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Tactics Used By Identity Thieves

So, how does an identity thief obtain your personal information? It’s not as hard as one would think. Several of these are occurring in the Mother Lode regularly. Most of the old school ways of stealing your identity has not changed over the years. However, people are still putting themselves at risk.

The largest and most time tested method we see in the Mother Lode is mail theft. This is where a thief will simply open your mail box, remove your mail; or just go through your mail and take the items they are looking for. To avoid this, you should use a locking security mailbox if possible. You may consider renting a P.O. Box at your local post office or private mail box vendor. You should always put your outgoing mail in a secure postal box. The raised red flag on your mail box in front of your home is a flag to identity thieves that there might be valuable information inside which they are looking for.

Dumpster diving is still high on the list as well. Yes, people still go around and go through peoples trash cans at night looking for documents which have sensitive information. Always shred unwanted documents containing personal information, as well as all unsolicited credit card or loan offers. When purchasing a shredder, look for a high quality cross-cut shredder. It’s easy for thieves to piece together papers shredded into horizontal strips.

Purse or wallet thefts are another bonanza for thieves. You would be amazed how many people leave their purses or wallets unattended in a shopping cart, or in their unlocked vehicle, and wonder away. Then when they return, their wallet or purse is gone. You might as well just hand your personal information over to a stranger. Sometimes the criminal is caught on store surveillance video. However, a lot of times the responsible is not from our area so we are unable to identify them. In these types of thefts, the thief starts taking advantage of you as quickly as possible, even before you have a chance to cancel your credit cards or freeze your accounts.

Minimize what you carry in your purse or wallet, especially the number of credit cards you carry with you. Never carry your Social Security card with you. Don’t carry PIN or account passwords with you. These are numbers which should be memorized or kept in a safe location inside your home.
Shoulder surfing for an identity thieve, can be just as fun as regular surfing for a surfer. They can obtain a large amount of valuable information in a very short time. A shoulder surfer observes your actions or eavesdrops to steal personal information. They look over your shoulder or stand close by. Many use a camera phone to record your conversation, or to capture valuable numbers.

Always shield keypads with your hand or body before entering your PIN, if they are not already safeguarded. Avoid sharing personal information over the phone in a public place, such as in a store or airport. If you must do so, lower your voice and shield your mouth from lip readers, plus look for an out of the way place.

Something which hit the Mother Lode a few years ago was credit and debit card skimmers. These units fit over the original card readers. As you insert your card, the account information is stored on the device. They are used in conjunction with keypad overlays, which will then capture your PIN number when you type it in.

The skimmers are often used at gas stations and ATMs. Before inserting your card, take a moment to examine the machine and look for extra pieces of plastic or anything which appears added on, wrong, or out of place. You can always run your fingers along the edge of the card reader to see if anything has been placed over it. Don’t use a machine if anything looks suspicious. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. You should report suspicious looking machines or devices to the owner or law enforcement.

Next time we will look at some simple things you can do when you are out and about to help protect your identity.

The information for these posts was gathered from several different sources such as; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigations, U.S. Government’s Online Safety Site, Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, as well as the Federal and State Departments of Justice.

The first part of this series is here.
Details to avoid charity scams, info here.
Protecting Bank Card Info is here.
Info to Safeguard Your Identity is here.