theft is now on the rise.  One way this occurs is when scammers merely check out the latest obituaries and then go to a free totally available data bank called the Death Master File maintained by the Social Security Administration.  Using the Death Master File, the scammer is readily able to obtain the deceased person’s Social Security number which then can be used along with the information gained from the obituary to establish credit, make purchases or take out loans in the name of the deceased person.  This can bring about great problems in the estate settlement process

TIP

Limit the amount of personal information contained in any obituary in order to not provide information exploitable by an identity thief.  Also, the executor or personal representative of the estate should contact the major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and notify them that the person is deceased and not to issue any further credit.   All creditors, such as credit card companies of the deceased should also be notified of the death and the accounts closed as soon as possible.