Identity theft escalating
Every day, most people conduct a number of financial transactions. Yesterday, the typical consumer wrote a check at the grocery store, charged gas, made a cell phone call and ordered a gift or applied for a new credit card.
The average individual may not stop to think about the transactions. But people who want to steal an individual's identity remain on constant alert regarding the transactions.
The last decade spawned a new variety of crooks called identity thieves.
The criminals' stock in trade stem from consumers' daily transactions. Each transaction requires consumers to share personal information - bank and credit card accounts, income, Social Security numbers and names, addresses and phone numbers.
The fraudsters appropriate the information without the consumers' knowledge to commit fraud or theft.
For instance, an identity thief could take an individual's Social Security number along with some other information and open a credit account in the consumer's name, without the person's knowledge.
The criminals count on a busy society and the fact that people, in general, believe they are being careful to take advantage of unwary consumers.
Law enforcement investigators have identified several common methods used to commit identity thefts. Criminals frequently:
Steal wallets and purses containing identification along with credit and bank cards.
Steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information.
Complete a "change of address form" to divert an individual's mail to a different location.
Rummage through an individual's or a business' trash for personal data in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
Fraudulently obtain credit reports by posing as a landlord, employer or third who may have a legitimate need for - and a legal right to- the information.
Get business or personnel records at work.
Find information inside private residences or use personal information people share on the Internet.
Buy personal information from "inside" sources like a store employee.
The identity thieves can use the information in a number of different ways.
The fraudsters can call credit card issuers and ask the companies to change the mailing address on accounts.
The imposters can then run up charges on the account.
Because the bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before the card holder realizes there's a problem.
The thieves can open a new credit card account using another person's name, date of birth and Social Security number.
When the fraudsters use the credit card and fail to pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on the real individual's credit report.
The imposters can establish phone or wireless service in an innocent consumer's name.
The criminals can open a bank accounts in the victim's name and write bad checks on the account.
The thieves can file for bankruptcy under another individual's name to avoid paying debts or eviction.
The fraudsters can counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain a victim's bank account.
The imposters can buy cars by taking out auto loans in the name of an innocent consumer.
There is no completely foolproof way of preventing identity crimes from occurring.
But there are a number of precautions that can decrease the chances of the thefts from happening.
Carbon County residents should exercise the following preventative measures:
Before revealing any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used. Determine whether the information will be shared with third parties.
Find out if the information will be kept confidential.
Pay attention to billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if bills don't arrive on time.
Missing credit card bills could mean identity thieves have taken over credit card accounts and changed the billing address to cover their tracks.
Guard mail from theft.
Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes.
Promptly remove mail from home mailboxes after it has been delivered.
When on vacation have the post office hold all mail so it isn't in the home delivery box for days.
Put passwords on credit card, bank and phone accounts.
Avoid using easily available information like a mother's maiden name, a birth date, the last four digits of a personal Social Security number or a phone number as well as a series of consecutive numbers.
Minimize the identification information and the number of cards carried to what is actually needed.
Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless the contact was self initiated.
Keep items with personal information in a safe place.
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through trash to capture personal information, Carbon County consumers should tear or shred:
Copies of credit applications.
Discarded checks and bank statements.
Expired charge cards and credit offers.
Exercise caution when selecting a place in the home to leave personal information.
Consumers who employ outside help or are having service work done in the home should be especially careful.
Find out who has access to personal information at work and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
Provide Social Security numbers only when absolutely necessary.
Refrain from carrying a Social Security number card. Leave the card in a secure place.
Order copies of credit reports from the three major credit reporting agencies every year.
Make sure the information is accurate and includes only activities authorized by the consumer.
The reports contain information on where an individual works and lives, the credit accounts that have been opened in the person's name and how the consumer pays bills.
The reports also indicate whether a person has been sued, arrested or has filed for bankruptcy.
Checking reports on a regular basis can help residents catch mistakes and fraud before the inaccuracies or crimes can wreak havoc on personal finances.
Government agencies and even some private corporations are developing ways of catching these thieves.
For instance recently a website called Laptops4now.com showed up on the internet.
Instead of being a real laptop computer sales site, it was a site developed by a company called Cardcops.com.
The site was activated on May 29 and a note was sent to "invite only" chat rooms that it was in business.
The site was specifically developed so that the web page looked amateurish with weak security.
But within 12 hours, 16 orders to purchase goods and merchandise valued in excess of $27,000 were placed on the site.
Cardcops.com shipped bogus orders during the next couple of days and, as one of the officials of the company later pointed out: "The greed had set in."
Soon, additional orders were pouring in and the company started tracking the individuals suspected of using false information and stolen cards to purchase products.
All of the information collected during the bait trap was recently turned over various national law enforcement agencies by the officials at the company.
The bait trap is only one of numerous methods and approaches being implemented in order to catch up with the identity fraud criminals.
But the best way to personally beat the thieves is still to just be careful.