My message to college students
Guard Your Personal Information – It’s Worth a Lot!
Last week I found a small wallet in my class. It had a driver’s license, credit cards and a bunch of other personal information as well as some keys. I turned it in to the lost and found. I hope its returned to the owner soon.
In August of 2008 Anna Bernanke, wife of Ben Bernanke, Chair of the Federal Reserve, had her purse stolen at a Starbucks. The purse contained her Social Security card, a checkbook, several credit cards and IDs. She never got it back.
A few days later someone started cashing checks written on the Bernanke bank account. Then the ever-expanding scheme involved a criminal gang using stolen IDs, bank records, personal checks and other items to impersonate Bernanke and other victims at bank branches.
Over time the case grew bigger and bigger with hundreds of victims losing their personal information which was then used to commit crimes. The fraud so far has totaled more than $2.1 million and involved at least 10 financial institutions and so far 500 instances are traced to the crime ring involved.
According to bankteck.com, a man by the name of George Lee Reid walked into a Bank of America branch in Hyattsville, Md. He supposedly deposited a $900 check under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Bernanke into a third person’s account. Then, the allegation goes, he withdrew $9,000 from that person’s account, using other stolen identities.
When they discovered the unusual bank activities the Bernanke’s immediately contacted Wachovia Bank and the credit-card companies. I hope they also called the local police to report the theft because that is the required and recommended procedure.
The ring of thieves, which began this ID theft spree “ … has used different approaches to stealing information, … from pickpockets, to stealing mail, to planting people at businesses where they might have access to personal information.”
Interestingly the crooks were not using the fastest growing technique for ID theft crime, hacking peoples computers or using malware to steal information remotely through the use of the Internet.
Did you know that identity theft is the fastest growing crime the US? Millions of people fall victims to it every year. Almost 5% of Americans suffer some form of ID theft from financial to medical and even total ID theft (when someone pretends to be you, uses a passport and drivers license with your name, etc.). College students are very vulnerable to ID theft because of their lifestyle behavior and trusting nature. One problem according to is that “ … nearly a third of students said they rarely, if ever, reconcile their credit card and checking account balances, even though online banking makes this easier to do. In, addition, about half of all college students receive credit card applications on a weekly basis and throw out the forms without destroying them.”
There are many ways to get your confidential information and use it illegally:
• Dumpster Diving. People rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
• Skimming. Crooks steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card in a restaurant or store.
• Phishing. ID thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
• Changing Your Address. Criminals divert your billing statements to another location by completing a "change of address" form.
• "Old-Fashioned" Stealing. Thieves steal wallets and purses; intercept your mail, including bank and credit card statements; take pre-approved credit offers and activate them for themselves; and steal new checks. This was how the Bernanke’s got in trouble.
• The CellphoneSnatch and Laptop Legacy. Your wireless cell, smart phone, and laptop have a lot of information and often people put passwords, account numbers and other stuff in their phone. This becomes a great source of valuable information for criminals.
• FaceBooking. When you reveal too much personal and confidential information about yourself on FaceBook.
In my two books “who is you? the coming epidemic of identity theft” and the more recent “The Silent Crime” and on our blog (http://stolendata.blogspot.com/) we cover crimes such as this in detail. We also discuss ways you can reduce the chance that you will end up like the Bernanke’s. Mike McCoy, my co-author and I also teach this in workshops we do throughout the USA and Canada.
Our advice is that you Deter (theft), Detect (any irregular activity), and Defend yourself if you become the victim of this type of crime. College students are very vulnerable to ID theft so you should be careful and try to inform yourself.
The quickest way to know how to prevent or correct id theft is for you to go to the Federal Trade Commission web site and look at their ID theft alert information: http://www.ftc.gov/
The Bernanke’s case, the fact that famous and powerful people become victims of ID theft should be a sobering lesson for us all. Protect your personal confidential information.
©2009 Steffen Schmidt, Prof of Political Science, ISU. Reprinted with permission from syndication @ http://www.insideriowa.com, Iowa’s Internet Magazine.