BY KENNETH DEAN
Technology allows us to instantly communicate with anyone across a vast area of the globe, surf the Web via our cellphone and bank and shop from the comfort of our home.
But as technology has advanced, so have thieves and ways they steal.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans were hit for $24.7 billion in identity theft in 2012.
That is $10 billion more than all of the other types of theft combined, including burglary, vehicle theft and other types of theft in the same time period.
As the crime continues to spread so does the emotional damage left behind.
According to the Department of Justice’s statistics, 36 percent of identity theft victims reported moderate or severe emotional distress as a result of the incident.
The victims of identity theft are of all ages, all ethnicities and across all income levels.
“The people that do this can be anywhere on the globe. It makes no difference to them, it’s a very small world now,” Tyler Police Detective Dave Cook said as he talked about identity theft and the hundreds of cases filed with his department each year.
Cook said in the majority of cases, victims do not know their information has been compromised until they either notice something on their bank statement or their financial institution contacts them asking about suspicious charges.
“We get people who tell us they have never been to the place where the charges were incurred, but once that number is stolen, then the thieves can use it anywhere in the world,” he said.
He said even if you do not do any banking or business online, your information is out there, because it is associated with phone companies, hospitals, credit card companies and the stores you have done business with and various other places.
“Everyone uses computers to do business, so even if you personally do not use a computer to do business your information is out there and these thieves are always finding ways to get that information to use,” he said.
In some cases the consumer pays with their card at a business, and the number is cloned by the machine reading the card. The information is stored until it can be retrieved by the person stealing the information.
Cook said the numbers are stolen in a variety of ways, but then they are most likely passed off to another party via a card dumpsite, a black market for stolen credit and bank cards, where thieves can buy and sell blocks of stolen card numbers.
One such website is called McDumpals, which is a knockoff of the popular McDonald’s restaurants and even has a similar Ronald McDonald pointing a gun at the Web user with the slogan “I’m swipin it.”
On the site card numbers are sold and bought by using bitcoin, a currency created in 2009 that allows users to buy services and goods without a trace, leaving those using the currency anonymous.
“These people have become so brazen about what they are doing, they actually offer money-back guarantees and customer satisfaction,” he said.
One tell-tale sign that your financial information has been used without your consent is a small charge in a place you might have never been.
The charge is called a test charge to see if the number is still active. Once the number is proven to be good, then charges are made very quickly until it is picked up by the bank or credit card company.
The Federal Trade Commission recommends anyone to immediately report cards or numbers stolen if unknown charges appear on bank or credit card statements.
“If your credit, ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, federal law limits your liability for unauthorized charges. Your protection against unauthorized charges depends on the type of card — and when you report the loss,” the FTC website states.
Cook and the local FBI office also recommend calling the credit bureaus to report the problem. Usually, only one needs to be contacted as they must share information under the law. Then talk with your financial institution and watch your statements carefully to make sure the theft is over even after changing card numbers and pins.
Cook said in many cases, the financial institution will clear the charges from your account but suggests the consumer take steps to protect themselves.
But no matter how much a person safeguards their information, they can still fall victim.
“We’re all just victims waiting to happen. If you haven’t been compromised in some form or fashion, you will be. It is happening with increasing frequency. The methods that they are using to do this change constantly,” he said.