These days, we’re so wrapped up in how to protect ourselves from online theft, we forget that credit card fraudsters have been around far longer than the internet and while the biggest threat comes from faceless criminals, sometimes in other countries, the fact is, there remain criminals who don’t even need the technological advances to assume your identity.
Credit counselors tell us there are ways to protect your credit rating and financial security both on and off line. Here are three of the biggest ways thieves swoop in with little or no assistance from the internet.
Application fraud is still a booming business in the U.S. There are those who can successfully fill out credit card applications using stolen identities and then sit back as the credit cards roll in. These thieves can gain access to names, addresses and social security numbers in ways you might never consider. Interestingly enough, new popular websites such as Ancestry.com are sometimes used to garner social security numbers of deceased people. And yes, Ancestry.com publishes them.
As a test, we checked one of our writers’ deceased grandmother’s name and sure enough, it not only had her name, birth and death dates, but because this site incorporates the social security index maintained by the government, her social security number popped up along with other details. In some instances, thieves were able to jot down as many as he wished. This shows how easy even a minimum internet interaction can be used to a thief’s efforts.
Even without the assistance of the web, though, fraudsters still plunder through the trash and any other “old fashioned” means of garnering the information that puts illegal credit cards in his hands.
This is one more reason why checking your credit report periodically can be so advantageous.
Intercept fraud is another classic technique thieves use. A criminal might stake out a neighborhood looking for patterns, such as which day of the week the trash collector comes by as well as what time the mail is delivered on a daily basis. He might also scope out the patterns of the residents in that neighborhood so that he knows the most vulnerable time of the day for going from mailbox to mailbox with the goal of collecting mail that might include personal information.
Some consumers will rent a post office box to eliminate that possibility while other neighborhoods come together to form a watch group so that someone is always keeping an eye on things during the day.
Finally, criminals will take advantage of any opportunity that poses itself. From an unattended purse left on a chair in a restaurant to a dropped credit card to “pocket picking”, a thief can easily master his trade.
He then uses those credit cards immediately, before they’ve been reported lost or stolen, to take out cash advances (provided he figures out the password – and often, he simply looks at a driver’s license for a birthdate and uses a series of those numbers which may or may not work). He can also use the credit card to make big purchases and often, these purchases are made within an hour of gaining access. By the time the victim figures it out, the damage is done.
If your credit card has been stolen or lost, be sure to report it immediately so that the company can begin an investigation and hopefully, put alerts on your accounts before too much damage can be done.
Check your statements, too, each month. There are consumers who don’t use their credit cards often and therefore don’t know they’re missing. A monthly statement can be a great way of discovering suspicious or illegal activity on an account.