Protect yourself from Identity Thieves!

Andrea told her husband Jack that she had noticed a young person going through their condo paper-recycling bins. At first, she thought they were just looking for recyclables which could be turned into cash, but later realized the person was rummaging through all of the containers that were paper-products only.

These bins often contain bank statements, cancelled cheques, private letters, other important documents, credit card statements and envelopes. If the information is from a business office, old client files and related data can often be found. There have been stories in the news about scavengers going through people’s waste and recyclables specifically looking for these items. The information that can be obtained is very valuable to information thieves and can be potentially damaging to you.

Credit Card Statements – Just how valuable is your credit card number to a thief? One couple was vacationing in Montreal when their credit card information got into the hands of an organized crime group in Mexico. Overnight their card had been maxed out. How would you like your next vacation to start this way?

Bank Statements – With an old bank statement, a cancelled cheque and a little bit of today’s technology, anyone can easily print up cheques drawn on your account and forge your signature. You can imagine the havoc this can create.

Envelopes and Magazines – Check your name and address on the magazines to which you subscribe and the notices you receive and you will often find your account or membership number is displayed. With that number, anyone can gain access to your member or account information and re-direct your mail. In some cases, this can be done on the Internet. If someone can re-direct your mail, would you wonder what else they might be able to accomplish?

Office Waste – The information that can be found in discarded office material is very valuable. It can contain confidential information on your customers, correspondence from companies with which you deal, statements of account, customers’ account data, quotations, billing information, purchase orders, etc. Would you like a competitor to get their hands on any of this information? What about your customer’s own identities – could they be stolen from information you discard?

Andrea and Jack decided to foil the information thieves by buying a personal paper shredder for less than $100. They now shred all papers containing anything other than their names and addresses. Though a determined thief might piece the shredder’s output back together, stirring it up should make this practically impossible.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre.ca) is an excellent resource regarding all types of fraud including Identity Theft. Here are some quick tips from their website.
1. Before you reveal any personally identifying information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared, and with whom.
2. Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time.
3. Use passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SIN or your phone number.
4. Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse.
5. Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you are dealing.
6. Keep items with personal information in a safe place. An identity thief will pick through your garbage or recycling bins. Be sure to shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, Physicians’ statements and credit offers you get in the mail.
7. Give your SIN only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identity proof when possible.
8. Don’t carry your SIN card; leave it in a secure place.

In my next post, I will share some thoughts on other types of fraud and identity theft – including the internet, your telephone and RFID scanners!

Identity theft, email and phone fraud – some tips – Part 1 of 2

Identity theft, email and phone fraud – some of the “tricks”
Written by Ian R. Whiting, CD, CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., FLMI(FS), ACS, AIAA, AALU, LSSWB, Contributing Editor
Website: www.ianrwhiting.com Blog: http://money.ca/you-and-your-money/ian-r-whiting/

This started out as a short, 500-word blog but unfortunately, this issue is so prevalent in the world today, it became two blogs! Today, it appears that the ID theft and related frauds are probably the fastest growing crimes in the world. In February 2008 (the last full study), over 1.7 million Canadians reported cases of ID theft or fraud and some estimates apparently put the value in excess of $100 million. Further information on this topic strongly suggests this figure is less than half the actual number of cases as people are too ashamed to report it, unfortunately. Here are some tips that can help you avoid the consequences of this aggressive trend.

Dumpster Diving – not glamorous, but effective. In this scenario, the fraudster (or some hired minion) goes through garbage cans and recycling bins looking for any account or personal information they can find. Old bank and credit card statements, cancelled cheques, those special “you-are-approved” credit offers, when merged with some modern technology, are a wealth of detail and a creative thief can use it for a variety of nefarious purposes. Invest in a shredder. Many are available for less than $50.00 (including taxes) and should be kept next to where you sort your mail. If a piece of “junk” mail has anything on it other than your name and address (which the company already knows), shred it – don’t just throw it in the garbage.

Phishing – Not to be found in Webster’s Dictionary, this is one of the new internet words that pepper the world today. This word means an e-mail message that looks like it was sent to you by your financial institution. Typically, it has the correct logo, a collection of what seem to be appropriate disclaimers and a request for verification of some personal information. The financial institutions with whom you deal do not need to “verify” any information they have on file and they would never do this via an email – only in person the next time you went to their office. Just mark any such emails as SPAM or JUNK and delete it immediately. Under no circumstances click on any of the links, nor should you reply to the email in any manner. If you follow the link, thieves will obtain enough information about you, and probably your accounts, to allow them to steal either or both your money or identity.

Pump and Dump – Nothing new here but they seem to be cropping up again. For this to work, a fraudster buys (or creates) a block of penny stocks and sends out millions of spam e-mails. Many times, they follow the email with a personal phone call. Both the e-mail and the phone calls are quite compelling and look like a hot tip. Buyer beware (caveat emptor for the Latin readers) because those that fall for this actually fuel a demand for the stocks the fraudster then re-sells at an even more inflated price. Ignore all unsolicited e-mails like this.

Vishing – Similar to phishing, the fraudsters call you directly and pose as an employee of your financial institution or other company with which you do business. Sometimes you will get an email that asks you to call a number – perhaps even a 1-800 number. With current technology, callers can disguise their identity and spoof your call display so it all looks legit! Ignore the calls and hang up.

Shoulder Surfing – Use of credit and debit cards is constantly increasing so your level of awareness needs to improve as well. If you see someone hovering nearby while you are entering your PIN – stop the transaction until they move away. If necessary, turn and face them and ask them to move away: don’t be shy! If someone gets your PIN and manages to skim your card (phoney machines used to steal digital information from your card) or pick your pocket or purse, your account is as good as empty. Some scammers are even using the digital cameras built in to every cell phone (or other e-device) to record your PIN key strokes while appearing to have a normal phone conversation. Shield the keypad when you are entering your PIN (use your other hand or your body as necessary). If you think someone could be aiming a cell phone camera at the PIN pad, stop until they leave or turn away.