Think your firewall and security software are enough to protect you from identity theft? Think again. Why aren’t they enough? Because Internet scams succeed – or fail – based on human nature, not just on technology.
Identity theft scams focus on convincing you to voluntarily give up personal identifying information or financial information. Scammers craftily use deception to trick you into giving them what they want. While the technology of the Internet can make it easier for them to commit their crimes, they’re still relying on human nature for the payoff.
More than 11 million people were victims of identity theft in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. While most ID theft is still done in low-tech ways (think stolen wallets or stealing mail), Internet scams are on the rise, statistics show. Get duped by one of these scams and you’re almost certainly putting your credit report and credit score at risk as thieves’ misuse of your information can ruin your credit.
Here are some of the latest identity theft scams circulating online, and you may not be surprised to find, many of them are related to the current state of the economy:
* Phishing taxpayers – Phishing is one of the most common forms of Internet scams. The term refers to the criminal’s attempts to “fish” for information from victims. Every year as tax season approaches, the IRS warns taxpayers of phishing e-mails claiming to be from the government. The IRS offers a list of known tax-related scam e-mails on its website.
* Scamming job-seekers – With unemployment rates still staggeringly high, a particularly nasty type of scam has evolved to take advantage of people who use online resources in their job search. Some scammers advertise on job boards. You send your resume and get an e-mail back that says you’re hired – please just fill out the attached tax forms and you can start making money right away. Only you’re not the one making money out of this deal. The ID thieves are, once they start using the personal information you provided on the forms.
* Defrauding mortgage holders – Another identity theft scam making the rounds right now targets homeowners who may be struggling to pay their mortgage or fighting foreclosure. Various phishing e-mails promise refinancing help. “Applicants” need only provide personal and financial account information to qualify for a loan that will make all their worries disappear. In reality, what disappears is money from the homeowner’s bank account when the scammer cleans it out.
Technology is an important part of protecting yourself from identity theft, but vigilance and a healthy dose of skepticism are equally important. Experts agree: Don’t take any e-mail at face value if it purports to be from the government, a financial institution or debt collector. And if an offer looks too good to be true … it probably is too good to be true.