Dumb identity thief forgets Rule No. 1: Shred documents before you trash them

April 23rd, 2012

If ever there was a dumb identity thief, this guy is it.

Gerald K. Acholonu was charged by federal prosecutors with aggravated identity theft and other crimes that stemmed from him stealing credit cards from other people’s mailboxes and using them to obtain cash advances and buy things.

Here’s the thing: If he’d just shredded documents, he might have gotten away with it.

Instead, prosecutors were able to build their case on the materials they obtained by going through Acholonu’s trash outside his apartment in Braintree, Mass.

When Acholonu worked for a private company that did business with the U.S. Postal Service, he came under scrutiny. A postal worker say him leave a restroom carrying a tray of mail, and Acholonu was reported.

Acholonu had access to the mail, including credit cards that Discover had sent from Salt Lake City to the northeast. After the investigation began, Acholonu apparently got cold feet and quit his job. But the investigation continued.

Investigative reports stated that officers found opened mail in Acholonu’s trash, including Discover credit cards and credit card statements, telephone statements and receipts, and cellular telephone SIM cards – all associated with his victim. He had handwritten on the credit card statements the victims’ dates of birth, Social Security numbers and PIN numbers.

Maybe next time, people will listen when we warn you: Shred those documents before you dispose of them.

Be careful when making purchases with a debit card

April 20th, 2012

Protect your elderly loved one from scams

April 18th, 2012

As baby boomers age, so do their parents. And more and more of them find themselves in the position of caregiver. As caregiver to an elderly person, one can clearly see the issues facing your loved one – and that includes identity theft.

The elderly are often a target for identity thieves because these criminals know that the elderly are far more trusting, and because they are often unfamiliar with newer technologies, they may also be an easy target.

If you are a caregiver, there are things you should be on the lookout for that may be phishing attempts or a thief’s attempt to take bits of your loved one’s identity and use it afoul. There are also things you can do to help protect your loved one.

• Get involved with your senior adult’s financial decisions, so that you are aware of any money that is being spent. It’s all too easy for a thief to fool an elderly person into sending them money.

• Don’t allow your senior to hire someone who shows up at his front door asking for work. They may be legit, but chances are, it’s a scam.

• Advise your senior to never give out personal or financial information over the telephone, especially if he didn’t initiate the call.

• If your senior is receiving an inordinate amount of promotional mailings or telemarketing materials or phone calls, it could mean he has been placed on what’s called a “sucker list.” This means your senior is being targeted, and a scam could be next.

• Stay abreast of the latest scams being circulated that are aimed at fooling the elderly. Keep your senior informed, and stay on top of the situation yourself.

While you don’t want to interfere with the independence of the senior adult you are caring for, you don’t want them victimized either. Make sure your loved one knows you are “in his business” because you care and want to protect him.

Using debit cards can be dangerous

April 16th, 2012

Reports have surfaced in recent days about a solider who has been protesting outside his local Bank of America branch with a sign that reads, “A solider that puts America first should have a bank that puts the solider first.”

While the solider had two weeks off in Afghanistan in 2010, he went to Athens, Greece and had a few drinks at a nightclub, which he paid for using his Bank of America debit card. When he returned to base later, he found a total of $25,243.71 had been removed from his account. All of the money had been deducted by someone at the nightclub where he’d used his card to pay for his drinks.

If a consumer uses his credit card in a nightclub, or anywhere else for that matter, and the information is stolen and used fraudulently, the disputed charges are frozen and the consumer can delay payment until the bank or credit card issuer completes the investigation.

If, however, you have used a debit card, your money is gone until the investigation is completed. Your bank may return the money, but until they do, you’ll just have to do without.

So with this kind of risk, why do some people continue to use debit cards? It’s because there are those out there who can’t get credit cards, or who don’t wish to obtain and use credit cards because they can’t control their own spending habits.

Whatever the reason, be aware of the dangers of using a debit card. Learn what your bank’s policies are regarding identity theft and fraudulent withdrawals, and most importantly, if you do use your debit card, don’t keep $25,000 in your account.

Watch out for gas pump skimmers

April 13th, 2012

Use these tips to protect yourself from ID theft

April 11th, 2012

How do identity thieves get your information? They rummage through your mailbox and steal your outgoing bill payments. They dig through your trash in search of cancelled checks, credit card and bank statements, and pre-approved credit card offers. They hack into computers to steal personal data. They go to the post office and fill out a change of address form to divert their victims’ mail to another address so they can steal information.

In short, there are a lot of ways a thief can obtain your personal information. But there are also a lot of things you can do to thwart their efforts.

• Guard your Social Security number as if it is classified information. Don’t give it to anyone unless you are sure of how it will be used and secured.

• Don’t write down your passwords and carry the paper with you. If you must record them, do so and store the paper in a secure location.

• Be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM machine. Make sure no one is standing too close to you, and cover the pad when inputting your PIN. Check the machine to be sure there are no skimming devices attached before you insert your card.

• Warn your children about giving out personal information on social media sites.

• Buy a shredder and use it. This means you shred any document that bears your personal or financial information before you dispose of it, including pre-approved credit offers.

Breach has many consumers on edge

April 9th, 2012

A recent data breach at Global Payments, which could affect as many as 1.5 million MasterCard and Visa card users, has many consumers on edge about protecting their personal information.

But there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your information.

First of all, be extra cautious and keep your eyes open. Read about the latest identity theft scams, and watch out for any signs that your information may have been breached.

Next, you should be sure to always check your bank and credit card statements carefully. Watch out for unfamiliar charges that might appear, even it is only for $1. Sometimes a thief will test the waters by seeing if he can get away with charging a small amount, before he tries to go for the gold.

If you spot anything out of order, contact your bank or credit card issuer at once. You should also be aware of your billing cycle. If you don’t receive your statement on time, it could be a red flag that something is wrong, and you should contact the bank or card issuer immediately.

Make sure your update your computer with the latest in security software, as well as your mobile devices. And then be sure to update the software. You should also update your Internet browser. Older browsers can have security weaknesses.

Last of all, monitor your credit report. Check for any unusual or fraudulent activity, and report it at once to both the credit bureau and the corresponding creditor.

What’s the best way to use free Wi-Fi?

April 6th, 2012

Connect online, commit a crime

April 4th, 2012

Today’s world is a place where anyone can be connected with anyone else, and for any purpose. This means that you can connect with a long-lost friend or relative, you can connect with someone for business purposes or you can connect with someone in order to commit a crime.

And thanks to the Internet, anyone can purchase a device to help them obtain the financial information needed to comment credit card fraud. For less than $100, a thief can obtain a skimmer online, then use it to drain an unsuspecting victim’s bank account.

A skimmer is a device that can be attached to an ATM machine or gas pump, or even to a point of sale machine inside a retail store. The device captures the card’s data when the card is swiped, and records it. On ATM machines, criminals often install tiny cameras, in addition to the skimmer, to capture the victim inputting a PIN.

Once the information is collected, it can be used by the thief who collected it, sold on the black market, or the information can be used to make cloned cards, which can be used by the thief or sold for cash.

Skimming has become a billion dollar industry. Cloned cards have been used to withdraw more than $1 billion all over the world in the past decade.

Protect yourself and your cards. Cover the PIN pad when you input your number. Check the machine thoroughly before you insert your card, to be sure nothing is amiss. Pull on the card inserter, and poke at the PIN pad. If something is loose or seems out of place, report it immediately and do not use your card in that machine.

Watch out for skimmers at the pump

April 2nd, 2012

We’re well into spring and summer is just around the corner. And summer means road trips. Road trips mean more time at the gas pump.

But high gas prices are predicted nationwide this summer. Prices are expected to go as high as nearly $5 per gallon in some areas.

Identity thieves use a technique called skimming at gas pumps, which involves placing a device over the card reader which looks like part of the pump. When you insert your card, the skimmer reads the information on your card, and records it so the thief can later retrieve the skimmer and download the information. He can then use your information to spend to his heart’s content.

Smarter thieves don’t even have to come back to pick up the device. Smarter thieves are using wireless laptops, smartphones or Bluetooth to download the information from nearby – they don’t even have to get out of their cars.

The sad thing is that most people don’t know they’ve been victimized by these thieves until they get their bills and see the fraudulent charges. All too often, by this time the thief has made off with a lot of money.

If you are concerned about falling victim to skimming at gas pumps, the best way to avoid it is to simply pay inside. You can use your credit or debit card, and you can watch the clerk scan your card, or scan it yourself.

If you continue to pay at the pump, use your credit card, or use your debit card but choose the credit option, so you don’t have to input your PIN. Check your bank or credit card statements often to be sure nothing is amiss.