October is Cyber Security Awareness Month. Here at Mascoma Bank, we take security very seriously and that starts with educating our customers and being ready to help them spot potential fraud. Internally, our team uses a program we call Know Your Customer to help us understand your bank habits and be ready to step in if we see something potentially suspicious. Our goal is to make sure you don’t feel inconvenienced by having this extra level of security, but it’s important for you know that if we reach out to you with a question about your spending habits, there is a good reason why.
Our team is continuously working to better understand the various forms identity fraud can take—this is knowledge we use to spot when a customer is a potential victim of a cybercrime.
These days, fraudsters are very good and have excellent tools at their disposal to obtain more and more information on their intended victims. Let’s take a closer look at identity theft and identity fraud.
What is Identity Theft?
The more you know about identity theft, the better able you’ll be to help protect yourself against it.
Identity theft is nothing new. The first recorded instance might have dated back to biblical times. And in today’s world, technology enables criminals to commit identity theft on a broad scale—hacking into business and government computer systems, for example, to steal the personal information of millions of people at once. The hackers can then use the stolen personal information, including full names, birth dates, and Social Security numbers, to commit their crimes.
Here are some of the methods criminals use to steal your personal information.
- Phishing: Fraudsters email intended victims, hoping to trick the recipient into taking action that might give the criminals access to significant amounts of personal information.
- Malware: Using the lure of “something for nothing,” fraudsters attempt to trick their would-be victims into downloading free software from the internet. What the victims might not realize is that the free software can include malicious software, or malware, that can give the criminals access to the victims’ computers or entire networks.
- Low-tech tactics: Even without the sophisticated skills required for a technology-based attack, criminals can still commit identity theft. Mail theft and dumpster diving are two simple ways thieves can obtain documents containing personal information that can be used to steal identities.
What is Identity Fraud?
The two terms—identity theft and identity fraud—have become somewhat interchangeable. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice states that both terms “refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
Still, the term identity fraud often refers to the actual use of the stolen information for illicit gain.
What kinds of crimes can be committed once thieves are able to have others’ personal information? Plenty! The Federal Trade Commission breaks them down into six major categories.
- Credit card fraud: Using someone else’s credit card or credit card number to make fraudulent purchases.
- Employment or tax-related fraud: Using someone else’s Social Security number and other personal information to gain employment or file an income tax return.
- Phone or utilities fraud: Using another person’s personal information to open a cell phone or utility account.
- Bank fraud: Using someone else’s personal information to take over an existing financial account or to open a new account in someone else’s name.
- Loan or lease fraud: Using someone else’s personal information to obtain a loan or lease.
- Government documents or benefits fraud: Using someone else’s personal information to obtain government benefits.
Nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft, according to a 2018 online survey by the Harris Poll. That same survey indicates nearly 15 million consumers experienced identity theft in 2017. If you find that you’re a victim, the U.S. Department of Justice recommends taking these steps.
- Call the companies where the fraud occurred.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports for errors.
- Report your identity theft to the FTC.
- Consider reporting the crime to your local police department.
No one can prevent all identity theft, but it still makes good sense to limit sharing the personal information criminals could use to steal your identity.