The Dangers and Solutions to Small Crime Part 2 Fraud and Identity Theft
If the number of burglaries has sent shivers down your spine (see article on how to protect yourself from burglaries here), the fraud and identity theft figures should give you nightmares. Roughly 12 million Americans fall victim each year and the number is on the rise.
Trouble is that modern identity theft, especially credit card theft is extremely difficult to prevent (you’ll soon understand why), but you can take steps to minimize the chances and the impact in case you fall victim.
So what can you do?
1) Beware of phishing attempts. The term phishing is used to describe emails that look like they come from sources that you trust (banks, institutions), but are actually from scammers. Problem is: some emails do actually come from legitimate sources. So how can you know which way is it? You don’t. The best approach is to simply type down in the browser the address of the institution, log in and see what’s what.
2) DO follow up on some emails. I started with phishing because the worst thing that can happen with this type of crime is to have your banking details entrusted to “let’s say a retailer” which then gets hacked. The chances of becoming a victim shoot up to 25%. It’s extremely important to take action if you are informed of a data breach, which usually happens through an email.
3) Take action if you know you’re at risk. If your data gets breached or you lose your wallet, it’s paramount to call any one of these 3 agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to have your credit cards placed on fraud alert. If you lost or got your wallet stolen you should also call the cops.
4) Use the free reports. By law any of the 3 agencies Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion is required to give you an annual free report, so use all 3 of them at intervals of 4 months each. This gives you a snapshot of what credit cards are open in your name. If you see anything that shouldn’t be there, contact the credit agencies and the issuing banks of your credit cards immediately.
5) Beware of ATM’s. Fraudsters now use devices called skimmers that are placed physically on ATM to steal your credit card info. They’re almost impossible to detect, so the best you can do is avoid ATM’s in secluded, unlit areas as these skimmers must be installed physically.
6) Use a credit monitoring system. Truth be told skimmers are actually pretty old school. A new breed of thieves now intercept the ATM data by wireless (see story here) connection, so nobody is really safe. Fortunately this type of crime isn’t that spread yet, but do expect to see an explosive rise.
Phew, that was a mouthful. Now for some sneakier advice to protect your cards in case they get stolen.
If you have trouble remembering your PIN number, create a bogus contact in your phone, with the last 4 digits of the phone number being your PIN. Easy to access, impossible to detect even if your phone gets stolen as well.
An even sneakier tactic is to leave in your wallet a small bit of paper on which you’d write PIN numbers and then of course fill the thing out with 3 bogus ones. Typically thieves prefer to use ATM’s if they have the option and if you enter the PIN wrong 3 times the machine will keep the card.
Next time we get physical as we investigate assaults and pickpocketing.