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Identity thieves don't take a holiday: Scams to avoid

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The middle of December is prime time for identity thieves. Shoppers are even more frantic in their efforts to find gifts quickly, become less cautious in their haste, and open their doors to friends who may not be as honest as you think.

In an exclusive interview with Victor Searcy, the Director of Fraud Operations at IDT911, he described some scams that their victim advisors are hearing about more and more.

The first is a shipping scam. Searcy described it as yet another email scam. “In this situation a consumer receives an email that is alleging to be from a well-known shipping company like FedEx or the UPS. The email states that they have a package for you that was undeliverable and then provides a link in order for you to obtain the shipping details and to set a new delivery time. Of course the link then installs malware on your computer.”

Malware or programs that either have viruses attached to them or turn your computer into a bot can be more dangerous than giving out your credit card number to a fraud artist. If you bank online and manage your other financial accounts via your computer a malware download can open the door to finding all account information. Before you know it your accounts will be overdrawn and you are left to clear up the mess.

The next scam Searcy warned about is travel deals that start with a fraudulent advertisement. “We all want good travel deals in order to visit our families or bargain prices on gifts for our loved ones. The criminals are aware of this and take advantage of this opportunity to create advertisements that seek to bring you to their sites. The hope is that through the “purchase” process you will disclose personal and/or financial data. Often the process may also expose you to malware.”

The theme to all of these scams is the same – to try to install malware and/or obtain sensitive information. Searcy said that the best defense is a good offense. He went on to talk about several steps consumers can take to avoid problems. The first was always having a current version of anti-malware and anti-virus protection. He warned about trusting emails from unknown sources and to never click on links or download files sent in emails unless you verify the person actually sent it. Finally always be suspicious and cautious.

These are the same warning law enforcement across the country have been saying for years but during the holidays we are especially open to the hundreds of attacks by thieves. Unfortunately most of us don’t find out about the deception until sometime in January or February.

Finally, this is the time of year we open the door to friends and family. As an id theft expert, I highly recommend that you take the time to hide all valuables including mail, any papers with account numbers, and your laptop or mobile device. You never know which guest might be willing to commit “family identity theft.”

Password protect any devices you might be traveling with and change your passwords when you get back. Never leave a mobile device in a hotel room when you go out. Hotel personnel do steal.

A happy holiday is a safe one. One of my clients had her credit card numbers stolen at the beginning of December. The thief had a great holiday based on the bills and all she got was a poster from the Disney Stores for being a valuable customer. The thief apparently liked to shop there.

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