A Scam-Free Vacation

A lost ID card, using unknown wireless connections, stolen smartphone, skimmers, or laptop theft can ruin that glow you acquired while you were away. You don’t want to have to deal with identity theft or lost devices. These tips from the FTC provide some peace of mind for vacationers.

The Rise of Identity Theft in Healthcare

The Identity Theft Resource Center produced a survey last month showing that medical-related identity theft accounted for 43% of all identity thefts reported in the US in 2013. This amount is far greater than identity theft involving banking, finance, the government, military or education. Since 2009, between 27.8 million and 67.7 million people have had their medical records breached.

Stolen medical information is generally used to commit insurance fraud and illegally obtain prescription drugs.

Unfortunately, this type of identity theft has one of the lowest recourses for victims. They experience financial repercussions and may often find erroneous information added to their medical files. According to James Pyles, a Washington, DC lawyer, “It’s almost impossible to clear up a medical record once medical identity theft has occurred.”

Identity theft occurs when someone gains unauthorized access to the medical information, and passes it on without permission (20%) or when systems are hacked (14%).

But the majority of identity theft (over 50%) occurs when the theft of a computer or other medical device is involved. This is why it’s so important to protect those devices. “We say, encrypt, encrypt, encrypt,” says Rachel Seeger, a spokesperson for the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Read the full story online.

Why Debit Cards Are Riskier

The recent IS&T article “Tips for Shopping Safely Online” mentions that using a debit card is riskier for shopping than using a credit card. A colleague wondered how much of this was true, so I decided to do a little bit of research. These are some reasons why:

  • Payments made with credit cards are charged to the lender, who takes the risk and covers you for fraud. You can make a dispute claim and have the charge removed from your account. You simply decline the charges and don’t have to pay the bill. Debit cards are tied directly to a bank account, so payment is almost instant and charges are billed to you, the client, rather than the intermediary credit lender. Disputing a charge can take weeks to clean up, in the meantime leaving less funds in your account than you thought you had.
  • ATMs, where you withdraw cash from your bank account, are the perfect target for thieves. Outdoor ATMs are especially susceptible: the thieves install a skimming device that reads the magnetic strip on the back of the card, thereby stealing your financial information. Gas station payment machines are another place thieves install skimmers.
  • Stores are also targets for thieves. In 2009 Heartland Payment Systems discovered thieves had been stealing financial data right from the check-out card payment machines at 175,000 of their merchants, and several years later Michael’s was hit in a similar manner.

Of course, using a credit card comes with its own risks, such as interest rates and late fees. You can run up too much debt if you’re not careful. But for those of you who are financially responsible, credit cards can also earn you miles or other bonus points and rewards.

View more information about the differences between debit and credit cards at bankrate.com and this article on the NY Times.

Cyber Monday & Online Shopping

More people are expected to shop online on Cyber Monday than visit stores on Black Friday, according to American Express. The use of mobile devices for online shopping is projected to increase as well.

Whether you’ll be conducting transactions from your desktop, laptop or mobile device, keep these tips in mind to help protect yourself from identity theft and other malicious activity:

  • Secure your computer and mobile device by making sure they are current with all operating system and application updates. Anti-virus software should be installed and running.
  • Use strong passwords. When logging on to your computer or mobile device and when visiting sites or using applications for shopping, use passwords that are not used for other accounts.
  • Use applications with caution. Malware could be downloaded onto seemingly legitimate shopping applications, to steal credit card or other sensitive information.
  • Know your online merchants. Limit your shopping to merchants you know and trust. Go to them by typing in the URL rather than through a search bar. If you are unsure about a merchant, check with the Better Business Bureau or Federal Trade Commission.
  • Consider using an online payment system or credit card. Where available, use online payment services, which keep your credit card information stored on a secure server, and let you make purchases online without revealing your card details to retailers (example: PayPal). When you use a card online, use a credit, not debit card, which are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and may reduce your liability.
  • Look for “https” before you click to purchase. The “s” stands for secure and indicates the transaction will be encrypted. A padlock in your browser’s status window is another indicator.
  • Secure your browser. Make sure it is up-to-date with latest security patches. Turn off pop-ups and unwanted ads (some browser plug-ins can suppress ads on web pages). You may also set the browser status to “private,” so that your activity on the Web can not be traced, removing any history and cache information from others who may have access to the same device.
  • Do not use public computers or open wireless networks for your online shopping. Criminals may intercept traffic on public wireless to steal sensitive information. Make sure the settings for your computer or device prevent it from automatically connecting to open wireless spots.
  • Home wireless networks should be secure with authentication requirements and a strong password.
  • Be alert for scams. Cyber criminals try to take advantage of people’s generosity during the holiday season and can use fake charity requests to gain access to your information or computer/device. Think before clicking on emails making these requests. Don’t give your financial information to anyone via email, text or phone, especially when it is unsolicited.

More online shopping assistance can be found at:

Teaching Teens about Identity Theft

According to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “kids under the age of 18 are 51 times more likely to become victims of identity theft than their parents.”

This summer teens are likely to spend a lot of time online and many of them don’t think that anything can happen to them. They are much more likely to fall for a scam.

Learn what you can do to teach your teen about preventing identity theft.

Identity Theft: Not so Funny for Most of Us

I don’t know if you’ve seen it listed in the movie section of your local paper, but Identity Thief, the movie, was released a week or two ago. I was pretty excited to see this, considering that the main focus of my job is to help people protect against identity theft.

How quickly my excitement turned to disappointment, when I realized from the synopsis that the movie is a comedy. A poor sod gets his identity stolen by a unrepentant fraudster, who turns his credit rating into shambles and steals his carefully saved funds. He then goes on a mission to clear his name by going after her.

Not having seen the movie, I can’t say too much about it, except this: although it didn’t get high ratings from reviewers, it’s currently at the top of the past week’s box office ratings. So maybe there’s something to be said for wanting to see a victim go after his identity thief.

For those of us who can’t actually do this, here are some tips for preventing identity theft from occurring in the first place.

Online Shopping Risks During the Holiday Season

The trickery involved in a different form of phishing came to my attention this weekend. You may have already heard about phishing as it relates to emails. Phishing emails are spam messages that arrive in our mailboxes and pretend to come from a legitimate entity, such as a bank or your school’s email administrator and then attempt to obtain your credentials so that they can access your email account, your bank account or any of your other online accounts. A keen eye and suspicious mind will go far to prevent you from falling for these scams.

What you might not be as familiar with is internet phishing. This is when you visit a website that you might already trust or which has a good reputation and so you have no reason to suspect foul-play. Even so, some scammer has managed to compromise a portion of that site so that when you are submitting your personal information, you are actually submitting it to a cyber criminal.

An example I saw this weekend involved renting a vacation property via a popular website. When submitting an inquiry or deciding to place a reservation, the victim is unaware that he is sending his information to the phisher, rather than to the property owner/manager. The phisher intercepts the client’s credit card information and the victim is unaware that not only did the inquiry or reservation not go through, but his credit card could now be compromised. In this example, the phisher impersonated the owner/manager and perhaps already gained access to his or her email account.

Today is Cyber Monday, kicking off the online shopping season, and cyber criminals are out there busily setting traps for the unwary shopper.

This news article provides some tips to help you have a safe and pleasant online shopping experience this holiday season. In addition, if you experience fraud via a website, be sure to let the owners of the website know so that others don’t fall victim as well.