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U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Doug Roberts talked to Bonne Terre Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday about various forms of fraud and identity theft.

“Some of the basics of identity theft can involve your trash, mail or even Facebook,” said Roberts. “It’s important to always shred any documents that have personal information on them. People who are going through your trash don’t have the attention span to put puzzles together.”

Anything with account numbers, Social Security numbers, anything with valuable information on it should be shredded. One of the best places for them to go through trash is someplace where no one is paying attention.

“There was a kid who was cleaning out his car and threw away a pay stub at the carwash,” said Roberts. “A criminal found it and opened up several credit cards in that person’s name. You have to think like a criminal and realize its things like that these guys can do. They will take anything with valuable information that they can use to acquire finances.”

Roberts said the second thing is mail theft/fraud, although it only represents 5 percent of identity theft, it is still relevant.

“We all have mailboxes at the end of our driveway with a beautiful red flag that we put up when we have something valuable going out,” said Roberts. “Typically what is valued that we mail is a card or bill payment. We recommend paying bills online through a secured website, a secured website will have 'https' on the top by the web address. If you do pay through the mail take extra precautions because when you put that red flag up, you are giving a criminal an opportunity where they don’t even have to get out of their vehicle to steal your information.”

If criminals do get a bill with a check in it, they can duplicate that check with a computer program called 'Verse a Check.' They use a CD rom and check stock paper to put the stolen account and routing number on them. They will put a check number on them 50 higher and put themselves down as the payee and the victim down as the payer and they will take every nickel out of the victim’s checking account until they start bouncing checks.

“Another thing is credit card fraud and it’s running rampant right now,” said Roberts. “With a credit statement the thief will know what it is valued at and they can sell the credit card numbers on forums where they discuss different tactics. You have to watch for strange charges on your statements. If you see a charge for a dollar and you know you didn’t do it, report it. That’s how they can tell if the card is still valid.”

Another way criminals can get credit or debit card information is the use of skimmers. Just recently two skimmers were apprehended in St. Louis. They are plastic devices that fit over the front of an ATM and are attached by double-sided tape or epoxy. When someone slides their card in, the criminal gets a copy of the information off the card.

“It captures the card number and the pin number that is entered,” said Roberts. “They are more common on a standalone ATM because they are not connected to the bank's surveillance. They can purchases online and are illegal to own. In one case a woman was using the ATM and the skimmer fell off in her hand, so she contacted the bank, who contacted the police and they contacted us. There was a guy in his car sleeping with a tablet in his lap and he was getting the information from the skimmer as people used the ATM.”

In addition to ATM skimmers, they also use gas pump skimmers. The problem with those are that they can’t be seen. They are attached inside the gas pump and no one is the wiser until it’s too late. Internet fraud is another example and Roberts said that posting on social media that you are out of town or on vacation is another way criminals can commit fraud.

“They will send you a friend request and once they see that you are out of state, they will look at your friends list,” said Roberts. “They will find an aunt or grandma, look up their phone number and call pretending to be you, telling them that they need money to get out of jail or worse.”

While they are conning a family member, they have already put a Craigslist ad out looking for someone who wants to work from home. The person hired will go to Western Union to pick up funds, keep a percentage of them and in turn wire the rest to another location. So not only is there one victim, there are two involved who are unaware they are being scammed.

Roberts recommends that everyone be diligent when it comes to personal information and to always check credit reports for yourself and on your children for suspicious activity.

Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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