Locking your car doors might seem like overly simplistic advice. But if you read local crime reports, like I do, you’d be surprised at how many people lose laptops, wallets and all kinds of cool stuff because they leave their car doors unlocked.
Ditto for the world of cyber crime.
Do you share passwords with someone? Respond to every legitimate-looking email? Take a picture of your child at home and then post it online where anyone can see it – and maybe connect a home address to your child? Do you give anyone who asks your Social Security number?
The Federal Trade Commission received 250,854 complaints in 2010 regarding ID theft – making it the No. 1 complaint.
Online scam artists can be based in Canada or overseas and are able to easily trick consumers into giving personal information.
Identity thieves want to use information that’s easily available – and what’s easier than targeting someone in a rush, someone who needs cash quickly or even an unsuspecting child?
“In general, people really need to keep their address, phone numbers and other information more private than they do,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America in Washington, D.C.
And the same is true for information regarding children.
We know about warning our children about cyber bullying. But ID theft is a threat, too. The FTC reported that victims age 19 and younger accounted for 8 percent of the identity-theft complaints it received in 2010.
Grant warned that child identity theft might not be discovered until the victims become adults and try to get jobs, apartments or loans for college.
One of Grant’s tips: Don’t post a picture of a child at home online where anyone on the Web can see it.
She noted that many digital cameras have geo-coding features that embed the location where the pictures were taken. And that can help identity thieves link a child’s name to an address.
Another tip: In general, she does not recommend that parents check a child’s credit report, as that could start generating credit reports that could be exploited by ID thieves.
Experts say children shouldn’t have credit reports associated with their names and Social Security numbers.
If you think your child’s identity has been stolen, contact your insurance company or bank, which may provide services to resolve identity-theft issues.
Another tip: Do not give a child information on his or her Social Security number until they understand why you don’t give that information to anyone who asks for it.
Grant said children can be targeted by ID thieves because their records are clean. The child isn’t likely to have bad credit or other types of fraud associated with a Social Security number.
An ID thief could use that child’s information for employment or opening a credit card.
And as much as we’ve all heard warnings about phishing scams, we’re all still seeing plenty floating around the inbox.
More shopping means more spending – and possibly more online banking – so consumers need to watch out there, too.
The other day an editor alerted me to one that he had received that had the subject: “Transfer rejected.”
The email noted: “The outgoing wire fund transfer that you placed 9/13/2011 was not processed by an intermediary or beneficiary bank.”
The Federal Reserve Board is mentioned at the bottom of the email.
If you’re not thinking – and you’ve just rushed to pay a bill with online banking – you could be tempted to click. But don’t do it.
Chuck Whitlock, an ID theft author and expert, said identity thieves want to lure victims much like a fisherman with a hook.
The bait created for some emails makes you concerned about your bank account, tax refund or something else of value. You’re caught off guard, and you do something stupid.
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s data, 6,880 identity-theft complaints were filed in Michigan in 2010.
Daily, we still see banking-related emails – and another popular one that looks like it’s directly from the IRS.
“You’ve got $68 coming your way,” says one scam that claims to be an email from the IRS.
You do not have a $68 tax refund, of course, but you could be tempted to click. And that’s true especially if you start hearing about “unclaimed tax refunds.”
But the IRS is not sending emails to people who are owed refund money. You could end up giving away valuable identification – and get nothing but a headache if that information is used to open up new credit.
Whitlock’s advice: Do not give in to your curiosity and make certain to never click on any links in an email that arrives out of the blue.
“The regular identity thief can wreak havoc on anybody,” Whitlock said.
During the holidays, consumers need to watch out for cyber threats via mobile phone and other devices, too.
Watch out for phony Facebook promotions and contests, according to Web security group McAfee Labs.
Who doesn’t want to snag a great deal around the holidays? But cyber scammers have been known to sprinkle Facebook with phony promotions, such as free airline tickets, aimed at gathering personal information.
The high jobless rate makes it more tempting for people to want to steal someone else’s Social Security number to try to get a job.
“Once you get online, you are part of a global system,” warned Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano in a meeting with the Detroit Free Press editorial board.
So, she said, it’s key that adults and young people think before they hook up to a computer or smartphone. Do not answer unsolicited emails. And, she said passwords should be long and strong so that they cannot be easily figured out by others.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that warnings about cyber crooks should be given to grade school-age children who have computers, too. It’s like learning to look both ways before you cross the information highway.