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Identity Theft and Internet Scams

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 3.2 million citizens are victims of Identity Theft each year. Every 10 seconds another American is a victim of this crime. Being aware of the latest scams could help you avoid becoming one of these victims. The following contains information regarding some of the most common scams.

Phishing and Pharming
Phishing schemes involve the use of 'spoofed' e-mails to lead consumers to counterfeit websites designed to trick recipients into divulging financial information such as personal identity data, financial account credentials, credit card numbers, account usernames, passwords and social security numbers. Hijacking brand names (making the email appear as though it is from a legitimate business) of banks, e-retailers and credit card companies, phishers often convince recipients to respond. The best defense against phishing is to distrust email messages, especially ones that ask you to enter sensitive information into a website, and to distrust hyperlinks in email messages. Another defense is to have your browser set to tell you the name of the site you are really visiting.

Similar to phishing, pharming schemes seek to obtain personal or private information – usually financial – through domain spoofing (creating a site that closely resembles a legitimate site). Rather than attempting to attract users through email, pharming involves the planting of crimeware (programs) onto personal computers through email viruses or Trojan viruses that could alter the behavior of Internet browsers. This means that when you direct your browser to a particular site, the pharming software will hijack that request, sending you elsewhere. Your browser will show you as being at the site where you intended to go, which makes pharming difficult to detect. In other words, "pharming" attacks the translation process, and tricks your computer into somehow accepting a false translation. If your computer accepts a false translation for "citibank.com," then when you communicate with "citibank.com" your packets will go to the identity thief’s IP address, and not to the IP address of Citibank. One of the best defenses against pharming is to ensure that your computers are protected with anti-virus and spyware programs to guard against contaminations.

The primary difference between phishing and pharming is that phishing attempts to scam people one at a time with an email while pharming allows scammers to target large groups of people individually through the creation of internet sites that closely resemble legitimate sites (domain spoofing).

Counterfeit Check and Money Wire Transfer
You advertise an item for sale on the Internet. An out of state buyer offers to buy your item and sends you a fake cashier’s check several thousands of dollars over your asking price. When you contact the buyer regarding the difference they claim that they made an error and request that you wire the difference to them via a money transfer service. DO NOT DO THIS. Do not deposit the check into any of your accounts. Many banks will often cash these fake cashier’s checks and then hold you responsible when the check fails to clear. If this occurs, simply return the check (and do not send the sold item until you have a legitimate check for the correct purchase price).

Lottery or Big Prize Scam
Legitimate lottery, prize and sweepstakes administrators never charge up-front fees to deliver your prize. This is one of the most common scams, and if you send money you will never get it back.

Credit Offer Fraud
Students and people who have experienced credit problems are often approached by fraud artists who offer low-interest loans and credit cards, and, in some cases, credit repair– for a FEE. People who pay the FEE don’t receive either their loan or credit card and they never get their money back.

Recognizing Identity Theft
Never give out driver’s license, bank account or social security numbers on the phone or Internet. Legitimate businesses contacting you by those means won't ask for that information. If you are making a purchase, be sure you are buying from a legitimate business before giving credit card information. For more information, visit the Better Business Bureau Online (www.bbbonline.org).

Overseas Scams
If you receive an email from another country requesting your help with any type of financial dealings, the best thing to do is to ignore the email. The main crimes that are committed in this manner are those having to do with credit cards, banking, inheritance, the Internet and false lottery winnings.

Be very wary of doing business with individuals or companies in other countries. While the vast majority of these are legitimate, it is always wise to be cautious. If something were to go wrong with your transaction, you may be at the mercy of the other country’s laws and regulations.

Green Dot Scams

A current scam, seen all across the country, involves suspects (from other countries) calling people (in the United States) and disguising their caller ID with "Magic Jack" type systems. This allows the suspects to make the caller ID show anything they want (e.g. police department name, federal agency name, etc.). The suspects then say they represent the said agency and the person owes a specific amount of money (i.e. fine, back taxes). If the person does not pay, police will come to their house, right now, and arrest them. The person is directed to pay the fine with Green Dot (or other) payment cards. Once the person gets the payment cards, he/she reads the card number to the suspect over the phone. The suspect, realizing he has contacted the person susceptible to a scam, then goes on to say the fine is a little more and directs the person to get more cards. This goes on until the person can not pay anymore or wises up.

Law enforcement and/or legitimate government agencies will NEVER ask for payment, via a Green Dot type card, over the phone. If there is any question about the legitimacy of a call (requiring payment), call SCPD and ask to speak to the desk officer.

For more information, see Tips & Resources regarding Identity Theft

Last updated: 8/27/2013 9:06:33 AM