Identity thieves have become more sophisticated since the days when “shoulder-surfing” was the most common way thieves got their hands on your personal information. Some schemes pre-date the Internet and have received new life with electronic media and networks. In random order, here are five of the most common methods that thieves use to get their hands on your sensitive information.
1) Surfing the social network. Social networks such as MySpace and Facebook are great for keeping up your family and friends. Unfortunately, they are also a playground for Internet thieves. Thieves find a virtual smorgasbord of information about you, including your name, age, birth date, home town, and where you’re employed, from social network sites. All of that information can be used against you. Lately, some of the sites have provided extra tools to help you fight identity theft. They allow you to configure your profile so that only trusted friends can see your sensitive information. Using those tools and being careful about who you accept as a friend may save you from becoming a theft victim.
2) Dumpster Diving. The fact is, most people do not shred their old bills and bank account information, which means that taking out the trash twice a week is one of the more dangerous activities they do. Credit card offers or anything containing your name and address may be the key a thief needs to unlock your identity to steal from you. Obviously, a document shredder may be one of the best investments you ever make.
3) Your family and your friends. Statistics indicate that nearly one-half of all identity theft is done by friends and family members. All it takes is to carelessly leave your wallet or purse lying about at a friend’s or family members’ homes. Always keep track of your possessions no matter where you are and don’t let them out of your sight for even a moment. Check every credit card statement very closely to make sure there are no extra charges that you did not approve.
4) Phishing for information. This practice predates the Internet but has been revived and is still in use today by thieves all over the globe. This practice consists of an email that tries to direct you to a fake social network or bank site where you will unwittingly enter your personal information. The sites are not authentic although they can look almost exactly like familiar sites that you use every day. Another variation of this theme is the sweepstakes winner or political refugee from Nigeria who needs your help to get “millions” of dollars released. All they need in return is a few hundred dollars from your bank account to get the transaction done, and for this, you will be rewarded handsomely. Never open strange emails, especially ones that contain attachments, to avoid this scam.
5) Skimming for Dollars. Skimming is a relatively new, but sophisticated, way to steal your bank and credit information. It involves a device implanted inside gas pumps, ATMs, and other devices used by consumers that captures credit card information when the card is inserted. Crooks later download the information. Avoid this scam by always using a credit card at the pumps. Credit cards have stronger legal protections than a debit card against this theft process.