Although there are 7 types of identity theft, most of us will think first about credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial things. Although other forms of identity theft, such as medical identity theft or criminal identity theft, can have a deeper impact on our lives, financial identity theft is what we address. This means a large number of identity theft scams and phishing techniques go after our money.
Laughter – The Best Sedative
Several years ago a series of Citibank commercials grabbed our attention. One of my favorites had a blue collar guy talking to the camera in a girl’s voice about a trip to Hollywood after getting her nails done and taking singing lessons. Those commercials put identity theft in everyone’s mind, but they did something else as well – they made us laugh and shrug it off. They also got us thinking that identity theft was all about money, because the program they were selling protected money… specifically their money.
There was a bit of controversy about that last bit. Some experts felt financial institutions that specialized in lending money with interest should not charge us to protect those accounts. Laws came through to that effect, but compliance has been slow and generally fought along the way. Changing the way you do something in a huge company is expensive, to say the least.
Over the next few years, identity theft protection programs became all the rage. They have been the fastest growing insurance product for the past four years now, and show no signs of slowing up. As time goes on, these programs are becoming better and better, looking at more than just our money.
But protecting the money that we already have is very easy compared to dealing with new accounts. Identity theft surveys indicate new account fraud is more common, and takes far longer to straighten out. There are hoops that must be jumped through, papers that must be signed, information that must be verified. Victims of identity theft are always shocked at how hard it is to fix the problem, when it is so easy to commit the crime. Unfortunately, that is not likely to change anytime soon. The odds of going to jail for identity theft are 1-in-1,000. Laws have been put in place to punish identity thieves, but the arrest rate is low – just one-in-twenty reported cases. The conviction rate is even lower, of those arrested, one-in-fifty will see jail time.
Phishing Pays Off
Identity thieves know this too. This is why phishing techniques are so popular. Phishing emails come in many disguises; often they talk about things we feel strongly for; faith, family, friends etc. Sometimes they have pretty pictures in a PowerPoint presentation, or have information we think is important for everyone to know. When we forward these sorts of email, though, we may be putting those we care about at greater risk of identity theft.
But phishing is not limited to e-mail. A recent news report shows Indiana residents have been getting fake credit card bills that look like the real thing. And if they can be sent to Indiana, they can be sent anywhere. When victims called the number on the bill they were asked for their social security number and credit card information to verify the account, everything an identity thief needs to rock your world. Law enforcement officials believe this is a high-end operation that was expensive to set up, and difficult to spot if you have a Capital One account. We’re not talking your everyday shoulder-surfer here. And with that much invested in the scam, you can bet the criminals have a good idea how to keep it going for maximum profitability.
Banks and credit card companies are obvious targets because they have all the money. Linda McGlasson blogs on Bank Info Security about Whitestone Credit Union, a Michigan-based company that looked authentic, but was really just a front for a phishing scam. They had a website, toll free number, and everything you would expect from a legitimate company. The article doesn’t mention victims, but there will be fallout for those who were caught off guard.
So let’s dispel the myth that identity theft only happens on the Internet. In fact the Internet accounts for a small fraction of all reported identity theft cases. Even if you protect your personal information and keep an eye open, it can still happen to you.
It’s even starting to look like it will fit up there with death and taxes.