Identity theft expert’s advice: Think like thief

Published 10:51 am Saturday, April 10, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC -- If inhabiting the shadowy side streets and shady cul-de-sacs of the information superhighway teach Lee Goehring anything, it's this:
Think like a thief.
When Goehring thinks like a thief it's to thwart bad guys who favor phishing, skimmers and spyware -- not to commit crimes, because he's vice president and loss prevention manager for 1st Source Bank in South Bend, Ind.
The increasing incidence of identity theft -- "someone taking your personal information and using your good name to carry out some sort of crime" -- has been the fastest-growing segment of crime the past three years, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC --
While most criminals bent on identity theft rely on computers, "You have that segment who aren't Internet savvy. You need to be attuned to what you're throwing in the trash, both at your place of business and at home."
Any kind of document containing personal information should be shredded before disposal, Goehring recommends. "Use cross-cut shredders instead of strip shredders. It's amazing that some of these people on drugs, when they're under the influence, they can actually deal with the tedious task of taking strip-shredded documents and putting them back together. It doesn't bother them. It would actually drive me nuts," he said.
Scams lurk around every corner. "This morning a woman came in with a letter saying she'd won $687,777 in the Madrid Sweepstakes. I asked her, 'Did you enter this?' to which she said, 'No.' "
Regarding residential and commercial burglaries, "Stop and think about all the papers you have in your home or business when you're away. You need to secure those documents, which are valuable to an identify thief. I spoke at a senior citizens center one day, then about six months later I went back. I told them at the first meeting to think like a thief and hide them. A woman raised her hand and said, 'I took your advice, but I forgot where I hid them and I had to go to the bank and order more checks.' Don't hide them that well." Purses and wallets are another concern if they contain Social Security cards. "Think about why. Do you really need it? That's one of the documents accepted by license branches, banks and credit card companies and retail stores for identification. We recommend you not carry credit cards unless you know there's going to be a need. Keep them hidden rather than walk around with a purse or wallet loaded with everything you own. If it's stolen, it's extremely valuable information."
Computers multiply the exposure. "Thieves can now steal your information without ever having to leave their own home…"
They don't have to rifle through trash, steal wallets or purses or break in to your home or business. Hackers use debit card numbers or credit card numbers to break into databases and get other customers' credit card numbers.
He suggests shopping only from reputable Internet sites and checking for a padlock in the right hand corner that suggests a secure site.
Yet and have been hacked into anyway.
A referral steers the person to a Web page with an official-looking logo and a screen to fill in personal information. "They look to be coming from reputable sites," he cautioned. "Kids in school go to the FDIC site, copy the logo and then paste it to an Internet page they're developing. When you click on it, you think you're at the FDIC site when you're at a crook's site."
Another tactic is revealed while downloading a file while surfing the Internet. "You may not know that spy software came with it. It sits there and monitors everything you're doing all day long when you're on your computer. Without your knowledge, it sends information out to the person's e-mail address who created the spy software. It reports PIN (personal identification numbers) you're entering at various Web sites you may use, it's recording your credit card numbers when you buy from these places of businesses, and you don't even know it's going on," Goehring said. "It copies your keystrokes as you tap."
Another risk for consumers is Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) found to have "skimmers" attached.
Goehring explained, "It's affixed over the card slot to make it look as though it's part of the ATM. It allows you to make your transaction, but the skimmer has copied the mag(netic) stripe of your card and they usually have a hidden camera that's recording the PIN number. Many of these they're relating to the Russian mafia. They've also discovered that some ATMs have the skimmers inside in places such as taverns, liquor stores, restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. They offer proprietors high fees for allowing them to put their ATM on that site. The business owner's glad to do it because it's income for them, but the skimmer's actually inside of the ATM. After the crook's gotten enough information or it gets too 'hot,' they pull the stuff out and counterfeit cards. We recommend whenever possible you use your own bank's ATM or another bank's. You don't know who owns an ATM in a convenience store."
First Source requires identity theft victims to file police reports and to notify the three credit bureaus.
Today thieves even use "number generators" to find credit card or debit card numbers which may access an account. To verify a good number, a $1 credit might be applied. "If you don't tell the bank, that extra buck tells the thief he's got a good number because it didn't come back as an unpostable item. Now they hit your account up for $300, $400 or $500 debits instead of a $1 credit." First Source allots a 14-day window to report unauthorized activity that shows up on a statement.