Identity thefts set record high

(U-WIRE) E-mail scams, digging through trash, stealing mail and creating fraudulent Web pages are just a few ways thieves can steal someone’s identity.

The Federal Trade Commission released its annual “Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data” list Wednesday.

For the seventh year in a row, identity theft ranks number one on the list of complaints filed with the FTC, making up 32 percent of the complaints.

Victims between the ages of 18 and 29 make up 28 percent of the complaints filed for identity theft in the United States in 2007. This group ranked the highest among all age groups.

Dave Abernathy, vice president of operations at the Ball State Federal Credit Union, said he thinks students and people older than that group are equally hit by identity theft problems, but students take more chances.

“Students are more technologically advanced,” Abernathy said. “They’re willing to get out there and play.”

Sarah LaChat, coordinator of technology and documentation services for University Computing Services, said Ball State does a lot to protect students and their information.

“Ball State goes above and beyond industry standards to ensure confidential information is protected,” she said. “The university has policies and procedures in place to help prevent confidential data from being misused or stolen.

Ball State uses Microsoft’s Exchange Hosted Services to filter e-mails, LaChat said. This blocks several million messages per day and helps to cut back on the number of phishing e-mails students receive, she said.

“Phishing,” which is a way of getting someone’s log-in information by copying a Web page, is one of the most common ways to trick someone into giving out personal information, LaChat said.

Abernathy said in order to protect clients from phishing, the Ball State Federal Credit Union Web site requires a confidence word when they log in. This helps the person know that they have not been hyperlinked to a fraudulent bank site, he said.

There are several ways people can get enough information to steal someone’s identity, he said.

“Dumpster diving” is when someone finds information, such as credit cards or old mail, in the trash and uses the information to obtain a credit report online, Abernathy said. Once they have a credit report, they have enough basic information to order a free credit report in the victim’s name, which will then provide them with account numbers. The same can also be done by stealing a person’s mail, he said.

Most of the problems with identity theft come from the Internet, he said. The biggest problem with students is the sites that they visit and the information they give up. Nobody on the Internet should be asking for PINs or Social Security numbers, he said.

Going to gambling, music download and pornographic sites is the most common problem Abernathy said he has seen in the past five years.

Gambling sites ask for your PIN and account numbers in order to run the transaction as if it is an Automatic Teller Machine giving the cash, Abernathy said. That information is then kept and used to make a copy of the person’s card. In some cases, the victim might have been hyperlinked to a gambling site that is operating out of a foreign country, especially those in Southeast Asia, where it is not illegal to duplicate a card, he said.

“I had one student one day sitting in my office, filling out the paperwork because somebody had accessed their accounts,” Abernathy said, “and I had their account up and was watching someone in Bangkok take money out of an ATM using their card.”

LaChat said one way students can protect themselves when entering information online is to check that the Web site address is spelled correctly, begins with “https://” and that the security certificate matches with the site. Also, students should use access passwords when using a wireless router.

Another problem Abernathy said is that students fall for e-mails that claim they won the lottery in a foreign country. Those e-mails then request a Social Security number and account number to wire the money.

“People have to be careful and think, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,’ and ‘If I didn’t buy the ticket, then how did I win?’ and ‘Why do they need this information?'” Abernathy said.

Abernathy said students should run bank cards as credit instead of debit. Both options take money directly out of the checking account but the debit option requires a PIN and is treated more like an ATM transaction.

The numbers might be stored in the merchant’s database, he said, making it easier for someone who hacks into the system to retrieve customers’ numbers.

The credit option requires a signature and means the transaction is going through a different network and back to the bank.

LaChat said students who have their identities stolen should file a complaint with their local police departments.

Abernathy said students who come in claiming identity theft must fill out an affidavit and need to file a police report. If the answers and information check out, credit from the transaction is given back to the victim, he said.

If the bank finds out the person who filed the complaint lied, it becomes a federal crime, the bank will prosecute and the FBI is called in.

Abernathy said his office catches 10 to 15 identity thieves every year, but those are for small dollar amounts. The bigger rings that come in are seldom caught, he said.

“I know everybody likes the commercials on TV where there’s identity theft and they’ve got the comical part about stealing their identity and buying this stuff and it’s kind of funny to watch, but it really is serious,” he said. “Pay attention to it and do as much as you can to protect yourself, but still live in the 21st century.”

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