Summertime Scams and Identity Theft

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Robert Siciliano

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For everything in life, there is a corresponding scam. Scammers spend their energy trying to separate hardworking, law-abiding citizens from their money, and they’ll take advantage of any opportunity to do so.

The four seasons provide various opportunities for scams. Summer's “hottest” scams include:

Stealing your mail. While you’re on vacation, your mailbox fills up with credit card offers and bank statements. The bad guy can steal this mail and use it to open new credit cards in your name, or to take over existing accounts.

Solution: Get a mailbox that locks in order to prevent thieves from stealing your mail. Have a trusted friend retrieve your mail while you’re away. Opt out of prescreened credit card offers.

Credit card fraud. Paying with cash is so 1800s! Credit cards are convenient and cleaner than dirty dollars. Therefore, credit card fraud is so 21st century! When you are out and about, anyone who handles your credit card can steal your digits and make unauthorized charges, as can anyone on the other end of an online purchase.

Solution: Check your credit card statements as frequently as possible. I recommend that you review them weekly, at a minimum. Federal law requires that credit card companies allow you to refute unauthorized charges for up to 60 days. Keep your receipts and scrutinize those statements.

Internet cafe spyware. Anytime you use any PC other than your own, your identity is at risk. Spyware is software installed on a computer that records every keystroke, username, password, and website visited. Autocomplete is a browser function that remembers your passwords. Autocomplete on a public computer means potential identity theft.

Solution: If at all possible, avoid business center or Internet cafe PCs. Many mobile phones can function as a temporary replacement for a PC, and netbooks are cheap and easy enough to travel with. If you even encounter autocomplete on any computer, turn it off before browsing and always log out and shut down a browser before walking way.

To ensure peace of mind during summertime festivities—and year-round—subscribe to an identity protection service, such as McAfee Identity Protection, which offers proactive identity surveillance, lost wallet protection, and alerts when suspicious activity is detected on your accounts. For additional tips, please visit http://www.counteridentitytheft.com

Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss spyware on Fox Boston. (Disclosures)

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