East Toledoan just one of many to have bank account raided
Angela still isn’t sure how the thief got her debit card information and stole $2,340.65 out of her bank account.
While this East Toledoan was frustrated that the theft came days before her mortgage and other bills were due, that was nothing like the frustration she felt because she works at a bank and is enrolled in a fraud protection program.
“I still don’t know how they got it. That’s probably the most worrisome,” she said.
The incident happened on the last weekend in February. The thief made 16 purchases, all to cell phone companies in Arkansas, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. Angela‘s bank called on Monday and shut down the account. Thirty days later, Angela is still waiting for the last $954 to be refunded. Luckily, she paid her mortgage and other bills with an emergency fund.
Angela doesn’t use ATMs and the only two places she used her card that weekend were at a grocery store and a restaurant. She thinks her card was “skimmed” by a clerk or waitress.
Skimming involves the use of a skimmer, a small hand-held card reader that captures the information encoded on the card’s magnetic strip. This method is growing exponentially, says Tom Glanville, executive director of Identity Theft Loss Prevention, an anti-fraud company that advises businesses. Just recently, 13 people who visited a restaurant south of Toledo incurred $41,000 in damages when an employee skimmed their cards.
Glanville said members of identity theft rings apply for low-level jobs at businesses and institutions with the intent of stealing personal information. They’ll make more selling this information than they will at their jobs.
This newest method is just one of the reasons identity theft was for the ninth consecutive year the number one complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission. In 2008, the FTC handled 313,982 identity fraud complaints, 26 percent of all consumer complaints.
Credit card fraud, at 20 percent of all identity theft fraud, was the most common followed by government documents/benefits fraud, employment fraud and phone or utilities fraud. The losses are staggering. The credit card payment industry lost more than $1 billion in 2008, Glanville claims.
The newest document-fraud is using stolen information to file a phony tax return. The thief gets the refund and when the victim files his return he gets a call from the IRS, says Denise Richardson, a consumer advocate with givemebackmycredit.com.
Richardson, who had her identity stolen three times and who has worked in the identity theft field for 15 years, said benefit fraud has also been growing. Stolen insurance information is being used to buy prescription drugs and pay for medical care. Last year, the FTC fielded nearly 16,000 such complaints.
Richardson says we should brace for more during these recessionary times. “Most people are not criminals. They aren’t going to go out rob their neighborhood convenience store. But, if they hear identity theft is a high-reward-low-risk crime, they’re more apt to do that. Nowadays, criminals would rather steal your information than the money in your wallet.”
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
Take these four steps for starters:
Use cash or a credit card, not a debit card. Your liability is less and if a thief gets your bank information through a debit card he can wipe out your bank accounts;
• Purchase fraud protection;
• Don’t give out your social security or driver’s license number unless it is absolutely necessary;
• Make sure your computer operating system and virus protection is up to date, and change your passwords periodically using a combination of numbers and letters.
Richardson says most of us create passwords we can remember easily. We use family names, addresses, pet names or school mascots. Savvy thieves gather public information about you and use that to crack your passwords.
While skimming and hacking are two high-tech ways to capture your personal financial information, they are not the most popular in the City of Oregon, according to Detective Sgt. Tim Zale.
Zale says on-line banking is secure as well as most Internet sites. The identity theft cases he investigates mostly involve thieves pilfering mail, particularly from apartment complexes, and stealing purses from unoccupied cars and unattended shopping carts.
“Internet is not really your problem, it’s guarding your stuff around you,” he says.
Sgt. Zale said he tracked some stolen credit card numbers to a gang in Chicago. “It’s getting worse every year,” he says. He added that some gangs have replaced drug dealing with stealing identities as their revenue source.
Be careful and shop wisely.