Electronic Fraud and Identity Theft
Human beings are pretty sensible when presented with an
imminent threat or risk. That is, if it's staring us
directly in the face. Many threats and risk are presented in
subtle ways, and it is these subtleties we tend to
It's The Little Things We Tend To Overlook
Thousands of years ago, it was the subtle things that caused
us to take action, to error on the side of caution and
protection. A good example, the reports regarding animals
seeking refuge early on during the tsunami that claimed the
lives of over 300,000 people this past January. Over time,
most people have lost the ability to identify the signs,
determine the probability, validity, and impact of certain
threats and risk.
Making Assumptions vs. Staying Vigilant
At home, my family has given me the nickname "Safety Dad". I
tend to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to the safety and
protection of my family, probably to a fault. I take a
similar position on the security of my computer systems and
my financial well-being. On the other hand, I tend to make
assumptions about things when I should not. For the most
part, I like to think that people are good natured. I
believe the majority of people would like to think this way.
The sad fact is, this is an assumption that can impact us
greatly, and not in a positive manner.
The purpose of this article is to share with you my thoughts
and position on some of the basic things you can do to
protect yourself from several types of threats. Particularly
those that involve electronic fraud and Internet fraud.
Although some of these items are not directly related to the
Internet, the moment someone has your private or financial
information (identity theft), the Internet will be one of
the first places they visit.
(Protect Yourself Against Electronic Fraud)
Automated Teller Machines (ATM) & Skimmers
Have you ever heard of a "Skimmer"? If you haven't, you need
to be aware the risk this presents you. Skimmer's are
devices that appear to be a legitimate part of an automated
teller machine but are in fact, fake card readers. They
capture all the information stored on the magnetic stripe on
the back of the card. Skimmer's have been around for quite
some time but their use is on the rise again. The following
link will show you what a skimmer may look like and how it
Did you know the cost to a bank or ATM vendor is minimal if
their machine is compromised, but to you it may be severe?
The company that owns the ATM only has to worry about the
cost to replace the machine, plus the amount of money
inside. You, on the other hand, stand to loose not only your
bank account funds, but possibly your identity.
Phishing and Web Site Redirection
This type of electronic fraud comes in many forms, and is
one of the most popular ways of collecting private
information, and money from the masses. Why? Because it is
simple to do and very effective.
If you receive an e-mail from your bank, credit card
company, or other online merchant like, Ebay.com or
Amazon.com, requesting information such as passwords and
financial info, delete it and report it immediately. Many of
these e-mails link you to web sites that look exactly like
that of the real company but are in fact fakes. Take a look
at Ebay's Online Security and Protection section to get an
idea of what you need to do in order to identify scams like
If you receive an e-mail from someone promising you millions
of dollars if you assist them with their finances, delete it
immediately!. Some of these scams have been running for
years and new ones surface frequently. I recently saw one
supposedly from the wife of the late Yasser Arafat,
promising millions of dollars if someone would help her
establish a trust fund in the US. The reasons these types of
e-mail scams are so wide spread is because they are highly
effective and relatively easy to do. Thousands of people get
ripped off by these scams every day. To see examples of
several recent scams, take a look at the following Phishing
Another good source of information on these types of scams
can be found at the State of NY Banking Department.
Credit Card Fraud
Never place your credit card face up when paying for
something. Many people will simply place their credit card
on the table, face up, when paying for a meal, for instance.
In the time it takes for the server to pick up your check,
someone walking by can visually scan your card for
everything they need to go on an Internet shopping spree.
There are thieves that specialize in this type of fraud.
When paying for something, particularly at a restaurant,
check to see if the full or partial credit card number is on
the merchant receipt. In most cases, only the partial number
is visible. However, when the full number is there, I cross
out all but the last four digits with a pen. The merchant
has already scanned the card at this point, they should not
need a paper backup of the number.
If your credit card is stolen, lost, or used fraudulently,
you can call your card company and speak with the fraud
department. However, I recommend you contact your card
company's credit line department first. This is the
department that can extend your credit almost
instantaneously. They can also decrease it within seconds
as well. If you have a limit of $5,000, they can reduce it
to $100 immediately, then pass you to the fraud department.
Call your card company and request the direct number to this
department and make a record of it.
If you notice someone swiping your card more than once when
paying for an item, ask them why. Regardless of how sensible
the answer is, call your card company and request a list of
the last few transactions, you might be surprised what you
If your card company sends you checks to use for cash
advancements and you don't plan on using them, don't keep
them around, shred them immediately. We get these all the
time in the mail. As far as shredders go, everyone should
have one. You can pick up a small one for under $30 and it
is well worth the investment.
Any statements or correspondence you have regarding your
credit cards should be in a secure place or shredded.
Credit Reporting & Monitoring
Thoroughly review your credit report at least every 90 days,
more frequently if possible. It's better to find out sooner
than later if someone else's actions are negatively
impacting your credit report, trust me. There are three
major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and
TransUnion. They all have reporting and monitoring solutions
available. Some of these services may be free of charge.
If you find something strange on your credit report, contact
the credit reporting agency immediately. In addition to
calling them (if possible), send them a certified letter
describing what you have found. It's very important to
document any and all correspondence on these matters.
I am sure this information may be old news to some.
However, if just one person reads this article and learns
something new, then my objective has been met.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from electronic
fraud and identity theft is to ask questions. Primarily, ask
yourself whether or not the particular situation you are
faced with makes sense? Why would your bank request
information from you via e-mail? Why would someone in
another country be willing to give you millions of dollars
to assist them with their banking woes?
There is a certain percentage of our population who has
absolutely no morality when it comes to the acquisition of
wealth. These people know the risk of getting caught is
minimal. In many cases, even if they do get caught, they are
willing to deal with the consequences given the potential
monetary payoff. Stay vigilant and educate yourself on these
matters. It really is the best way to protect yourself
against the myriad of threats and risks we are presented
About The Author
Darren Miller is an Information Security Consultant with
over sixteen years experience. He has written many technology
& security articles, some of which have been published in
nationally circulated magazines & periodicals. Darren is a
staff writer for http://www.defendingthenet.com and several other
e-zines. If you would like to contact Darren you can e-mail
him at mailto:email@example.com or
mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to know
more about computer security please visit us at
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