Be aware of several scams aimed at stealing identity

Posted Oct. 10, 2010, at 6:51 p.m.

Think identity theft isn’t a major headache?

It’s estimated the “average” victim loses nearly $1,900, spends $372 repairing the damage done to his or her credit rating and reputation, and uses 30 hours in time and effort to recover.

While anonymous Internet prowlers are the most likely predators, they are not the only thieves. In 16 percent of the cases, the victim knew the person who stole his or her identity. Six percent of victims discovered a friend or family member was responsible.

These sobering figures come from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, part of a coalition sponsoring National Protect Your Identity Week Oct. 17-23.

Sometimes ID thieves can find your personal information easily, for example, in old photocopiers. A company called Digital Copier Security Inc. says most copiers made since 2002 store the images they copy on a built-in hard drive; the images stay there until they are erased or a full drive eliminates the oldest files to make room for new ones.

Copy machines are often re-sold without having those files erased. For identity thieves, such machines are heaven-sent. Security companies can clear out old data for a fee, or sellers can remove the drive and make sure any data it contains is destroyed. Also, be sure cell phones, PDAs and other data-storing devices are cleaned up before selling or giving them away.

A relatively new threat is known as the timeshare scam. It can work in two ways. In the first, a caller says a timeshare is available at a “special price,” and all you need do is send some money to cover some fee. That’s the last you hear of your money or the caller.

In the second scam, a crook might take the owners of a timeshare to dinner and tell them some financial changes require them to pay several thousand dollars or face higher penalties. The crook might have the owners fill out paperwork revealing their personal and financial information. Even if they manage to get their money back, the owners’ information is still at risk and they will need to keep checking their credit reports, likely for life.

Another fairly new scam targets businesses. In Colorado, the state recently suggested businesses ask for alerts from the branch of government that registers businesses. This came after thieves accessed the state department database and changed the contact information and often the address of the targeted business. Then the thieves applied for lines of credit using the falsified information, obtaining funds they had no intention of paying back.

The FBI warned of a scam this summer on Facebook, with strong appeal to younger people. A video supposedly telling “the truth about Coke [Coca-Cola]” included a button to skip the video that linked to a poll, which asked for personal information.

A new twist on mass e-mailing to gain personal information, or phishing, is called “spear fishing.” It’s an e-mail scam targeting an individual, maybe referring to a pending business or legal matter. A link which, when clicked, takes the reader to a spoofed website or installs malware on the reader’s computer. That spyware can send personal information to the thieves when the reader is online.

Visit protectyouridnow.org, a website created specifically to mark Protect Your Identity Week. The site is loaded with tips on keeping your personally identifiable information out of the hands of thieves. The Identity Theft Resources Center at idtheftcenter.org is another nonprofit agency trying to minimize threats.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, or go to http://necontact.wordpress.com.

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