October 3, 2012
Most identity thieves steal personal information simply for monetary gain. While taking your money and defrauding businesses is bad, there are worse things. For example, you could be seen by a doctor who does not even know how to practice medicine properly. You could be seen by Ernest Addo.
Addo was arrested on August 24 in Georgia for impersonating his friend who was spending a year in Africa. He not only took on his friend’s identity, but he used his medical license to treat more than 400 patients in senior centers before it was caught. The only one in the medical office who seemed to notice his lack of experience was one nurse who saw him research a treatment plan by using the search engine ask.com.
Law enforcement officials assume that Addo’s motive was greed; he wanted to get money from the patients. Research is now being done to determine if anyone was harmed due to getting medical treatment from him. It is noted that some of his patients died, and that he wrote prescriptions, even keeping some for himself.
Addo was found out because of a minor mistake he made on a death certificate. Health officials contacted the real doctor, who told them that he was out of the country and that he had been for some time. Otherwise, he could have continued to practice without his victim being any the wiser.
This may not be his first fake profession either. He is tagged as a professional con man. However, law enforcement declined to release any further details at this time. Addo also opened credit cards in his friend’s name.
This case illustrates how one small case of identity theft can blossom into something affecting hundreds or even thousands of people. That’s why it is so important to stop identity theft before it can go on for a long period of time or involve a large sum of money. That’s what makes identity theft protection plans so important. Every American should have some way to keep their information safe.
September 26, 2012
You might think if anyone knows about the threat of identity theft and the steps needed to avoid it, it would be a lawyer. These people spend a living dealing with criminals. However, as a recent article in the Florida Bar News illustrates, attorneys are just as much at risk as anyone else. Florida lawyer Laurie Moss recently reported that she provided thieves with her personal information when providing it for what she thought was a background check for a law firm position in California.
When she showed up to report for her first day at the firm, she found out that the California lawyers did not exist. She does not know who ended up with her Social Security number, driver’s license number and other information. She also fears that whoever it is knows that she is an attorney and the thieves may try to practice law in her name.
One of the mistakes that Moss made was providing her personal information to a placement agency, which did not confirm that the job was a legitimate one. There were a few red flags. The placement agency’s IP address could be traced back to Bermuda and a lot of the language on its website was stolen from another law firm’s site, for two things. The agency also never met with the lawyers in person, of course.
Moss may be in for a hard road since the fake firm got both her personal information and her financial information, provided in order to get her her compensation for the legal work. It would help her if she had made this mistake while signed up for an identity theft protection plan. While she reported the issue to the credit reporting agencies, her bank and the Florida Bar Association, she could face some serious problems down the road.
With identity theft coverage, she could get instant alerts when it’s suspected that thieves are using her information. She could also receive compensation for some or all of the funds needed to recover her identity if it is used in a negative manner. Of course, she could have been more careful about how she handled applying for the “job,” but everyone makes mistakes and that’s why we have people and policies to back us up.
September 19, 2012
In a twist on the usual case where identity theft is discovered due to a mistake on a credit report, in Santa Cruz, California, last week, police found that they had to work backwards to locate the victims of this crime. They came upon a pile of stolen mail.
After apprehending two individuals who are under investigation for several charges, including possession of drugs and handguns, police also found account letters belonging to more than 30 different people from the area. The job now is to contact those people and let them know that they have been victimized. If they don’t have identity theft protection plans, it’s likely they have no idea.
The thieves used the information contained in the mail to open credit card accounts, then used these accounts to order items over the Internet. They sold the cash to purchase drugs or to get cash for other criminal activity. It made for quite a successful crime ring.
April Skalland, one of the deputies who responded to the case, said the victims put themselves at risk by leaving their mail in unlocked mailboxes for extended periods of time. She advises people to get their items out of the boxes as soon as possible, and to put their mail on hold if they go on vacation or are away from home for an extended period for any other reason.
A couple other pieces of advice on postal mail:
- Sign up for electronic statements for your accounts if possible. Then have your paper statements cancelled.
- If you have to have important mail sent to you on a regular basis, consider a post office box or having it sent to your workplace so that it doesn’t sit all day.
- Place mail with sensitive information on it into an official post office box; you know, the big blue ones. It’s unlikely a thief will break into one.
- Be vigilant even if you think you live in a safe area. Thieves don’t tend to discriminate too much.
September 12, 2012
It can be exciting when the Summer Olympics come around every four years. It is especially exciting for cybercriminals because it causes a flurry of activity on the Internet. There are few that are not even a little curious about the opening ceremonies or keeping a tally of the medal count for their home countries. ThreatMetrix, a security firm estimates the number looking for Olympic information on their computers or smartphones at about a billion worldwide.
Just like with other major events, such as elections, identity thieves look to exploit the online interest by setting up bogus websites that appear similar to the official ones. When you navigate your browser to these sites, you can get malware installed on your computer that can later be used to steal your personal information. It can be tough to tell the difference between the legitimate and fake sites at times, so you need to be careful. You also need to be selective about which applications you download onto your phone or tablet PC.
The safest bet? Stick with official sites, such as Olympic.org or the sites of news organizations that you know to be legitimate. Same goes for apps. Go with official ones that are authorized by major companies instead of unknown ones, especially ones that appear to be cheaper than they should be for what they offer.
Another good idea is to sign up for an identity theft protection plan. Sometimes you can have malware or spyware on your computer for months without even knowing it. Oftentimes the only reason people realize that it’s there is because their computers start working really slowly because of everything that’s going on behind the scenes.
An identity theft protection plan works behind the scenes too – but in a positive way. It works below the radar to outsmart the criminals who try to take your information and do illegal things with it. You’ll be notified of any strange goings-on so that you can prevent bad things from happening. And that reminds me; make sure that your anti-virus software is always up to date.
August 29, 2012
I seem to be one of the last people on the planet who has what I call a “stupid phone.” It doesn’t have apps or a touch screen or even a keyboard. When I bought it at the AT&T Store, the salesperson told me it would be obsolete in days. Probably true. That’s why I was so impressed to discover that me, with my so-called ancient phone, could be a victim of identity theft while using it.
Even “stupid” people can be victims of what is known as smishing (short message service phishing), as long as their phones have texting capabilities. Kind of like phishing, smishing involves scammers impersonating representatives of real companies and directing consumers to phony websites to provide their personal information. They send you a text message enticing you to visit the site, such as a recent fraud where thieves told consumers they could receive free gift cards to Wal-mart and Costco.
Of course, if you have a smartphone, you are in a worse spot if you get victimized by smishing. If you click on a link that a scammer sends you in a text message, it can install malware on your phone, allowing the thief to get all of the information you have stored on it. This is especially harmful if you log into secure accounts from your phone, like many people do, since they may be able to record your login and password information.
The easy answer to this one is to not believe information you get in unsolicited text messages. If you win a prize from a contest you didn’t enter, sorry to say but it’s probably a fraud. Even if you know this, you may be tempted to click on the link provided just out of curiosity. Don’t do it. Instead, delete it immediately.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in a press release, “My office is seeing a lot of illegitimate text messages promising free gift cards.” So be on the lookout for these texts. It is not out of the realm of possibility that you will receive one soon.
Also, make sure that your identity theft protection plan is up to date. If thieves do somehow get a hold of your cell phone and are able to retrieve your personal information from it, you don’t want to find out after they have taken over your accounts. With that in mind, also put a password on your cell phone that automatically sets in after a couple minutes. That can help keep the less tech savvy thieves, at least, from being able to get into the contents.
August 22, 2012
Sometimes it can be tough to pay your energy bills, especially during the cold winters and hot summers. There are federal and state programs to help individuals who need them, but there are also a lot of scams. First Energy Corp., which is based in Ohio, recently warned customers about identity theft taking place using its name. Potential victims are being notified that they qualify for a special government program and that Obama will help pay their utilities for them. All they have to do is provide personal information.
In exchange for their information, victims get a phony routing number to use to pay off their utility accounts. Needless to say, they don’t get their bills paid off. And even worse, they think that they are so they no longer worry. This is a quick route to being contacted by a collections agency.
One of the scarier things about this scam is that the thieves are contacting consumers through several means, including going door to door, calling people on the phone and posting fliers in public places. The scam is also reported to be running across several states. If you’ve been contacted by someone claiming to be from First Energy, the company urges you to call 1-800-545-7741 to report it. You can also report it to local law enforcement; this is very important if you think you have already fallen for the scam.
It’s very important that you don’t trust companies that contact you and request your personal information, even if they are companies that you normally do business with. If you already have an account, the company should know your information and should not need to “verify it” in such a fashion. I’ve never been asked to give out my Social Security number, for example, when it has been a legitimate call.
The best way to handle such contact is to refuse to provide the information and then to contact the organization using a method you know to be correct – not one provided by the person who wants your information. Your identity theft protection plan can help you if your information gets into the wrong hands, but it is still up to you to do your best to prevent that from happening in the first place.
August 15, 2012
If you can trust anyone, it’s law enforcement; right? Well, not necessarily. Especially not if the person in question is former police chief Carl Mullen. He was recently indicted on charges of wire fraud and identity theft. According to the indictment, Mullen is accused of using the police department’s credit cards, and the identities of other officers, to obtain cash advances and pocket the money – in the name of a criminal investigation.
He allegedly requested that the financial authority pay the balances every month so that he was able to steal money from the department for a period of nearly two years. It’s amazing that it took so long for the police department to catch on, and it is also a bit frightening. It is really difficult to trust anyone.
Workplace identity theft is not uncommon. One FTC study puts the number at about 700,000 victims per year. It may be a coincidence that Mullen happened to work for the police department, or it may be a sign of a serious problem that is just coming to light. Of course, you cannot withhold your personal information from law enforcement, and you are asked to contact law enforcement to report a suspicion of identity theft being committed against you.
Do I even need to mention that it is a good idea to have an identity theft protection plan to help prevent this type of situation from seriously impacting your life? While it is unlikely that this particular circumstance will happen to you – especially if you don’t work for the police department – the odds that you will be hit with some type of identity fraud in the future are very high. You can be alerted to unusual activity on your credit cards – both home and business if they are in your name – and in some cases you can even have prepaid legal assistance to help clear your name so that you don’t lose a lot of time and money.
August 9, 2012
Seniors are targets for identity theft for a couple of good reasons. They often have a lot of savings thanks to their retirement plans and they receive a good number of services from the government. It can make your relaxing latter years a nightmare if you become a victim. The best weapon against this happening is looking out for common scams.
One of the most common is the grandparent scam. This one is often perpetuated due to teens sharing too much of their information on social networking sites. If an identity thief is able to get the teen’s phone number, he can spoof it and give you a call. He can do the same thing by finding a cell phone and looking for “grandma” or the like in the contacts list. He will give you a call and tell you your grandchild is in trouble and needs you to wire money. Most commonly, he’ll say the person is traveling overseas and has become stranded. You wire the money to an account and the thief gets your money, and your bank information.
Another common one is the lottery or sweepstakes scam. In this one, you’re told you won a prize, in a contest you did not enter. Sometimes you’ll get a check or money order in the mail, and you’ll be notified that need to pay some administrative fees before you can cash it. Once you wire these fees, or cough up your account information so that the thief can pull the money, you’re free to deposit the funds, which will turn out to not be available.
Perhaps the worst scam you can get victimized with is the health plan scam. In this one, you get offered the chance to save money by subscribing to a prescription or discount Medicare plan. Of course, you have to provide your Medicare number so that you can get a proper estimate. Then, the thief can use your plan to get services and the bills will go to the government using your name and contact information. It can affect your benefits and you could end up pegged with having a medical condition that you don’t even have. This can cause serious consequences.
Don’t give out personal information to people who call you or come by your home unsolicited. And remember that it’s not too late to sign up for an identity theft protection plan. They are not just important in your early adult years when you plan on making a lot of major purchases. Instead, they are a wonderful lifelong investment – especially since you can change plans to adapt to your differing needs.
August 1, 2012
Even though I’ve been writing about data breaches and identity theft in general for the past four years, I never really thought it would happen to me. Dunt dunt duh … until that fateful day two weeks ago. I tried to log into my Yahoo account, just like I have pretty much like clockwork for the past ten years. I typed in my password, and instead of being greeted by dozens of junk mails like usual, I was greeted with a pop-up window and the question, “Where did you spend your honeymoon?” Since I never went on a honeymoon, I found this to be quite confusing.
I called up Yahoo customer service and asked the helpful representative what was going on. She said I needed to answer this security question to be able to get into my account. I wondered why, but got nothing conclusive in this conversation, so I decided to do some research. Turns out, someone hacked into Yahoo’s network and gained access to over 450,000 user names and passwords. And I was one of the lucky ones. I wrote for Associated Content years ago, which was later acquired by Yahoo, and I ended up with my entire profile in the network being compromised.
The best thing is that Yahoo never notified me – and instead just upped my security settings. Who knows how many people may have had their accounts used by identity thieves and not even be aware of it? These could have included not only Yahoo email accounts but also those with other web-based and non web-based services.
It’s also rumored that Yahoo never took the time to encrypt the passwords, so it was super easy for the hackers to access them. Even if users took the time to create complicated and secure passwords, it wouldn’t have made any difference. However, it is interesting to note that some of the most common were still PASSWORD, QWERTY and 123456. Yep; people take a long time to learn.
So what to do in a situation like this one? Update your passwords at least once per month, and don’t use the same passwords for all of your accounts. If you have trouble remembering passwords, you’re going to have to come up with some kind of mnemonic to help you. One thing that I find to be helpful is to associate my passwords with some kind of symbol or song. Of course, I’m not going to tell you exactly what I do because I would have to give away my password. That’s another important thing. Always keep your passwords to yourself. There’s enough of them getting out that you don’t have to do so voluntarily.
July 26, 2012
James Dale Morgan learned the hard way that you have to be careful not to trust people you just met. He learned this lesson over the course of several years, in which his became the identity of choice for James Craig Layland. Morgan originally met Layland at a rest stop in Alabama three years ago. Since then, Morgan has dealt with the aftermath of Layland’s problems with the IRS, an expensive ring purchase, medical bills and more. His greatest problem, though, is the most recent one, which occurred when Layland was arrested and used his identification and name.
This was not a minor arrest for something like shoplifting a candy bar. Instead, Layland was running from the police, hit a car and ended up killing a woman. According to police reports, Morgan was arrested for this crime. However, the real James Dale Morgan was at home in Texas when the incident occurred.
Morgan ended up driving over one thousand miles just to get his name removed from the police reports, proving to authorities that the real criminal was not who he said he was. Layland is wanted on several charges, but this appears to be the most serious one. With Layland finally in custody, Morgan hopes that his troubles are over. They would have been over a long time ago if he had an identity theft protection plan.
He could have had a note on his file that may have prevented Layland from making some of the purchases that he made using Morgan’s accounts. That may have resulted in his arrest much earlier. If you don’t have an identity protection service right now, I urge you to look into one. You never know what kind of havoc identity theft can wreak on your life if you don’t take steps to prevent it.