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Protect Yourself From Fraud, Scams and ID Theft: Social Media Often Makes Thief's Job Easy

by and on March 07, 2013 8:21 AM

With the continued evolution of social media and smart phones, the issues of fraud, scams and identity theft are as pressing and relevant as ever.

Last week, Penn State Federal Credit Union, with the help of area law enforcement, presented information on these concerns, and ways to protect against them, as part of its “Fraud, Scams & ID Theft Seminar”. The event was held at the Centre County/Penn State Visitor’s Center.

Amy Shuey, with the Penn State Fedal Credit Union, said CBS News reports that every 79 seconds, a thief steals someone’s identity, opens accounts in the victim’s name and goes on a buying spree. And, according to Experian, a global leader in consumer and business credit reporting, as many as 9 million Americans have their identity stolen each year.

However, these figures may be low, Shuey said, since many don’t realize their identity has been stolen.

Once crooks receive a victim’s information, they are able to open a new account in his or her name and go shopping; call the card issuer and change the billing address; take out loans, buy cars, get phone service in the victim’s name; and authorize electronic transfers to drain the victim’s account, Shuey said.

The top five scams of 2012 were: the social networking scam, the telephone denial service attack scam, renter’s scam, charity scam and work-at-home scan, Shuey said.

For the social networking scam, a scammer could hack into Facebook to find a victim’s “friends” list. With this list of people, the scammer is able to pose as the victim’s “friends,” say he or she is in an emergency situation, and ask the victim to wire money.

Some examples include stories of people being mugged, stuck overseas without money, and other dire situations, Shuey said.

The telephone denial service attack scam involves a crook using software to overwhelm the phone lines so the victim’s bank cannot reach the victim in the case of a hacking or suspicious activity, Shuey said.

“Meanwhile, someone’s stealing your credit cards and draining your bank account,” she said.

There are texting scams -- victims receive text messages asking them to verify debit card information. Thieves can then make charges using the account. There is also skimming, in which a thief swipes a victim’s credit or debit card information by placing a swipe device on an ATM machine.

Some online fraud schemes include spamming, or sending unsolicited email indiscriminately to multiple mailing lists, individuals or newsgroups; spoofing, which is creating a replica of a legitimate website to fool a victim into submitting personal, financial or password information; and phishing, which is luring victims to a fake website through spam, she said.

To protect against some of these scams, Shuey recommends never clicking on suspicious links or opening unfamiliar email attachments.

“You want to make sure you have anti-virus software on your computer,” she said, adding that it is not advised to check credit card statements or other personal accounts on public computers, such as at a hotel or library.

In instances where a social security number is asked for, Shuey said people may want to avoid giving it out under these circumstances: over the phone, on personal checks, on club memberships, as identification for store purchases, and as general identification.

Shuey said there are a variety of warning signs that a victim’s account has been hacked or identity stolen, such as if monthly statements contain fraudulent charges or suddenly stop arriving; mail doesn’t come for several days; denial of credit for no apparent reason; bills start coming in from unfamiliar companies; and credit collection agencies start calling.

“Make sure you always know when you’re getting your statements,” she said.

However, oftentimes there aren’t any warning signs at all, Shuey said.

That’s why it’s advised for people to check their credit reports and to always know what charges are on credit cards.

Victims of fraud, scams or identity theft have the following options:

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

2. Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Theft Hotline at 877- IDTHEFT

3. Close affected accounts

4. Follow each conversation with a certified letter, return receipt requested; keep copies

5. File a police report and send report to creditors

For more information about the FTC visit www.ftc.gov. For more information about Penn State Federal Credit Union visit www.pennstatefederal.com.



This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Staff Writer at The Centre County Gazette
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