BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
She was always so busy she didn't have time to check her monthly bank statements, or to look at her bank account online. Usually, she turned down the teller's offer for information about her account balance because she was already late to her next meeting. It was only after several months' worth of withdrawals were made from her account that she discovered someone had access to her bank account. Could this happen to you?
Identity Theft Can Be Devastating
Dave Crouse, 56, has suffered a devastating series of losses through identity theft. He estimates that $900,000 in merchandise, gambling and telephone charges have been racked up against his debit card. As with many consumers, he started using his debit card and ATM card in place of checks, cash or credit cards. Little by little the scammers stole from him.
Crouse has spent nearly $100,000 trying to salvage his finances. His savings and retirement accounts have been emptied. He now has a dismal credit score which has dashed his hopes for a federal government job. One recruiter finally told him his low credit score apparently prevented him from getting the security clearance needed for the job.
Scammers Work Cleverly and Quickly
Crouse had been a big fan of online shopping and banking. He had given his bank account information and personal identifying information far and wide.
Crouse was a victim in a very common way: Computer keystroke malware. This is picked up through browsing unsafe sites on the internet. Listening software copies all your keystrokes whenever you go to a site such as your online bank account. It copies everything you enter on your keyboard: password, user name, challenge question and account numbers.
As with many consumers, he didn't carefully monitor his bank account. At first, the scammers/hackers withdrew small amounts barely worth noticing. Then, the amounts went into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.
Once he realized what was happening, Crouse want to his bank and signed 20 affidavits swearing that the charges made weren't authorized by him or made by him. The advice Crouse offers to others, to avoid this nightmare:
- Don't touch web sites that offer freebies or 30-day trials
- Never give out personal information
- Always keep your receipts
Guard Your Privacy Closely
The most crucial part of protecting yourself from identity theft and bank account theft is to get adequate protection installed on your home computer, laptop and any others which you might use to access the internet. Anti-virus software, including anti-malware software, will be worth the time and expense to install.
Don't be fooled by close imitations of big-company communications. Often, scammers will send voicemail messages, letters or e-mails using pirated versions of company logos which look authentic. A good tip-off is when you're being asked to give your private information, such as the last 4 digits of your social security number. If your bank or your credit card company is calling you, then they already know your social security number. Why would they being asking you for it?
A common scheme is that a scammer will send you a large check, then tell you to immediately deposit it in your bank account and simply send them a check from your own account to them. Of course, the scammer will tell you that you must send out the check to them right away. So that you'll send it BEFORE you find out that their check is no good. Their favorite target is senior citizens who tend to be naïve and trusting about e-mail and mail scams. Remember, the bank takes three days to clear a check and you should, too.
Even if you aren't being sent a fabulously large check, just giving out your bank account number can be dangerous. That information, together with just a few choice bits of data the scammer can gather in clever ways, can make the scammer rich, and you will be out of your money and identity.
Questions for Your Attorney
- How can I prevent scammers from getting my personal information?
- What can I do if I think I've been a victim of identity theft?