In an attempt to educate the public about potential online identity theft scams and threats, the United States Senate has announced a resolution to declare the month of June National Internet Safety Month.
The hope is that this resolution will help raise awareness of all the threats that lurk online, which could prevent millions of future identity theft cases from occurring.
The simple truth is most people aren’t aware of just how easy it is for their identity to be stolen online. There are many scams and tricks thieves use to steal your information without you even knowing you’re in danger. And it could be months before you get the unsettling news that your identity has been compromised.
Identity Theft Statistics
Identity theft continues to be a major problem. Here are just a few statistics that show how widespread these scams are.
- Identity theft is on the rise, affecting almost 10 million victims in 2008 (a 22% increase from 2007)
- Identity theft increased another 11% from 2008 to 2009
- Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion.
Common Online Identity Theft Scams
Before you do anything else online, learn about these common scams so you can protect yourself.
- Fundraising scams—Scammers have no moral boundaries. They will use whatever means necessary to get your personal information. Recently, the Federal Trade Commission released a statement warning consumers to watch out for “con artists trying to take advantage of the oil spill in the gulf” by pretending to be raising money for environmental causes. The same thing happened after the tragic earthquake in Haiti. Scammers posed as charitable causes, getting consumers to fork over money as well as personal information (credit card numbers, bank account info, SSN#, etc.) so they could steal their identities. The lesson? Always have your guard up because scammers will stoop to the lowest levels to steal your identity.
- Online job postings—Scammers will also post fake employment opportunities on job websites and bulletin boards to trick potential applicants into sending over their Social Security numbers and other personal information. With the high unemployment rate, you can bet there are more job posting scams than ever before as scammers are taking advantage of desperate job seekers who have little leverage and will do anything they believe is necessary to nail down that job.
- Free trials and cheap price scams—Recently, we discussed some of the free trial scams plaguing the internet. In addition to running up your credit card bills, some of these free trials are also fronts for identity theft rings. You should always be on the lookout for retailers offering free trials or prices that seem way too good to be true. If you don’t know the merchant, take a little time to do your research before you send over that credit card number. A little precaution now can save you huge headaches later.
- Phishing and Spoofing—Phishing and spoofing are the most popular techniques used to steal identities online. The way it works is scammers send bogus emails where they pose as someone you know and trust. They could pose as your bank or the IRS, asking for you to give out personal information. On the surface, you might think it’s legit, but the truth is these emails almost never come from who they seem. Remember, most reputable merchants and institutions will never contact you via email asking for your information. So, anytime you see an email like this, red flags should go up in your head.
- Peer to peer dangers—If you’re one of the millions who downloads music, movies, and other programs through peer-to-peer networks, your identity could be at a very high risk for getting stolen. There are several ways this can happen. You could unknowingly have files containing personal information available for sharing. Or more likely, the files you download from others could contain hidden programs that root through your computer and steal your personal information. If you use peer-to-peer programs, you’re at risk.
- Jury duty scams—Another new scam comes from scammers posing as local courts notifying you that you’ve failed to report for jury duty. The scammer will ask for your personal information to verify your jury duty status. This gives them all the information needed to commit identity theft. This scam most commonly takes place over the phone, but it can be done through email too.
The FTC has set up OnGuard Online, a website that offers the latest tips and tools for avoiding and reporting identity theft scams.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? What did you do to resolve the problem?