Keeping Up With the Identity Thieves

Eric Mikkelson |

Identity thieves are upping their game. In their relentless pursuit of your personal identifying information (PII) they are constantly evolving in their technology and their techniques to stay one step ahead of you. It is up to you to take every precaution you possibly can, but even that may not be enough. You also need to stay abreast of how they are changing their game. These are a few of the methods law agencies are reporting as increasing in use.

Credit Card Skimmers

Although credit card skimming has been around for a while as a proven method for stealing credit card information, it is becoming more wide spread because anyone can now buy a skimmer for $40 online. Card skimming devices are placed on ATMs or point-of-sale terminals, such as at gas stations, waiting for victims.

We have long been warned to examine the card reader on the machine to look for anything out of the ordinary – a loose fitting, or an odd color.  But some of these skimming devices are very authentic looking, and now thieves are placing a PIN-snatching overlay over the keyboard to capture PIN numbers.  Even without that, thieves can watch your PIN entry from a nearby camera. The bigger threat may be the handheld skimmers. Anytime your credit card is out of your sight, it takes just a few seconds to swipe the card and capture your PII.

The best defense is to be overly vigilant. Don’t use ATMs in remote locations. At point-of-sale terminals use your cards that contain an EMV chip as they are harder to skim.

Phishing Scams

A phishing scam is when a scammer sends out an email posing as a legitimate company claiming there is some issue or error. The email will then either ask directly for personal information or provide a link to what appears to be a legitimate website, claiming that they need your personal information to resolve the issue.

During the holiday season, the twist on this scam may include individuals posing as shipping companies or online retailers, asking for personal information to resolve a shipping error. Their goal is to get personal information from people who are worried their online purchases won’t ship in time for Christmas. Another holiday flavor to this scam is individuals asking for charitable donations posing as a legitimate organization, hoping to cash in on your holiday generosity.

Consider the following tips on how to prevent identity theft from phishing scams:
• Don't click links in email messages.
• Type addresses directly into your browser or use your personal bookmarks.
• Check the site’s security certificate before you enter personal or financial information into a website.
• Don’t enter personal or financial information into pop-up windows.
• Keep your computer software current with the latest security updates.

Text Message Scams

Also called “smishing,” or SMS phishing, works very similarly to regular phishing. Scammers send out texts asking, for example, for your PIN to reactivate your debit card or to cancel some trial of a service to avoid charges. With cell phones being a popular Christmas gift these days, it may be time to discuss these types of scams with any children you may have at home.

To avoid this type of scam, on top of the above tips, don’t respond to any texts from numbers you don’t recognize, and alert your wireless provider to any suspicious texts.

Gift Card Scams

With this scam thieves will go into retailers and find gift cards that are yet to be purchased. They write down the numbers to the gift cards and track them electronically until they are purchased. Once activated upon purchase, the scammer will drain the funds leaving the gift card empty for its rightful owner. To avoid this scam, avoid purchasing gift cards that have either damaged or no packaging. If you feel uncomfortable buying a gift card you find in a store, you can always ask the staff if they have any in the back that haven’t been accessible to the public. Also, to further protect yourself, avoid buying gift cards from third party vendors you aren’t familiar with.

Fake Coupons

With everyone trying to save a little money on their Christmas shopping, coupons can be a handy resource. Unfortunately, there are scammers who set up websites that provide fake coupons in order to steal personal information. Be wary of websites offering coupons or discounts to third parties in exchange for personal information.

Counterfeit Gifts

Just as everyone is trying to save money with coupons, people are also on the hunt for deep discounts. Another scam to avoid this year is the sale of counterfeit goods. If this year’s newest smartphone or gadget is being sold for a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is! To avoid this type of scam, do your research on how to identify authentic goods, or purchase these items directly from the manufacturers.

This time of year is meant to be filled with giving and good cheer. Let’s keep it that way by protecting ourselves from unscrupulous individuals using the festivities as a guise for their scams. We hope these tips will keep you and your family safe during the holiday season.

*This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information provided is not written or intended as legal advice. This material was developed and produced by Advisor Websites and Bill Good Marketing to provide information on a topic that may be of interest.