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Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and identification to commit fraud. With this information they may be able to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, rent apartments, or purchase phone services – all in your name. In many cases, they request address changes so you never see the bills for their activity.
These impersonators spend your money as quickly as possible and most victims are unaware of the fraudulent activity until they apply for a loan or receive a call from a collection agency. Clearing your name and erasing the effects of identity theft can be a nightmare, and it can take months or even years to re-establish your creditworthiness.
Don’t become a victim of fraud. Know how to identify the threats and what to do to minimize your risk.
Identifying types of fraud
Social EngineeringSocial Engineering is a technique used to psychologically manipulate individuals into divulging personal and or secure information. Most targets are victimized because they are naturally trusting and want to provide as much help as possible. The following techniques are commonly used to gain unauthorized access to systems or information in order to commit fraud, network intrusion, industrial espionage, identity theft or to simply disrupt and compromise computer systems:
Scams or SpoofsA scam is an attempt to obtain personal or financial information through fraudulent means, such as:
Here are some examples to watch out for:
Email Scams and Spoofs:It is sometimes difficult to determine the legitimacy of an email or website. Scammers and fraudsters have become increasingly savvy in creating authentic-looking emails and websites.
Through deceptive phishing practices, victims will typically receive an urgent email requesting personal information. Many times the email informs them that their account will be closed if their information is not updated or “verified.” The links within the email are often pointed to Web forms that ask for personal or financial information, such as routing numbers, account numbers, PINs, passwords or Social Security numbers.
Lottery ScamsIn a lottery scam, targeted victims typically receive an email claiming that they have won an international lottery (Jamaican Lottery, Spanish Lottery, etc.). In order to claim the winnings, they must contact the claims agent, usually via an email address that is most often from a free provider (e.g., Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.).
When contacted, the “lottery agent” sends a claim form to verify identity. Victims are instructed to return the form with personal details, along with copies of passports and/or driver’s licenses to “verify true identity.” By providing the information, the fraudsters have enough details to duplicate the victim’s identity.
In addition, in order to claim the winnings, a request is typically made to wire funds to the fraudsters to cover the transaction, insurance, tax and legal fees associated with receiving the winnings. Victims are required to transfer the requested money via Western Union, leaving them out the funds that have been wired to the fraudsters and leaving the fraudsters with personal identification to continue to commit fraud.
Nigerian ScamsThe Nigerian Purchase Scam is another form of fraud that is becoming widespread in auction sites and on business’ ecommerce websites. A buyer will bid on or seek to purchase big-ticket goods (e.g., cars, boats, etc.) from the website.
The buyer will “accidentally” overpay the seller, stating they “wanted to make sure there were enough funds for shipping.” The buyer will then ask the seller to deposit the check and refund the amount of the overpayment.
The seller will deposit the counterfeit check and send the overpayment to the buyer prior to the check clearing through the international banking system. The seller is out the funds equal to the overpayment. In addition, the seller could be down the value of the shipped goods if those are sent at the same time.
To protect yourself, always be careful when transacting with unknown parties. If you question the legitimacy of a buyer, talk with your branch representative to determine the best way to validate the check and funds prior to shipping any goods or providing a refund for the overpayment.
Mystery ShopperVictims typically will receive an email or a letter in the mail from a "mystery shopping company" whose name often sounds official.
Usually there is a check included, or a promise to send a check. They tell the victim to cash the check and complete an assignment at a major retail store.
A request is then made to take the rest of the money that wasn’t spent and send it to another mystery shopper via Western Union.
The only problem is, that's not a mystery shopper, that's the scammer! The initial check sent to the victim was not legitimate, but the bank won't realize it for at least a week. When the check is returned as fraudulent, the victim is normally responsible for the charges. Meanwhile, monies were sent to the scammer via Western Union and the victim is left holding the bag.
Check ScamsIf you receive an email or letter in the mail saying you won a lottery and they send you a check, or if you sell something on eBay and the buyer pays with a check, you may think you can just take the check to your bank and cash it.
Unfortunately, you can’t. What’s worse, if you cash it in most states, you may be assisting a criminal in passing a counterfeit check, money laundering or worse.
Blank checks are stolen every day from individual mail boxes, homes, businesses and even banks. Counterfeiters and scammers use these checks to create scams and frauds.
Key-LoggingKey-logging is a process in which fraudsters secretly capture the keystrokes generated from a keyboard. Usually this is done using a physical device or a disguised computer application that is downloaded to your PC. The key-logging device is used to log all the keystrokes generated from a keyboard, including personal and financial data such as user names, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers as well as passwords to secure websites. The keystrokes are secretly logged without the user knowing and can be transmitted to the criminal remotely using email, Bluetooth signals or other methods.
Man in the Middle AttacksMan in the Middle fraud occurs when a victim receives a fake email that may be from a retailer or financial institution asking for his or her password and account information, or providing a link to a fake website that resembles the real site to extract personal information. After the victim provides this information, the criminal has the ability to access financial accounts and can cause significant financial damage. Note that First Niagara never requests your bank card number, account number, Social Security number, Personal Identification Number (PIN) or password through email. If you should receive an email requesting such information, that appears to be from First Niagara, do not respond to the email and contact First Niagara immediately at 1-800-421-0004.
MalwareMalware is malicious software that is usually downloaded and installed on your computer or mobile device without consent. Malware can be used by fraudsters to obtain personal information or commit other types of fraud. Usually, Malware takes the form of viruses or spyware that may be disguised as other applications. Never download suspicious software or click on links to websites from sources you are not familiar with. It is also advised to have a reputable anti-virus software application installed on your computer to minimize your chances of having malware installed on your system.
Here are some helpful tips to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft.
Obtain and review copies of your credit report. Order copies of your credit report yearly to review your file and make certain the information is accurate. The three major credit bureaus are:
Call the credit reporting agency at the telephone number on the report if you find:
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