Just because we live in a high-tech world doesn’t mean our identities can’t be stolen by low-tech evil doers. While we live in constant fear of getting ripped off by super hackers, it’s the street-level criminals who are still our real concern. A vast majority of personal information-related fraud is still done the old-fashioned way by analog crooks operating in a digital world.
Here are some of their favored techniques:
Basically, they just walk up to your mailbox and grab what’s inside. If it’s outgoing, they can make use of the checks you’re sending out in order to pay bills. Although check usage as a whole continues to go down every year, check fraud is still a major concern. If they grab your incoming mail before you get it, they can have a field day with checks sent to you as well as credit card offers and other personal mail.
Your car or truck is vulnerable to break ins – especially if you’re one of those people who never bothers to lock it. And even if you do, a broken window gives them full access to whatever is inside. Ideally, you’re not the sort who leaves your wallet, purse, checkbook or sensitive documents in your vehicle because, if you are, you’re begging for trouble.
To everyday, honest citizens it seems crazy that there are people out there who have nothing better to do with their time than to go through people’s trash looking for documents they can use to commit fraud; but these people do exist. Bills, bank statements, official documents, anything listing your social security number – all these should be shredded before being placed in the trash.
In this grift, the scammer places a help-wanted ad and sets up interviews with potential candidates, perhaps in a rented office space. In the course of the application process, they ask for the applicants’ particulars, including social security number. Then, they have that information, plus anything they can glean from the resume the applicant has provided.
Online Dating Scams
The internet romance seeker can run afoul of seasoned scammers. Things start out innocently enough, but in time, the scammer will begin to ask for money, often by playing the sympathy card. The amounts requested can be small at first, but then rise over time.
Direct Sale Scams
You should also be cautious when purchasing items advertised for sale on Craigslist and other local online listing sites. Even if you agree to meet in a safe, public place to make the sale, fraudsters can very easily use counterfeit bills or a fraudulent cashier’s check to pay for the items. By the time the seller realizes the cash or check is fake, it is often too late to do anything about it. While not an identity-theft scam, this could still cost you money.
How does one stay vigilant in the face of all this dishonesty?
Be vigilant: Your identity is the coin of the realm in modern commerce. Protect it like you would your own life.
Be skeptical: If something seems to be too good to be true, there’s a huge probability that it is. Skepticism is your armor in the battle against scammers. Remember that many of them prey not only on gullibility, but on the innate desire in all of us to latch onto a good thing. Google before you act. Make sure enterprises with which you are engaging are legit.
Shred it all: Buy a shredder and use it to destroy any sensitive documents you might otherwise be putting directly in the trash. If you’ve allowed a great deal of documents to pile up – more than a small home-use shredder can handle – then make use of free ‘shredder days’ that are sometimes hosted by local banks or pay a professional service or office store to use their high-end devices to get rid of your stuff. They usually charge by the pound, but it is well worth it.
Assume the worst: The person who leaves their wallet or checkbook in their car is someone who cannot envision something bad coming of such an action. Simply imagine what would happen if someone broke into your vehicle and took your most sensitive documents or got information from your garbage can. If you can put that image in your head, then you’ll better be able to do the simple things needed to avoid these fears from becoming reality.