Monday, October 29, 2007

Legal Thriller Author Explores Identity Theft--You Don't Have to be a Victim

--Shell shock is the name of the game, when you consider all the different ways you can be "had" if you don't know how to spot the signs. Here are 10 ways to fight back, protect yourself from the con man

Your luck doesn't have to be so bad as the California man, who, in a series of unrelated events, was hit by a car on Sunday, mugged on Monday, and shot on Tuesday. But, if you lose your identity to a con man, your foul luck level could be close.

With a con man-launched barrage, stolen identities are rising at a rate of up to 10,000,000 per year, creating a problem that is now approaching crisis proportions.

If we were a fire-eating, Bible-thumping preacher, we would deliver our sermon something like quoting from a legal thriller, something like this:

Con men everywhere are taking rifle-shot focus on a very specific target: your social security number. (Your bank account number would be nice too. That's secondary targeting.) Once obtaining this they are finding it a cake-walk to taking over your paper identity, and, thus, opening up a free-flowing channel to all of your financial assets.

They count on--and are successfully cashing in on--a seemingly human axiom: a one-sided exercise in the "Law of Inertia." So, you must surmount this inertia, conquer it, if it exists.

As never before, if you do not wish to provide the con man a feeding tube into your bank account, you must be highly selective about the handling of your financial affairs. All of them. The time is now.


Here are a few suggestions:

1. When ordering over the internet remember that URLs that begin with "http" are not secure sites. The sites that begin with "https" are. First step is to foil hackers as best you can.

2. Verify all email and telephone offers by checking them out directly through a customer service number you locate, yourself, in your phone book, then follow through with a phone call, only one you initiate. If you can't find a phone number there, call the reference desk of your public library and you will probably have the requested number in minutes.

3. If you suspect an obvious, serious scam--many of which these days read like a legal thriller--don't hesitate, looking for a cause dujour. Contact the FBI or your State Attorney General's office. Do it with cat-quick speed. Famed French World War II hero and President, Charles DeGaulle, had a very forgettable message to leave from his death bed. His last words were, "It hurts." This is the same near-death way you'd feel if, no matter what you'd accomplished in life, a con man cleaned you of your identity.

4. Never reship any product on behalf of a stranger in a foreign country.. If you don't know the contents, which could be stolen goods, you might be unwittingly participating in a crime. You don't want to become a self-indulgent, navel-gazing victim.

5. Never respond to email or phone calls asking you to verify anything. These requests are most often placed by the con man under the guise of being a bank, credit card company, retail store, government agency official--any manner of subterfuge. It's always best to check out the "source" represented, independently of any reference numbers or call-back data provided by the inquirer. You don't have to be a peripheral visionary to see these scams coming. They're frontal. They're clear. Act accordingly.

6. Ignore all "free credit report" offers you receive, either by phone or over the internet. Big majority of these are scams.
Your cooperation would be like singing along at the opera.

7. "Free" gift offers should be avoided. Unless they are entirely free. If asked to "pay only shipping and handling charges," look out. This is a big red light.

8. Pyramid schemes and email chain letters. The answer to this should be obvious. Ignore, ignore, ignore. Never respond to these. The con man's eerie vulgarity, his frothing-at-the-mouth greed, rears its ugly head pronouncedly on this one.

9. Never enter your social security number on a resume, one you are asked to send via email by anyone with whom you are not totally familiar. Some scam-fighters will say, simply enter 000-00-0000, but pause should be exercised before even doing this. If you wish to save yourself from becoming a drooling head-banger, by all means do not let your social security number fall into the hands of a con man.

10. Gift or order confirmations. These, from any vendor you have not contacted. Usually they are "phishing" expeditions, designed only to reel in personal information from you.

These are some of the cautionary high points. Be totally aware that the identity theft threat is now of epidemic proportions. and, sadly, it appears that--like all epidemics--the time-honored "Law of Averages" is about the only governor to dictate the length of time before it gets to you. When it finally hits, the jolt will be like unwittingly sticking your hand into a sealed box of scorpions.


Jack Payne said...

A quick addition to this piece: Someone very close to me was "taken" for $100,000 by an identity thief. It nearly ruined his life. So, in addition to exposing these con artists through writing about their methods and antics, as a career choice, I have a strong personal motivation to reduce their effectiveness.

Alan said...

some excellent tips. interesting concept for a blog. I will be back to see what else you write about

suewrite said...

Hi Jack,

I thought I would return the favour and read and comment on your blog. This is really good information here, particularly the advice on phishing schemes


Jamie said...

These are great points, some of which I've never thought of! Thanks for sharing.

Fabulous Photo Gifts said...

All good stuff. I've noticed a lot of 'your bank account is about to be / is frozen' type emails that ask the exact information needed to create identity fraud.

There's usually a couple of spoof questions in there like "Whats your favourite sport, but the others are so obvious digging for info, I'm amazed anyone is taken in by them still.

Great idea for a blog though.

robbay said...

Excellent advice. I 'm coming back for more. Robbay

Will said...

Thanks for this list! Even with all I think I know, I am frequently enlightened about something. Believe it or not I had never realized your #1.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to run. A wealthy "friend" from Nigeria has sent me an urgent e-mail I need to respond to! ;-)


Jack Payne said...

Will, I wonder if your wealthy "friend" from Nigeria is typical of these people from this part of the world. Seemingly, they all try to convince you that they are housebroken, at the same time impressing you by how their cup runneth over. This combination is no mean feat.

Another trait they share is they all seem to be blessedly generous--to a fault--wishing to share their vast wealth with you, a total stranger.

Why is it that today's strange alternative universe appears to have Nigeria as its point of origin?

david said...

Very informative post. Those suggestion are great and I learned a new thing about http and https.

Bruce said...

Identity theft is unfortunately something that will only grow in the near future. The problem is somehow the scamsters have kept up with the advancements in technology whereas the authorities in charge of protecting us is still way behind. Great article btw.

Gerri said...

Very good tips. Identity theft is something I worry about. I do lot of stuff online and try to keep everything as secure as I can. There are more and more people these days who are out to get other people hard earned cash which is just sad. You just have to be careful I guess.

Mr. Grudge said...

I'd like to believe that I am savvy enough to avoid scams, but I sometimes find myself almost gleefully accepting those "free offers" that come with paid shipping etc. But, I check them out and discover they are not free. I have to laugh, because I thought I was one of the last people in America who never got one of those Nigerian "409" scam e-mails, and today I got one from a friendly, but desperate Nigerian "government official" who need MY assistace to get $25 million dollars out of the country. I had to laugh. I appreciate all of your valuable advice. -Mike

Jack Payne said...

Yeah, Mike, I guess you should be flattered to have such an altruistic "friend" from Nigeria, one who wishes you to benefit by sharing his wealth. I hope you, as recipient of this generous benefaction--even though a stranger--are fully appreciative
of such unbridled kindness.

OOM said...

Very good post, and we're glad to see other people fight cons and scams! Best wishes for the upcoming Holidays!