We all know to be on the lookout for internet scams that pop up while we’re on social media or reading email. But when people travel, they may not be as careful as they are at home or at work.
A recent Consumer Reports article focused on how to avoid tripping-up while on a trip. Those tips and others are below.
Whether you travel around the world, around the country, or around the state, be cyber safe and leave your worries behind.
You may have seen the film, The Graduate, and recall the scene where Dustin Hoffman’s character is at a party and encounters a businessman who gives him a tip that, supposedly, will help him build a fortune, “One word, plastics!” Today that word might be “synthetics.” And while someone might be able to make a fortune in “synthetic identity theft” — hey, it's a crime.
So what exactly is “synthetic identity theft?” The dictionary defines synthetic as “made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product.” In the world of identity theft, it means combining some of a real person’s key identifying information with information stolen from others or simply made up to create a fictitious new identity: in this case, a made-up person!
For example a scammer might get hold of a person’s Social Security Number and rather than use the person’s name, make up a fake name and address and use that real SSN in applying for credit, a new job or even apply to rent an apartment.
The Social Security Numbers of minors are often targets of synthetic identity theft. Minors seldom have credit files and, so there is nothing in credit reports under their Social Security Numbers to contradict the false information submitted with that real SSN.
Identity thieves who can pull this off love it because the bills they run up unpaid may never get related to a real person who might report the theft to authorities. Law enforcement investigators attempting to identify the perpetrators may end up going down rabbit holes looking for clues that don’t add up.
But synthetic identity theft is not a victimless crime! We all pay the price when credit-issuers raise rates to make up for the losses they won’t recover. In addition eventually defrauded creditors may trace the stolen information to the real person and may attempt to hold them liable. Worse yet, you may end up being charged with a crime you didn’t commit.
Just as with standard versions of identity theft, being proactive in protecting personal data is a key to avoiding being victimized by synthetic ID theft.
Freeze your credit to help prevent victimization, and check out your free annual credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com to see whether any bogus credit may have been issued under your Social Security Number and catch a problem before it worsens.
Fortunately, Congress recently acted against this growing scam. An article that recently appeared in InfoSecurity Magazine called New Bill to Reduce Synthetic Identity Theft, summarizes the benefits of the new federal law. Among other things it requires free credit freezes for consumers and includes additional protection for veterans and seniors. Look for more details about this new federal law in an upcoming Identity Theft Update.
Ah, summertime. Warm days, fun in the sun, and vacations! While you’re away from home enjoying some well-earned R and R, remember to stay alert. Scammers are always on the prowl . . . so don’t let your guard down while away from home.
Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft while on vacation.
Vacations are supposed to be fun, and you want them to be as worry-free as possible. Taking these steps before you go will help make sure your personal information is safe and secure while you’re away.
I’m somewhat of an “Old School” guy. I still write checks. Even more antiquated, I still do my own tax returns by hand. Over the weekend CNBC posted one of the more interesting articles about identity theft I’ve seen in a long time, and it points out that, most ID thieves are also “Old School.”
The article describes how paper-based and other non-digital identity theft remains higher in frequency than the digital version. It details how these scams occur and offers tips on how people can try to avoid them. The worst news, and many of us knew this already: the most common perpetrators are relatives, caregivers, and (so-called) friends. Taking advantage of people’s trust never goes out of style and is too often lucrative! I strongly recommend reading the article. Feel free to share it, or the information it conveys, as you see fit.
This week’s Identity Theft Update is about child identity theft. It's a growing problem. A Washington Post article, linked below, describes the problem succinctly. Here is the link to the Post article: CLICK HERE
One of the points made in the article is that some states enable parents to freeze the credit reports of their minor children. Iowa is one of those states. You may ask why a child would even have a credit report. Very few minors will have credit reports. If you find that your minor child has a credit report it could be a sign that your child has been the victim of identity theft. However, Iowa law empowers parents to be proactive in protecting their children against identity theft by requiring credit reporting agencies to create a credit report for a minor child at a parent’s request for the purpose of freezing the account. This provision is included in Iowa Code section 714G.8A, a section entitled, “Protected Consumer Security Freeze.” Here is a link to section 714G.8A:
In addition, the Identity Theft Resource Center alerts parents to the following signs of child identity theft:
Parents or relatives of child/victims are usually the first to notice something is not quite right. Some of these cases involve split families (one of the parents is the perpetrator, and the crime is exposed by the other, unoffending parent). Discovery of child identity theft often comes:
Finally, make sure your kids know how to avoid online scams. Below is a link to some great information from the Federal Trade Commission for parents who want to protect their kids online. I’d sure rather take my daughter fishing than see her become a victim of a “Phishing” scheme: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-kids-online
Being a parent is a joy! We all know that it comes with big responsibilities as well. Protect your child’s future credit-related prospects by doing your best to ensure your child is not the victim of identity theft today.
What follows is a real story about an incident in the life of a Des Moines small business owner. It's an example of a classic, “Grandparent Scam,” and offers a textbook example of how identity information can be used to attempt to trick victims into transferring funds to a scammer.
My husband’s 84-year-old mother recently received a call from her 20-something grandson. Daniel is not the most communicative young man there ever was, so naturally Grandma Phyllis was extremely happy to hear from him.
Her delight quickly turned to alarm, however, when he said, “Grandma, I was in a car accident. I got pretty banged up so I can’t talk that well right now cuz’ I’ve got stitches in my mouth, and I’m on painkillers. The accident was totally the other driver’s fault, but it was a pregnant woman driving, so the police went to her first. She told them a convincing lie about how it was all my fault, and the cops took me to jail, and now I have to post bail.”
The more “Daniel” talked, the more Paul’s mom began to think that something was fishy. For one thing, Daniel has been in his share of typical, young male scrapes, and he’d never before called to ask for help. She only ever heard about his errors of judgement after the fact, second-hand from his parents or his sister, and he’d definitely never called asking for money. Plus, even allowing for stitches, this really did not sound like her grandson.
When Paul’s mom told the caller that he didn’t sound like Daniel, he angrily repeated that it was because he had stitches in his mouth and had been given a painkiller. Suspicious, she began to ask him a few personal questions, whereupon “Daniel” became agitated and hung up on her.
Paul’s mom speed-dialed Daniel, didn’t get him, but reached his sister, Darragh, who immediately drove to the house to look for her brother, and there he was — not in jail — upstairs in his room sleeping. Grandma Phyllis said that she was never so happy to hear that her grandson was being a layabout in her whole life.
It was of course all a scam to get her to send bail money. The scary part, the ID hacking part, was that they had her cell phone number and knew that she had a grandson named Daniel.
When Paul’s mom told the story to her older sister, Jean said that she’d received a similar call about her great-grandson. The details were slightly different, but all pertinent. Whoever it was knew Joe was a high school student; purported to be him, claimed he’d gotten picked up by the police for getting into a gang fight off school property and needed money to be released.
In most grandparent scams, the caller doesn’t have the name of the grandchild before the call but tricks the grandparent into divulging it during the call. However, the above case shows that sometimes the caller has personal information that helps make the scam more convincing. So, how do the scammers get hold of personal information, such as the grandmother’s cell number and her grandson’s name, that help them perpetrate these scams?
The answer most often lies in what we voluntarily divulge. For example, social media users who don’t pay attention to their privacy controls may be divulging facts every day that are used against them by callers. Social media sites are doing more today to empower users to limit who may see their posts. Learn what Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others offer to help users limit who may see their posts. The bottom line for all of us is to be wary of calls out of the blue, supposedly from a relative or friend, asking us to act on the spur of the moment to wire money somewhere — and alert our older loved ones to hang up if they get a call such as the one received by Paul’s mom.
This page was produced by the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance under award #2016-XV-GX-K004, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.