Identity thieves and credit card scammers are more relentless than ever in their pursuit of your personal financial information, and as more people are opting to conduct their shopping and their financial transactions online, the number of scams increases proportionately. Armed with nothing more than a computer keyboard and a geek’s knowledge of how to prowl the cloud, they work 24/7 from all corners of the globe to find new ways to ruin your life. This year will see a record number of scams and victims, so it is all the more vital that you do everything you can to protect yourself. While there are an untold number of active scams being perpetrated at any time, three have emerged as the most successful in robbing unsuspecting consumers of their identities and their money.
Watch Out for the Top Three Scams
Phishing scams have increased at an alarming rate, and even with all of the warnings that blanket the news and the Internet, many have succeeded. Phishing is the insidious and fraudulent practice of spamming out emails that look very much like a legitimate communication from a familiar source, such as a bank or a retailer, requesting personal information in exchange for a free offer, or to rectify an issue with an account, or to issue a winning prize or lotto reward.
The most recent, “high profile” scam used the discount ticket provider, StubHub (a subsidiary of E-Bay), as its Trojan Horse. The email, which looked to undiscerning eyes as a legitimate StubHub communication, contained a ticket receipt for a boxing event in Las Vegas, leading the reader to believe the tickets, costing over $2700, were charged to his account. The intent was to disturb readers into thinking an actual charge had occurred, enough so that they would click on the link in the email in order to let StubHub know that a mistake had been made. The link would direct the victim to a fake StubHub site where they would be asked to provide credit card information to verify the account. This particular scam may have originated from Eastern Europe which seems to be a hub for online scams.
If you think you have been phished, you can forward the email to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.IC3.gov. You can protect yourself by following the number one rule of Internet usage: Never, ever give your Social Security or card number, or any personal information to any online site that can’t be verified as a legitimate government or financial institution.
Gift Card Skimming
Gift card purchases are expected to explode this year. At almost $100 billion, it is obviously a huge target for scammers and thieves who love them because they aren’t encumbered with name identification. The most common scam is card number lifting. This is done simply by combing through the gift card racks at the store, copying down the number on the back of the card, and then searching for the number on the gift card registry online. When the card is finally purchased and activated, the thieves are then able to use the number to shop online. In another version of the scam, thieves will switch the activation sticker on the VISA or MasterCard gift cards so that when a purchaser activates the switched sticker it actually activates the one held by the thief.
You can protect yourself from a gift card scams in three ways:
- Don’t buy cards off the rack. Only buy cards that are kept behind the sales counter.
- Avoid packages that appear to be torn or tampered with. Look especially to see if the PIN has been exposed or the sticker is firmly in place.
- Do not buy gift cards from exchange or auction websites as there is a high probability they are stolen.
Credit Card Fraud
Credit card fraud is a trillion dollar industry for scammers and thieves, so it is not about to go away anytime soon. And, with the holiday season approaching, you become more vulnerable to fraud each time you use your credit card. Protecting yourself against fraud really comes down to common sense which, if you follow will keep you out of trouble. Here are five keys to preventing the most common fraudulent practices:
- We’ll repeat the #1 rule of credit card usage on the Internet: Never, ever provide your number to any website that you cannot absolutely verify as being a legitimate vendor or institution, and one that you can absolutely verify as being secured. And, never provide your number in an email.
- Never provide your card number to anyone over the phone. The only exception would be if you originated the call to a known entity such as a reputable retailer. Never give your card number when ordering food over the phone.
- Destroy any documents that contain your credit card number including your bills and receipts after you have reconciled your accounts each month. Never toss them in the garbage. Go paperless with all of your credit card accounts. Also, destroy all credit card applications
- Never write your PIN number or your credit card numbers down unless you plan on storing them in a secure location.
Carry as few cards with you as possible and never leave them out of your sight. Even in restaurants, you should be able to see where the waiter takes your card and that it is never left alone.
*This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information provided is not written or intended as tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any Federal tax penalties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel. Individuals involved in the estate planning process should work with an estate planning team, including their own personal legal or tax counsel. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a representation by us of a specific investment or the purchase or sale of any securities. Asset allocation and diversification do not ensure a profit or protect against loss in declining markets.