Computer Scams Threaten To ‘Borrow’ Your Identity
Ten Million Americans have been victims of identity theft according to a 2003 survey. The average cost to the victim is appropriately $5,000, and Americans spend about 300 million hours trying to set things right.
"Once it’s done to you, it never goes away," said Detective Domingo Gon zalez of the New York Police Depart ment’s Computer Crime Squad. "It’s there for a long, long time."
Gonzalez and Detective Travis Rapp (also from the Computer Crime Squad) gave two workshops on January 21 at the Arverne Public Library and the 101st Precinct House on the dangers of computer crime. The workshops were sponsored by Far Rockaway’s Weed and Seed program.
People can guard their personal information online with some knowledge of how thieves work.
"The top Internet providers will never, ever ask you for personal in formation," Gonzalez said at the workshops.
Many people unknowingly give out personal information when responding to emails that seem to be from their Internet provider.
These emails warn the customer about a problem with their account. The customer is asked to click on a link provided within the email to provide information such as full name, address, credit card number, and social security number.
This method of identity theft is known as ‘phishing’. Another phishing scam on the Internet are web pages that look like the originals. Detective Gonzalez, who was looking for a copy of the American Express credit card logo for a presentation in October, came across one such site in a web search. "I figured it was the actual site," explained Gonzalez. "It was asking me for my credit card information. When I looked at the [website address] at the top it was an AOL members web page85. All the information looked exactly like the American Express page. It was all phony. We investigated it and shut it down."
The Detectives said to challenge everything that asks for personal information, whether it is delivered by email or regular mail. Ask why the information is needed, and call your provider if you believe the request for information is bogus.
When choosing a password to log on to the Internet, make it a difficult one. A hacker needs just minutes to crack a password. Passwords should contain unusual characters and upper and lower case lettering.
"The number one password people use is ‘password’, explained Gonzalez. "Make it very difficult. This will take a lot longer to crack because its got to look at different variations."
Other safety procedures include never automatically log on to the Internet with a saved password and always log off after an online session. Since DSL and cable connections are always on, shut your computer and the modem off when they are not in use.
When you discard a computer, al ways remember to remove the hard drive or use a program that will ‘wipe’ the hard drive clean. Just de leting information will not work, because it can be retrieved.
If you do online shopping, do as Gonzalez’s boss does, window shop online for the best prices and then use an available 800 to order the merchandise by telephone.
Gonzalez also cautioned against downloading or clicking on a link that you know nothing about.
People must guard against identity theft offline as well.
A shredder will protect against ‘dumpster diving’.
"You throw out your garbage, its got your name, your identification 85 and criminals just dump in and grab it out of there," described Gonzalez.
There is also the possibility of company employees stealing personal records.
"Employees – I don’t care what line of work, political offices, firemen, AMEX, big credit card companies, banks – you’re going to have bad apples no matter what you do," said Gonzalez, who told about one person arrested for giving out information from applications used by The New York State Federal In sur ance Fund.
Be wary of pickpockets and never, ever carry your social security card with you. Also, keep an eye on your credit card when you use it or you could become a victim of what is known as ‘skimming’ where your card is swiped on a skimming mach ine that saves the information from the magnetic strip.
Gonzalez and Rabb urged everyone to order their credit report once a year, change passwords to their computer frequently, and research all you can about identity theft.
If you are a victim, report it to the three major credit bureaus immediately and close all your accounts.
"Identity theft, your personal in formation, is money to someone," con cluded Gonzalez. "It’s not just you could be out all this money, it’s possible someone could knock on your door and arrest for a crime you didn’t commit."
The following websites have information on identity theft: The Feder al Trade Commission — http://www.consumer.gov/id theft/pressre leases.html, The Department of Justice–http://www.usdoj. gov/fraud. htm, The De part ment of Homeland Se curity–http://www.dhs.gov/dhspulic/display? theme=76 and The Nation al Cyber Security Alliance–http://www. Staysafe online.info/.