Consumer Protection | Business Protection

How Many ID Thieves Are There?

February 19th, 2013

When we talk about id theft it is often easy to imagine it happening to someone else, far removed from our own lives. But, unless you’ve been an id theft victim yourself, it is hard to fully comprehend the scope of this crime.

The reality is that id theft continues to grow, claiming new victims each day. A recent report published by Time indicates that there are approximately 10,000 identity theft rings currently operating in the United States. Each of these rings is a unique criminal enterprise seeking to find ways to commit fraud and make a profit from personal identities. The groups vary greatly in size and shape; some of the rings are comprised mostly of family members, some groups have just a couple members, while others are large and complex organizations.

ID theft rings can be found across the United States, but many are centered in a few states, typically in the Southern region of the country. North and South Carolina, Florida, Alabama and Georgia have particularly high concentrations of id theft rings.

What Do These Identity Theft Rings Mean for You?

While each id theft ring operates a little differently the overall goal is generally to profit from using other people’s identities. This can take place in a variety of ways. Some thieves use tactics like social engineering to obtain information while others use phishing. No matter the tactic used, id theft wreaks havoc on its victim’s lives, leaving behind a financial disaster that can be difficult to clean up.

ID theft has been on the rise for the last several years and this trend is expected to continue. The FTC estimates that approximately 9 million people fall victim to id theft each year. This means neighbors, co-workers, friends and possibly even yourself.

ID theft is out there and is probably more common than you might think. Realizing that there are 10,000 id theft rings out there can help you find further motivation to keep your identity safe. As always, we are here to help you do this, so check back frequently for the latest tips, trends, and scams.

 

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Instant Financing Options Pose New Identity Theft Problem

February 12th, 2013

Allison here, with AllClear ID. A recent news story tells of a  70-year old woman in New York who received a $3,300 bill for Apple products, which were purchased using an instant-credit financial plan. No, this woman didn’t get carried away with the new iPhone and the iPad Mini. She was victim of identity theft.

The victim actually had her identity stolen two years prior, and is still working to clean up the mess. Luckily, there were fraud flags in her credit history, and the credit agency knew she had been a victim of id theft. However, the thief had the right personal information, and therefore was able to get an unsecured line of credit through Barclaycard, which partners with Apple for financing.

It says right on the application page that you can get a decision in 30 seconds, that you can “use your card to make a purchase today”. Considering what happened to the victim in our story, it appears as if some measures that protect against id theft, such as placing fraud alerts on your accounts, may not work when it comes to these instant financing options.

 

 

Instant Credit and Financing Options

A quick online search found that Apple isn’t the only company allowing consumers to apply online for financing. Amazon.com and furniture retailer Raymour and Flanigan also allow this, but it’s unknown whether or not this credit is instant. There are also at least six online retailers that offer instant credit, and although some of the sites themselves don’t specify a timeline for when credit is approved, Gettington does say that you can “get a result right now.” USADiscounters also says on its site in the fine print that “military and civil service employees are automatically approved.” At this point, it is unknown if any of these retailers (called instant credit catalogs) take any precaution against issuing credit to an id thief, or in cross-referencing the information with credit agencies.

However, on the application to some of these entities, it does say that, “U.S. Federal law requires financial institutions to obtain, verify, and record information that identifies each person who opens an account. What this means for you: when you open an account, we will ask for your name, address, date of birth and other information that will allow us to identify you. We may also ask to see your driver’s license or other identifying documents.”

Unfortunately, these measures do not safeguard against id thieves who possess enough of your stolen personal information to pose as you when applying for instant credit. Time will tell if creditors and agencies take steps to make applying for instant credit more secure, so for now, continue to monitor you credit reports and accounts for any charges or purchases you do not recognize, and dispute them immediately should they arise.   .

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The Most Misused Social Security Number in History

February 2nd, 2013

Jackie here. Keeping your social security number safe is a basic principle that most of us know and try to follow, but in the early days of the social security number many people did not understand the importance of keeping this number confidential. Many people kept their cards in their wallets (which you shouldn’t do) creating a host of problems, especially for one worker at a wallet manufacturing company.

Often, new wallets contain fake credit cards inside of them, so customers can see the layout of the wallet more clearly. It seems this premise is not a novel one, and one wallet manufacturer thought it would be a good marketing strategy to include a sample social security card in new wallets. Social security cards were novel at this time, and showing how the card would fit in the wallet was a good way to appeal to potential buyers. Rather than create a fake card and fake number, the wallet manufacturer decided to use the real social security number for one of the company employees.

The wallet (complete with the promotional social security card) was sold in stores across the country. It was clearly marked as a sample card (and smaller than an actual social security card), but that didn’t stop people from using the number. In 1943, 5,755 people were using the social security number. Over the years more than 40,000 people used this number. Even into the late 1970s this number was still in use by 12 people.

To fix the problem, the social security number was eventually voided and a new number was issued to the employee whose number was used in the marketing materials.

While this story is an extreme case, it is an interesting piece of history and a great reminder to keep your number private. Be mindful of where you keep your social security card, and always keep any documents containing your SSN in a secure location to guard against id theft. More information about this story is available on the Social Security Administration website.

 

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Does a Fake Press Release Count as Identity Theft?

December 10th, 2012

Allison here with AllClear ID. Just after the Thanksgiving holiday, press release distribution service PRWeb transmitted the news that Google purchased Wi-Fi provider ICOA for $400 million. Turns out, the story was fake, planted by someone posing as an employee of ICOA. PRWeb issued an apology for spreading the false news and not catching it sooner, saying, “even with reasonable safeguards identity theft occurs, on occasion, across all of the major wire services.”

There are many names for this type of situation: a hoax, a SNAFU, a gaffe, fraud even. It’s now known that the fake press release originated in Aruba from an email that was meant to look like a legitimate ICOA email. It’s also suspected that the hoax was meant to inflate ICOA’s stock prices, even just for a few hours. Tellingly, there was an array of issues with the press release itself, ranging from grammatical errors and a fake phone number, to a lack of information about the companies and virtually no quotes from insiders involved with the deal.  This fake press release may be misleading, but is this identity theft?

Wikipedia defines identity theft as, “a form of stealing someone’s identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person’s identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name.” No individual person’s identity was stolen here, as the fake press release didn’t include contact information for either Google or ICOA. However, it can be argued that ICOA’s identity was stolen, as someone posed as an ICOA employee or representative to access resources (the momentary gain  from the higher stock prices, if that was the motive), or to have the benefit of having his or her ruse work. In this instance, the fake press release would be considered identity theft, albeit a highly unusual version.

From a different perspective, labeling this mistake “identity theft” could be viewed as a way to deflect blame and to minimize the lack of investigation done before publishing the press release. Many people made a mistake here, and saying that it all started with an instance of identity theft makes the situation much more favorable for those involved. In this case, individuals involved in the creation of the fake press release were able to take advantage of the Internet news economy where breaking a story first takes priority over getting it right. Even when a story is able to get through any safeguards and make its rounds online, sooner or later (sooner in the case of PRWeb) it will be discovered to be a false story, and the situation will be easily remedied.

Sending a fake press release can create a commotion, and can at times even be malicious, depending on the release’s content. Posing as someone else, or as a company, is misleading, and a crime in some contexts. These cases are not, however, instances of identity theft.

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Brent’s Story: You can be a Victim of ID Theft Even if You Use Cash

September 26th, 2012

Kim here from AllClear ID.  Brent is one of our customers, and he generally prefers to use cash, so it was unnerving to learn that a thief had stolen his identity and used his good credit to open multiple credit accounts.  “It was shocking.  The last loan I had was my student loan. I have no idea how, but this guy knew my name, address, Social Security Number and driver’s license number.”  Using Brent’s driver’s license info to make a fake license was the thief’s undoing.  More than 300 miles from where Brent lives in Texas, a police officer pulled over the thief and discovered the fake license.  He called to deliver the news that someone was using Brent’s identity and driving a car registered in his name.

Understanding the magnitude of the situation but not quite knowing what to do, Brent asked a friend who recommended he call AllClearID to help uncover the damage and restore his credit. Matt, an AllClear Investigator, was assigned to the case and found over 20 credit accounts had been opened within a week.  In addition to credit card accounts that had been charged to the limit, the thief purchased three cars in Brent’s name.  The total debt load was in excess of $100,000.

Matt was able to get each of the accounts closed and made recommendations for additional security measures Brent could take to stop further damage. Brent says the experience of working with AllClear ID eliminated the frustration because Matt took care of the cleanup.  Another aspect of working with an AllClear Investigator Brent says is the communication, “the constant updates and follow-ups were really important so I always knew what was happening.”

When asked if he thought, in retrospect, he could have navigated his way through the recovery on his own, Brent said, “There were so many things to keep track of, calls that had to be made and a lot of follow-up.  I had a big notebook and still I would be on the phone with Matt and a creditor and Matt would have all the details – things I had forgotten.  In these cases you need the professional tools and software to manage the case.”  Brent said his work schedule would not have permitted him the time to invest the hours that Matt did.  “It took us about 6 months to get everything done, I am sure it would have taken double that if I had been doing it on my own.”

 

 

 

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Parking Ticket Privacy

August 30th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Have you ever thought about the privacy implications behind a parking ticket? I hadn’t either until I stumbled across this article on Wired. A federal appeals court recently reinstated a class action lawsuit against Palatine Village (a Chicago suburb) ruling that putting too much information on a parking ticket is a privacy violation.

The lawsuit started when a motorist with a parking ticket sued. Palatine Village’s parking tickets list the vehicle owners name, address, gender, height, weight and driver’s license number. The driver sued using the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act of 1994, a law that protects DMV records from being openly shared. In addition to personal information being shared on the ticket, personal information is also visible on the exterior of the mailing envelope when the fine is paid by mail.

The court ruling is good news for identity protection. The information found on these parking tickets could potentially provide id thieves with bits of personal data that could be used to access your identity. Driver’s license numbers specifically are on the list of things to protect along with your Social Security number and mother’s maiden name.

Since parking tickets are left on the windshield of the offending vehicle, the information contained in them can be easily accessed by any passerby, including identity thieves.

For more information about this story, check out this story from the Courthouse News Service and you can read the full Court Opinion here, courtesy of the Courthouse News Service.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Gangs Choosing Cyber Crime/ID Theft More Often

August 25th, 2012

Christopher here, AllClear Investigator. Authorities across the country are reporting a new trend in gang-related activity. It appears that gang members are becoming more and more active in white collar crimes like identity theft. According to the National Gang Intelligence Center’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, “gangs are becoming more involved in white-collar crime, including identity theft, bank fraud, credit card fraud, money laundering, fencing stolen goods, counterfeiting, and mortgage fraud, and are recruiting members who possess those skill sets. Law enforcement officials nationwide indicate that many gangs in their jurisdiction are involved in some type of white-collar crime.”

They say gang members are moving to white collar crime because it’s a low risk, high reward crime. This means that there is a small chance that they will be caught engaging in this type of crime, while at the same time being much more profitable than their standard burglary. According to a report done by Jim DeFede of CBS4 News in Miami, FL, gang members in that area are also becoming heavily involved in IRS and tax fraud, which has plagued the entire state for the last couple of years. DeFede quoted Lt. Luis Almaguer, head of the Miami Dade’s gang unit, as saying “Fact of the matter is there is a lot more money to be gained than slinging crack at the corner… We’re dealing with people who used to make a hundred here or there selling crack on the corner and now they are making thousands of dollars.”

Gang members are using stolen Social Security numbers to do fraudulent electronic tax filings. DeFede also said that CBS4 was allowed to attend a briefing in March with a dozen law enforcement agencies from around the county, and that tax fraud was the most commonly discussed complaint.

Tax fraud and other forms of identity theft are growing, and will continue to grow among members of various gangs around the country because it’s very easy for them to commit the crime without being caught. Even if they do get caught identity theft cases are very hard to prosecute, and a felony charge for identity theft would only get you a maximum of about 3 years in prison. The point is that identity theft, as it compares to other crimes, is still fairly new and the judicial system hasn’t quite caught up to it yet. Until they do, these types of crimes will only continue grow throughout the entire country.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Identity Manipulation

August 23rd, 2012

Tamara here, AllClear Investigator. As we know, unfortunately, identity theft is a very common occurrence and the number of data breaches are on the rise. But there’s another form of fraud that people may not be so aware about, though it is definitely a trending crime. It’s called identity manipulation.

Identity manipulation is similar to identity theft in that the fraudster applies for credit, utilities, loans, and other types of services, but different in that they do not use someone’s actual identity. What they do is they slightly manipulate the Social Security number, date of birth, or use a fictitious name to obtain these accounts.

A first-of-its-kind study done by ID Analytics reports there are a few different patterns of identity manipulation. It found that over 45 million people deliberately manipulate their identities, including eight million people that are using two or more Social Security numbers, 16 million people that have used multiple dates of birth, and 10 million people who have manipulated their identities by using some of their spouse’s information as their own identity.

Not only to people manipulate their identity to gain credit, it is also found that it occurs as someone who wants to hide their bad credit history, get medical treatment, obtain employment, have access to government services and benefits, or to hide under an alias as they are a sex offender or a criminal.

Once opened or obtained, the account or service may match up and then report to the actual person’s identity (the victim) with the Social Security number, date of birth, or name. The victim then finds themselves with bad credit, unable to obtain utilities or government services, or have their medical records affected.  And the time, money, and effort that it takes to resolve the fraud are staggering at times.

To ensure that you have not been affected by this crime, review your credit reports (each person is entitled to one free credit report from each of the three bureaus every twelve months here at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228), verify your wage statements from the Social Security association, and review your medical records. One can also have a background check done through Self Check. This is beneficial for employment eligibility status and is part of E-Verify, a Department of Homeland Security program administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in partnership with the Social Security Administration.

If you find anything suspicious on those reports, call AllClear ID and we will help you clear your identity. The customer support hours are Monday through Saturday, 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. CST and can be reached by calling (855) 434-8077.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Frustrations with Cleaning Up Medical Identity Theft

August 21st, 2012

AllClear Investigator George found that as discussed in our recent story, medical identity theft is what it is called when an individual uses the name or insurance information of someone else to get treatment, prescriptions or even surgery. The financial medical identity theft happens when an individual uses a patient’s information to submit fraudulent bills or claims to insurance companies. This occurs far more frequently than the industry would like to admit. Healthcare is no different than any other industry. Information is valuable to identity thieves, from individuals just trying to steal, to professional fraudsters, to information traffickers on the black market. Information is money and attracts those who seek to exploit it.

In 2006, between 250,000 and 500,000 American medical identities were stolen. In 2010, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud reported that this number had jumped to over 1.4 million Americans. Attorney General Eric Holder and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a report showing that the government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered nearly $4.1 billion in taxpayer dollars in fiscal year 2011. This is the highest annual amount ever recovered from individuals and companies who attempted to defraud seniors and taxpayers or who sought payments to which they were not entitled.

Emergency departments are obligated to provide treatment in most emergency cases. The presence of law enforcement officials in emergency rooms may compel certain patients to commit medical identity theft to avoid potential arrest for other unrelated crimes. A healthcare consumer whose medical identity is linked with another individual’s medical information could encounter life threatening experiences as a result of receiving inappropriate medications or treatment.

Who the Victims Are

Medical identity theft, just like other forms of fraud, produces multiple victims. The victims can include the person whose identity was used. Consumers may suffer financial consequences when healthcare services provided to the fraudulent individual are billed to the medical identity theft victim or the victim’s insurance company.

At the organizational level– legal, financial, and public image risks occur. If unaware or if perpetrated by a knowledgeable insider, the financial damage could go unnoticed for a while and add up to very large amounts. Often times it can be an insiders who have legitimate or authorized access to the very system or data that is being compromised, making it very difficult to detect. The associated frustration and emotional impact of having to deal with cleaning up one’s credit is never pleasant or insignificant.

Other victims include the insurance companies who end up paying for these false claims, the healthcare provider, the physician or a large health system, which has to deal with the investigation costs or reputation costs, if the identity thief involved in the fraud is an employee.

The Warning Signs

If you think you are a victim of medical identity theft, the faster you can act to minimize the damage is essential. There are several warming signs that your medical records have been stolen: You start to receive many calls from debt collectors; You have unfamiliar collections on your credit reports; You have unexpected and unusual medical bills; Your legitimate claims are denied due to maxed out insurance coverage limits; Healthcare is denied to you for unfamiliar medical condition.

How to Respond

Tell debt collectors you are a fraud victim. Obtain the collection company name, contact information, the debt amount, creditor name, contact information, account billing number and the dates of the unpaid charges. Use this information to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit which can be printed off of the FTC website. Contact your medical provider’s billing office and request an investigation into the unusual charges or coverage denials.

Get a list of all the medical benefits paid in your name and challenge any inconsistencies found.  File a police report. Send copies of the report to your health plan’s fraud department, your healthcare provider and all three credit reporting agencies. Keep in mind that medical identity theft is often tied to personal identity theft. Get copies of your credit report from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and challenge any unusual discrepancies.

 

Place a fraud alert on your credit report with the credit bureaus. If the identity theft is severe, consider placing a freeze on your credit report. If you or creditors need access to your credit reports regularly, consider AllClear ID credit monitoring service. With triple credit bureau monitoring through AllClear ID, you will be alerted to any activity on your credit reports within 24 hours whether it is a credit check for new credit or a collection debt being reported.

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Mobile Payment Security 101

August 20th, 2012

Allison here, with AllClear ID. We’ve talked a lot about mobile phone security and ways to keep your personal data and your apps safe. But, there’s an increasingly popular aspect of mobile phones that we haven’t discussed yet, but are also worrying consumers when it comes to security: mobile payments and mobile wallets.

This is different from making a purchase on eBay on your cell phone. Mobiles payments and mobile wallets involve using a program like Google Wallet, Square, or Dwolla to make a payment with your smartphone. It turns your smartphone into your wallet or credit card, as your smartphone can store this information in an app or on a chip. This has a very different sent of security issues that are separate from hacking into wireless networks and not using good passwords on your financial accounts.

How Do Mobile Payments Work?

Since the technology is so new, there isn’t yet one way mobile payments work, which is part of the reason why security is so blurred and mainstream adoption hasn’t happened yet. There are a variety of ways to do it, such as:

  • Paying with a smartphone equipped with a special chip (Google Wallet)
  • A credit card number stored in an app (GoPago, Square)
  • A small device that attaches to the phone or tablet to act as a credit card processor (Intuit, Paypal Here)

With the first two options, the mobile payments work by utilizing near-field technology, so retailers need a special point-of-sale system in order to take a mobile payment. It doesn’t require putting in a PIN, but simply requires a scan of a bar code in the app or mobile wallet program. Some consumers may not like having to hand over their phone to the cashier. Some worry about what these mobile payment companies do with all these credit card numbers–which is the biggest security concern.

Mobile Payments and Security Concerns

When it comes to mobile payment providers and retailers, consumers wonder what they do with this data. Is it encrypted? What happens if I lose my phone (with Google Wallet, if the phone is lost or stolen, you can disable the program through a laptop or tablet)? Retailers and mobile payment providers are still remedying these issues. Some have argued that consumers will be even more guarded with their phones with the implementation of mobile payments and mobile wallets, as the smartphone becomes another form of money that people don’t want to lose. How well are these issues addressed? It’s tough to say since the practice isn’t ubiquitous and many are still using traditional payment methods. However, previous mobile phone security “best practices” still apply.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Few Aware of Risk of Medical ID Theft

August 17th, 2012

Christy here, AllClear Investigator. How much do you know about medical identity theft?  We’ll be posting a follow-up story soon about the frustrations with detecting and cleaning up medical identity theft however today’s post is about a recent study commissioned by Nationwide Insurance which found few people know what it is or how devastating it can be to your credit and your health. How few? According to their findings, 1 in 6, or 15% of the people surveyed said they were familiar with medical identity theft. Interestingly enough, of that 15% only 1 in 3 (or 38%) were able to define “medical identity” correctly.

So what is “Medical Identity Theft”?  This is what it is called when a person steals the medical information of another person to pay for or obtain health care treatment. It is also the fastest-growing type of identity theft. Reportedly, according to the World Privacy Forum, it has affected 1.5 million Americans and cost more than $30 billion. There are three common ways which your medical identity could be compromised. These are:

  • Financial medical identity theft – Someone is getting medical help using your name and/or other information.
  • Criminal medical identity theft – You are being held responsible for the actions of another’s criminal behavior.
  • Government benefit fraud – Your medical benefits are being used by another person.

 

This crime can impact many areas, including personal, financial, and medical well-being. Imagine someone steals your medical information then uses your health care insurance illegally to obtain care, buy prescriptions, or submit false insurance claims. Now imagine how that could lead to hazardous changes to your medical records or devastating financial results and it’s easy to see why this can be such a problem for those affected. The cost and time associated with cleaning up a medical account can be sizable – actual victims from a 2011 Ponemon Institute Research Report reported personal expenses of resolving a medical identity theft to be about $20,000 and the same victims also said they had spent four to six months resolving the theft – but we’ll talk more about that in a later story.

 

When asked about reviewing their medical records for errors, 75%, or 3 of 4 study participants, said they “trust” that their medical records are correct. Kirk Herath, Nationwide Chief Privacy Officer, stated “Blind faith in a medical record is risky behavior.  Nationwide Insurance recommends being as knowledgeable about your medical records as you are about your financial reports.”  Here are a few things you can do to safeguard your medical identity:

  • Closely monitor any “Explanation of Benefits” sent by health insurers
  • Pro-actively request a listing of benefits from your health insurers
  • Request a copy of current medical files from each health care provider
  • If you are victim, file a police report
  • Correct erroneous and false information in your file
  • Keep an eye on your credit report
  • Request an accounting of disclosures

 

Now that we’ve covered what “Medical Identity Theft” is, keep watching future blog postings for more on detection and cleaning it up (and the challenges with both).

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From the AllClear Investigators: Fake ID Scam

August 15th, 2012

Matt here, AllClear Investigator. While it is common knowledge that using a fake ID is illegal, thousands of young people obtain and attempt to use them every year.  A 2010 University of Missouri study found that nearly 32 percent of underage college students own and use false identification in order to purchase alcoholic beverages by the end of their sophomore year.  Obtaining a “fake” can be as simple as borrowing an ID from the guy next door with a similar hair cut to as high tech as ordering an individually tailored, hologram version.  There are several such services in China that these budding drinkers can find with a simple web search.  Anyone with an Internet connection and $75 to $200 can order their personalized ID card online. Buyers pick the state, address, and name, and send in a scanned photo and signature to complete their profile.  Digital holograms are replicated, PVC plastic identical to that found in credit cards is used, and ink appearing only under ultraviolet light is stamped onto the cards.

Beyond the illegality of using a fake ID, there is a potentially more harmful drawback to even obtaining this type of ID.  The “company” that is producing your new ID could also be stealing your identity at the same time.  Very little is needed to steal someone’s identity.  By using Google, Facebook and public records, a skilled hacker can eventually gather enough information to access a Social Security number.  By filling out the ID order form, you’re just saving them the time.  An American identity is extremely valuable in the black market, and these ID companies could just be a front for a multimillion dollar identity-theft ring.

The moral of this story, like most, is that you always want to be incredibly careful when it comes to the passing along of your PII, or personal identifiable information.  No matter how bad something is desired, or how great of a deal it seems there can always be an unknown negative intention at play.  One should always remain vigilant and skeptical.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Prison Identity Theft

August 9th, 2012

AllClear Investigator Aaron found that the most recent change in the world of identity theft are the “victims” being preyed upon. Identity theft criminals seek out any vulnerable person to obtain information from. This could mean that the person is vulnerable due to their circumstance or that person’s information is vulnerable due to unsafe keeping.

Recently in Georgia, a couple and a man were arrested in connection with an elaborate scheme stealing the identities of prisoners and falsifying tax returns. The couple worked for a company that claimed they offered help to prisoners that were in financial need. The couple offered to prepare tax returns for 185 inmates from seven different states using tax preparation software to file each falsified return. With the ruse of using their tax preparation software, the couple was able to obtain all personal information needed to file the inmate’s tax returns. They then had the checks, debit cards and other items obtained with the stolen information mailed to rented properties of a third party. In all, the three suspects claimed more than $77,000 in false refunds. Authorities also stated that the suspects withdrew around $53,000.00 of the stolen money in the course of six days.  The couple was recently arrested in Georgia on charges of conspiracy, money laundering and identity theft. The other suspect is in custody in the Allegheny County jail and is waiting an extradition hearing.

Another example of this comes from one of our very own customers who– upon being released and starting their life again– found someone had been living their own life under his personal information. There was an auto loan, a mortgage, utilities, cellular and landline phone services, a secured loan, medical debt, and two credit cards found which were all established while he was incarcerated. The debt which had been incurred was just at $281,000. We are close to fully resolving his case but it has taken much time and patience to get the case to where it is today.

These stories are both examples of how identity theft has no boundaries. One might assume that inmates are the last people ID thieves would be interested in. Quite the contrary – anyone with an identity and any type of vulnerability makes them a prime target. These inmates are some of the most vulnerable as their information is widely accessible and they are exposed to many “free” programs asking for their personal information.

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From the AllClear Investigators: Identity Theft Crimes Most Likely Committed by Someone Victim Knows

August 8th, 2012

Juan here, AllClear Investigator. Imagine a scenario where you’ve reviewed your credit history and noticed an account in collections that is not yours.  You have done the proper thing and obtained information from the collector as to which company the debt was originally with, and have filed a fraud claim with them.  After several weeks go by, you get a response in the mail from the creditor, stating that they will not treat the debt as fraud.  Through their investigation, they have determined that you know who the suspect is, and should you like for the debt to be cleared as fraud, you will have to press charges.

We typically do not think that the perpetrator of fraud against us would be someone near us, and especially not a family member.  But unfortunately, if you’ve been the victim of fraud involving utilities or telecommunications services, it very well could be someone you know.  Situations similar to this occur each day.  Victims of fraud are left to make a choice to pay the debt, resolve it with the family member or loved one (having them pay it), or contact local police and file a report and/or press charges in order to get the debt dismissed.

Take for example, the words of Lexington, Kentucky PD detective Wayne Thornton.  According to him, “about 70 percent of identity theft cases handled… involve someone who stole the identity of a friend, coworker, or family member”.  He goes on to say that, just as in the cases he’s worked, that they are “mundane, small-dollar amount cases”.

The majority of the times, these acts are not committed out of spite or malice, but rather necessity or under the impression that the victim will not know of the “favor” they are doing.  That is, a person may get cable TV service under a family member’s name because they do not qualify, with the intent of never missing payments.  The problem is that they do not always make the payments, thereby causing those accounts to end up in collections.  That is when the victim has a very tough choice.

So, what can you do to prevent this from happening?  The best thing to do is what you normally would do – protect your sensitive, personal information (Social Security number, specifically) and monitor your reports for hard credit inquiries.  Most companies (including utilities and telecommunications) perform credit checks on applicants.

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Was Your Email Compromised in the Yahoo Breach?

July 30th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Do you need to change your email password? For those of you that have Yahoo email accounts, you might be aware of the recent Yahoo breach that rocked the fortune-500 company, and impacted many more affiliated—such as Gmail, Hotmail, and AOL users.

If you are worried that you might have been one of the 450,000 compromised users in the breach, worry no more. There is a simple way to check and see if you have been impacted. Head on over to Sucuri Labs’ Yahoo Leak Password Checker.

The checker is easy to use and will give you a peace of mind if your account is safe, or motivation to make some password changes if your password has been exposed.

What To Do

All you need to do is enter in your email address into the box provided and click, “Check Email”. You’ll get a response in seconds.

It’s that easy. If you do end up changing your password, make sure that you check out this article on password tips from the AllClear ID blog first. Use different passwords for each account to increase your safety. This password meter tool will help you determine the strength of your passwords and will show you some areas where you can improve your password strength. A strong password is an essential identity theft prevention tool.

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Five Online Shopping Tips that Keep You Safe

July 27th, 2012

Allison here, with AllClear ID. Online shopping is almost ubiquitous, and has even moved to taking place on tablets and smartphones as consumers shop while on-the-go. Even though online shopping is something that a lot of people do without much afterthought, that doesn’t mean that the practice is without risk or security issues. We can still shop online and remain safe by following these five online shopping tips:

  1. Don’t Save Your Credit Card Information – Many e-commerce or retail sites allow you the option to save your credit card information. It may be more convenient to have it saved, but could prove hazardous if someone hacks into your account. Even if the website does keep your information secure and encrypted, it won’t notice anything different if a hacker makes a few purchases on your account. Skip the convenience of auto-save and type your information in with each purchase.
  2. ONLY Use a Credit Card – Because credit cards are protected under the Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers can dispute charges and be removed from responsibility from wrongful charges. Those don’t apply to debit cards, and aren’t protected if there are problems with the purchase. NEVER use a money transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union, as it makes it easy for scammers to get their money and hard for you to trace them if a problem occurs.
  3. Research Unknown Companies Before Purchasing – There may be little risk purchasing from giants like Target or Amazon, but if you’re purchasing from a smaller retailer or e-commerce site, do your research first. Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints, or call the company directly to ask questions about their return, cancellation, or complaint policies. It is often in those policies that you can figure out which companies are legitimate and which are scams.
  4. Don’t Give Your Social Security Number – No legitimate online retailer or e-commerce site would need your Social Security number in order to complete a purchase or to conduct one over the Internet. Any “company” asking for this information is only looking to commit identity theft in the future.
  5. If It Looks Too Good to be True, It Probably Is – Be wary of any offer that makes extraordinary claims, or sells something at a price point far below market value. Those could be indications of scams, so it’s important to take a closer look at these types of offers. You should be especially cautious if these offers come via email, where you could be prone to phishing links and injections of malware onto your computer. If something comes via email, double check the link by typing it directly into the address bar, instead of just clicking it through the email.

As long as you stick to familiar shopping sites, stay on private computers, and check your credit cards for strange purchases, you should be safe when you shop online for whatever it is that you need. Online shopping isn’t without its risks, but if you keep those risks to a minimum by following these tips and other best practices, you should be problem-free.

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Credit Bureaus to Receive Supervision

July 26th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Things are changing for the credit bureaus due to new supervision requirements made the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This bureau will now be responsible for creating rules to govern the credit reporting industry and to monitor its actions. This will be in addition to the consumer protections already provided by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

What Does This Mean For You?

The full impact of these changes won’t be known until they are fully implemented, but this change should help consumers and others to learn more about this often-misunderstood industry. The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, explained in a New York Times article that little is known about the credit reporting industry because they haven’t been subject to federal supervision before. Previously, the industry was monitored through Congressional oversight, but this change assigns a single federal overseer.

Another potential benefit relates to fixing incorrect information on credit reports. It is notoriously difficult to fix errors when you find them, due both to id theft and simple reporting mistakes. Hopefully these new changes will resolve some of the issues. The difficulty in resolving inaccuracies on credit reports is one of the primary concerns of the new oversight bureau in addition to the information sent to bureaus and how the credit reporting companies store the information they receive.

Here at AllClear ID, we know that identity theft can demolish an otherwise clean credit report. It’s our top priority to absolutely resolving and cleaning up those errors for you. We look forward to seeing how this change will impact the credit reporting industry and make it easier for identity theft victims to clean up their credit reports, and get their lives back.

Read more about the change in this article by the New York Times.

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What Would You Do If Your Email Was Hacked?

July 25th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Our lives are held in our email accounts. Everything from bank statements, to personal and account info. Our email accounts are the gateway to many of our passwords; ask for a reset and the link is sent straight to your email. A hacked account can prove disastrous to both your personal life and to your identity.

In Minnesota, an email hacker was recently sentenced to 150 days in jail and fined several thousand dollars for 13 counts of electronic identity theft– a felony. The hacker, Timothy Noirjean, admitted to police that he attempted or successfully hacked more than 100 accounts.

One of the victims first came in contact with Noirjean through Facebook. He posed as one of the woman’s friends on the social media platform and initiated a chat conversation with her. During the chat the victim disclosed personal information that was used to compromise her account. After the chat she was no longer able to log in to her Facebook as her password had been changed.

When she regained access to her Facebook account she found that a link had been posted to an adult website where explicit pictures, her full name and city were all posted. This info had been stored in her email, which was also compromised by the hacker.

What’s in your email account? This story serves an excellent reminder to safeguard your password and any personal information that could lead to your password, even if you think you are just talking to a friend. It’s also a wakeup call to remind you to take a look at your email and what you have stored there, just in case. You certainly wouldn’t want a potential identity thief having access to your accounts, stored password reminders and the like. Maybe it’s time for an email clean-out.

Read more about the Minnesota email hacking here.

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Keeping Your Child’s Identity Safe at School

July 24th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. It’s the middle of summer right now and sending your child back to school might be one of the furthest things from your mind, but sooner than you think those school bells will be ringing once again. This year, when your child heads back into the classroom, make sure that you do your part to lower their id theft risk. Here are some tips from the FTC:

Ask

Don’t fill out forms mindlessly. Ask your child’s school who has access to personal information. Find out where records are kept and make sure the location is secure. Before providing information, ask about the school’s policy regarding student directories; some schools provide this information to students, parents and even outside parties. You may be able to opt-out.

Protecting your child’s identity is your responsibility. If you aren’t comfortable with something, open your mouth.  If you have a question, ask.

Pay Attention

Your child will probably bring home many forms during the first few weeks of school including health forms, emergency contact forms and registration forms. Pay attention to the forms you fill out and read the paperwork your school sends home. One thing to watch for in particular is your school’s required Family Educational Rights Privacy Act disclosure notice. You have specific rights under FERPA that may help you to protect your child’s identity.

Take Action

Hopefully your child’s information is kept safe at school, but if there is a data breach, take action. Talk with your child’s school and find out what happened. Keep written logs detailing the information you learn. You should also report the breach to the U.S. Department of Education.

Learn more by reading the consumer alert titled, “Protecting Your Child’s Information at School” on the FTC website and by learning more about Child Identity Theft here on the AllClear ID blog.

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Do You Use a Virtual Credit Card Number?

July 23rd, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Virtual credit card numbers have been around for several years now, but aren’t really utilized by many people. If you haven’t heard of these before, virtual credit card numbers are basically a temporary card number that you can use when shopping online. These temporary numbers provide additional protections to consumers to reduce the likelihood that their credit card numbers will be compromised and used fraudulently.

How Does It Work?

Virtual card numbers aren’t offered by every credit card company and the process for getting a number will vary a bit depending on your card. Generally you will log on to your credit card website, enter in some basic information and receive a temporary number and expiration date. Learn more about this service for Discover, Citibank and Bank of America credit cards.

When you go to checkout, you use your temporary card number just like you would your regular card. The provided numbers are linked to your account and purchases will be charged just like they always are. Once you create the temporary number you won’t notice a difference in your online shopping. Retailers won’t even realize you aren’t using your actual card number.

Do Virtual Credit Card Numbers Reduce ID Theft Risk?

Virtual credit card numbers are a little more effort since they require you to create unique numbers each time you make a purchase. However, they do shield your card number from merchants, hackers and id thieves. For some, the extra effort is worth the protection while others prefer to rely on the fraud protections provided by their credit card companies. Credit cards typically carry a $50 fraud liability limit–sometimes even $0–if fraudulent purchases are reported quickly.

Virtual credit card number or not–it is important to keep your eyes open for fraudulent purchases and id theft. Check your bank statements and credit reports often to look for inconsistencies. Being aware can help you notice the signs of id theft early on, making resolution much easier.

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Married to an Identity Thief

July 20th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Identity thieves can wreak havoc on your life and your finances, but rarely does id theft get in the way of getting a marriage license. We found an interesting story in the New York Post that shows that id theft can take on many faces and in some cases even result in a phony marriage or two.

Rosa Vargas, a 37 year old New Yorker, lost her birth certificate in her twenties. This was the start of her identity theft problems, although she wouldn’t realize it for many years to come. Ms. Vargas first noticed her id theft a few weeks before her wedding in 2004. She went to apply for a marriage license and had her application rejected. Records indicated that Ms. Vargas was already married– twice actually. Both of the marriages occurred several years prior in 1996. One was to a man from Ecuador and the other to a man from Mexico.

Rather than call off or postpone the wedding she decided to marry in a different jurisdiction at the advice of her priest and lawyer. She married her fiancé as planned.

A few years later in 2009 she was served with divorce papers, not by her husband, but by the man from Ecuador. She refused to sign and hired a lawyer. The man later arrived at her mother-in-law’s house where he was informed that he had tracked down the wrong woman.

After this incident Ms. Vargas decided to clear her name and resolve the fraudulent marriages with the courts. Both marriages were nullified.

A third fraudulent marriage in Ms. Vargas’ name has been discovered- and at the time of the Post story- was still being resolved.

This story really illustrates the complexity of identity theft; no two cases are the same. Read more about Ms. Vargas’ story here.

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Paper Savings Bonds Are No More

July 18th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. The Treasury Department has stopped selling paper savings bonds in banks and has switched to an entirely electronic system on the TreasuryDirect website. The new program which took effect January 1, 2012 is expected to save taxpayers $70 million in the first five years.

Buying the electronic savings bonds is easy. They have been available online since 2002. The purchasing process is quite different from buying paper bonds in the bank, but there is a video demo available to walk new users through the process.

One of the biggest changes that accompanies the transition to electronic only bonds will affect only those involved in giving and receiving savings bonds as gifts. Savings bonds require a social security number for purchase and redemption. Previously the purchaser could buy the bonds using their SSN and the recipient could later supply their number upon redemption. Electronic savings bonds do not have this option. The purchaser of the bond must supply the recipient’s SSN to make a purchase.

Any time social security numbers are involved there is a risk for id theft. This new electronic savings bond system makes it more difficult for savings bonds to be purchased and requires the recipient to share their SSN in order to receive a bond. Be careful who choose to share this number with and if you do choose to provide your social security number to a friend or family member for a savings bond gift, make sure they protect your number just as carefully as you do. Learn more at the TreasuryDirect website.

 

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Are Identity Thieves Lurking Under Your Family Tree?

July 16th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. Genealogy is a popular hobby right now, partially thanks to TV shows like NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and PBS’ Finding Your Roots. The internet has made it a lot easier for amateur genealogists to find family information, but it has also opened the door for identity theft. How can you protect your identity when researching your genealogy online?

Don’t Make it Easy for ID Thieves

Many genealogists create family websites to share their heritage information with family members and others. Sharing some information online is fine, but just like with social media, you do need to use caution. Limit the information you are posting about relatives, especially if they are living. If you wouldn’t share the information you are posting with a complete stranger, you shouldn’t post it openly online.

Respect the Privacy of Others

Even if you are comfortable sharing a lot of your personal information online, your relatives might feel differently. It is important to protect others from privacy violations and identity theft by respecting their wishes and only sharing personal information with permission. The National Genealogical Society has created a list of guidelines to help you safely and respectfully share information. Genealogy depends on the sharing of information and records, and safe sharing will protect yourself and others while you engage in this hobby.

You Can’t Take It Back

When it comes to sharing personal information, it is important to remember that you can’t ever un-share. Once the information is out there, it can’t ever be taken back and you have no control of how others will use that info. Protect your personal information, especially the information that could compromise your identity.

Looking Out for Deceased Relatives

ID theft risk isn’t only for the living; your deceased ancestors and relatives are at risk too. Check out this recent blog post on id theft and deceased and protect your loved ones from falling victim to this crime.

It is important to always use common sense when sharing personal information online whether you are in a chat room, running a website or using a genealogy forum. For more information about protecting your genealogical information online, check out this great article at Genealogy.com.

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Lawyers the Newest Target in Identity Theft

July 13th, 2012

Allison here, with AllClear ID. We’ve previously discussed how identity thieves are stealing personal information to receive medical services, but there’s a new trend of people stealing the personal information of lawyers, posing as lawyers themselves to charge for legal services.

So far, it seems that this problem is only affecting California lawyers and residents, but it could be just a matter of time before other states see an impact. Because California state law releases bar numbers and attorney’s names to the public, this problem finds its home on the west coast – and that’s all someone posing as a lawyer needs in order to scam people out of their money. The thief can place a name and bar number on legal documents in order to appear legitimate to possible victims, and then disappear after collecting the cash.

Lawyers who do have their identities stolen can work with bar administrators to flag files and to send cease-and-desist letters to anyone they find possibly posing under their name. In order to better catch suspicious activity beforehand, lawyers should do online searches for their name and see what’s being said on the internet. If they happen to find out that someone has been using their name, an investigation can then begin. However, there’s not a lot that can be done after the fact.

Those looking for legal services can double check information and ask the right questions in order to protect themselves from being scammed. For starters, working with a law firm is much safer than working with a single lawyer. Make sure that you meet the lawyer through the firm instead of just someone “associated” with a firm. A poser would be able to find out if the person he/she is impersonating is with a firm, and then try to get the victim to work outside of the firm.

There are tons of legitimate lawyers who do practice on their own, so make sure to ask questions about what they practice, and try to stay as informed as possible throughout the process. Many of these posers try to take advantage of those who aren’t aware of what’s going on, or who don’t speak very much English. These lawyers should also have a professional address and phone number, and ought to be meeting with clients in private offices (for client confidentiality) instead of in homes or coffee shops.

Don’t forget to check out our Lawyer Referral Page to gain access to our network of trusted attorney’s in the case that your identity has been stolen.

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War Driving- Is Your Home Network at Risk?

July 11th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. It sounds like something out of a horror flick – and if your home network isn’t properly secured it could quickly become your worst nightmare. War driving is a simple technique that thieves can use to steal your identity. Perpetrators troll neighborhoods looking for unsecured Wi-Fi networks. They then use a laptop and easily obtained software to capture the information you are sending and receiving.

War driving made headlines late last year and early this year when it was discovered that Google Street View vehicles were collecting unencrypted data; everything from passwords to usernames to instant messaging conversations and more, all from unsecured wireless networks. Fortunately in Google’s case they were only after information, not identities. While Google’s war driving incident might be one of the most publicized around, it certainly isn’t the only instance where this occurs. ID thieves commonly use war driving to get the information they need to steal your identity. If your network isn’t secured, you are at risk.

If you use a wireless network at home, protecting yourself from war driving just takes a few minutes. If you don’t have wireless access, you don’t have to do anything at all! This article on PCWorld will walk you through securing your home wireless network and protecting yourself when connecting wirelessly at hotspots.

Is your home network secured? If you aren’t sure find out today. If your network isn’t secured you might be sharing everything you do online with identity thieves and increasing your id theft risk.

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FBI Sting Catches 24 Credit Card Fraudsters

July 7th, 2012

Allison here, with AllClear ID. A two-year undercover operation came to an end a few weeks ago when authorities in 13 countries arrested 24 people who have been accused of cybercrime. Operation Card Shop, as it was called, involved a site called Carder Profit that seemed like a place for hackers and identity thieves to get credit card numbers and software to spy on computers. However, that website was actually a fake set up by the FBI.

The idea for the website came from other forums that were used – and have been caught – as hubs for hackers and identities thieves to purchase personal information, financial data, and software to commit these crimes. These people use these websites to offer specialized services and to help each other, which would make it easier for organizations like the FBI to catch a whole group of hackers instead of just one or two people.

“These guys represent the complete ecosystem of Internet fraud,” said one senior law enforcement official to the New York Times, who requested anonymity because of the confidentiality of the investigation. “We drew them out of the shadows with the Web site as bait.” In this case, the ecosystem existed all over the world, in countries such as Germany, Norway, the United States, Bulgaria, and Bosnia.

The insight and dialogue that took place on the FBI website, Carder Profit, helped authorities to crack down on these criminal organizations, which have become increasingly important as instances of credit card fraud and other computer crimes have exploded within the past few years.

Officials said that this operation prevented over $200 million in losses, as well as the possibility of 400,000 people becoming victims of credit card fraud. Long-term efforts like this operation are what it takes to find these hackers and identity thieves and bring them to justice. It’s unlikely they will stop on their own, and they will always be looking for new ways to get around the laws and to hide their own identity.

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ID Thieves Robbing the Grave

July 6th, 2012

Juan here, AllClear ID Investigator. Question:  How many incidents of ID theft occur each day using deceased peoples’ personal information?  The number is much higher than you may think – it took me by surprise.

The answer? Two thousand – yes 2,000!

According to a study conducted by ID Analytics, on average, creditors and service providers around the nation receive over 2,000 fraudulent applications for credit items and utility services, including cellular phones, per day.  That equates to roughly 800,000 a year.  However, this number only reflects fraudulent use of all the consumer’s information – name, address, DOB, and SSN.

The number of fraudulent attempts using only SSN’s in conjunction with the suspects’ (or another victim’s) information jumps to 1.6 million.  That is, 1.6 million applications for credit and utility services are submitted each year using only the Social Security number of a deceased person and the PII of another.

You might be wondering where it is that criminals get this information from, and how are they so successful in employing it to their own morbid benefit. Unfortunately, they know to scour through obituary notices. From there, they may gather a full name, a date of birth, and an address. They may then target that address, and rifle through the mail for any financial or medical document that may contain valuable personal information.

Another source for the SSN’s of the deceased is, ironically, the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File – where the SSN’s of the deceased are stored. If all companies cross-checked the information they receive on applications with this database, the number would be much smaller.

They may also, believe it or not, take a guess at a SSN. When filling out a credit application, they may use what they think may be a made-up SSN, when in fact, it is that of a deceased person.

Dealing with posthumous ID theft can be very frustrating and difficult for the deceased person’s family. Not only due to the nature of the crime, but also in having the fraud removed. There are, of course, several things we can do to keep our passed loved ones protected from this horrifying crime that continues to grow.

  • Provide only limited personal information in the deceased’s obituary, and avoid printing the individual’s complete date of birth or address.
  • Promptly notify the Social Security Administration of a loved one’s death at 800-772-1213.
  • Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license with the state’s motor vehicles department.
  • Notify all entities with which the deceased had a financial relationship — including banks, credit card companies and brokerage firms — about his or her death.
  • Notify all three credit reporting bureaus of the death — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian — and mail them copies of the death certificate.
  • Use an identity theft protection service to help monitor any use of the deceased’s identity.

As hard as the passing of a loved one can be, we are at an age when these steps cannot be overlooked.

 

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Rise in Identity Theft Tied to Smartphones

June 30th, 2012

Christy here, AllClear ID Investigator. Experts are saying that with the rise in credit monitoring and policing by credit card companies, identity thieves are targeting smartphone and social media users more as they tend to be less cautious. Recent research done by Javelin indicates that smartphone users are approximately 33% more likely to become a victim of identity theft than non-users. They reported that, in 2011, about 7% of smartphone users fell victim to identity theft.

This can be attributed to another of their findings – 62% of smartphone users do not use password protection, allowing anyone who finds or steals their phone to have access to the contents which typically includes a vast amount of personal information.

One positive find by Javelin was that dollar losses by consumers remained stable last year despite the increase in the number of victims. The rise is tied to the smartphone and social media use but also the 67% increase in the number of people whose information was accessed in a data breach last year. Someone whose personal information is taken in a data breach is 9.5 times more likely to become a victim of identity fraud, Javelin found. The stability of the dollar losses is attributed to advancements made in recent years however, for every advancement made on the protection side, the resourcefulness of thieves keeps consumers vulnerable.

“They’re doing more and more crime in order to get the same return,” said Mike Urban, who analyzes fraud patterns for Fiserv Inc, a consulting company that helps financial institutions defend against crime and other risks. “It’s pushing the criminals to work even harder.”

Javelin also found that many social media users are revealing too much of their personal information such as birth dates, high school, phone numbers, and other information used for identity verification. “You don’t leave your money lying on a table,” said Urban. “You don’t want to leave your important information out there.”

Javelin provided some tips to avoid becoming an identity fraud victim as well as mitigating losses:

  • Put password protection your home and mobile devices to avoid exposing personal information that can be used by someone else for identity verification. Be careful about the apps you download. Only download through a service that monitors the apps, such as iTunes.
  • Share information carefully when you are on a public wifi network.
  • Monitor your credit cards by checking their use online or reading the statements carefully. Quickly report to your credit card issuer if you see any suspicious transactions.
  • Take data breach notifications seriously.
  • If your data has been accessed, consider subscribing to a credit-monitoring service, which is often is offered for free for a year through us here at AllClear ID.

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Mobile Banking vs. Online Banking

June 29th, 2012

Tamara here, AllClear ID Investigator. Financial institutions have been working for years to make banking more accessible and convenient for their members. It started with ATMs, then with Internet banking, and now mobile banking. Mobile banking is convenient in that with a phone that has the capabilities, starting with text transaction processing and now moving to online access. Let’s compare mobile banking versus Internet banking.

Mobile Banking

Mobile banking is just starting to arrive as an option to handle your finances. There are two types of transactions, a push transaction and a pull transaction.

A pull transaction is where the member initiates the transaction. One requests their balance, a funds transfer, or a transaction history request. The pull transaction is a two way notification, with a request from the member and a response from the financial institution. The push transaction is a one way notification, from the financial institution to the member.

Mobile banking can be used anywhere you take your device. Depending on what type of device is used, the options available to the member vary. Take a look at these:

First, there is the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system that can be used on any phone, even if it is not a mobile phone. It is the automated system you find when dialing the bank’s phone number. You can press a certain prompt for the option you want, and it navigates the menu to arrive at the final page. There are few items that can be accessed through this feature.

Second, there is Short Message Service (SMS). Essentially, text messaging. SMS is capable of handling both push and pull transactions. It also works on almost all mobile devices, and is cost effective. But a few drawbacks are limited in the number of characters in the message and are generically generated.

Third, there is the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) option. This is offered on smart phones and other more advanced devices. Being able to access the internet allows the user to visit the financial institution’s website. Because the screen on the device is small, the financial institution addresses that by adjusting their mobile site. That can lead to having to navigate through more clicks than what would be on a personal computer. Also, these types of devices are not enabled with anti-virus and firewall protection.

And last, there is the Mobile App. Banks create this application to be downloaded to the device in use. The app creates a reliable channel to access the accounts and perform more complex transactions. Though this option creates efficiency, the application may be only available to certain devices. And, again, the device itself is vulnerable to attack.

Online Banking

Online banking, from a personal computer, also has its pros and cons. One con is that the personal computer is stationary. Another is that the system itself may have a virus, malware, or a keylogger (a program that records the keystrokes on the system, often gaining usernames and passwords). But, ensuring that your personal computer is protected and safe, having access to the banks full website allows full access to the accounts.

There are many different advantages and disadvantages to both mobile and online banking. Online banking has been around a bit longer than mobile banking, and banks are constantly working on improving the options available to consumers. Consider the device you own, speak with your financial institution’s representative, and figure out which option works best for you.

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Looters and the Colorado Fire

June 28th, 2012

Jackie here, with AllClear ID. The Colorado High Park Fire near Ft. Collins, Colorado brought much destruction and devastation to the mountainous state during the last couple of weeks. The fire started on June 9th due to lightning and quickly spread across the state. As of Friday June 22, the fire has burnt almost 70,000 acres, destroyed 189 homes and killed 1 person.  This fire has been called the most destructive fire in the history of Colorado. With this destruction has come the possibility of others looting and being able to take personal information and documents out of evacuated homes.

How it started:

Weather in the area made the fire particularly difficult to fight. In the first several days of the fire, more than 1,800 firefighters were unable to contain the blaze – at all. Hot, dry weather and strong winds helped the fire to grow and spread. As the blaze continued to move and spread, firefighters focused on protecting the many homes in the area. They used evacuation to help move residents from the high-risk fire areas into safer places where residents could wait until the threat of fire to their homes passed.

The evacuations, although a critical strategy for fighting the fire and protecting lives, open up the possibility of looting in the evacuated residences and businesses. ABC News reports that at least one man has been arrested for impersonating a fire fighter and possessing stolen property. Read more about this story or watch related videos on ABC’s website here.

Depending on what thieves take, looting can lead to identity theft. Make sure that your mail, financial information and personal documents are in a secure location away from prying eyes. A fire-proof lockbox is a great way to protect yourself from this id theft risk.

We are grateful to the brave firefighters and others that sacrifice so much to protect lives and homes. Battling a raging fire in these hot summer temperatures isn’t easy and we are grateful to those that put their lives on the line to protect the homes and lives of others.

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