I recently read an article that stated that by simply convincing someone to add them as a connection, or a friend, on a social networking site that a potential hacker, who knows nothing else about the person, could successfully steal a person’s identity approximately 15% of the time. How could this be? Because you disclose to those contacts all sorts of personal information: marital status, maiden name, birth date, where you live, where you grew up, who your relatives are, where you work . . . the list goes on and on. The warning here is to be careful who you are adding, and make sure you actually know who they are. How many people can honestly say that they have personally met everyone on their list of friends on social networking sites other than myself? Yes, I am admittedly an FB snob, but for a reason.
Additionally, as an attorney, I constantly receive very elaborately crafted emails, which usually contain forged documentation, seeking assistance with legal matters against local businesses. So far I have assisted two foreign corporations in filing complaints with IC3, which is the FBI porthole for reporting cyber-crimes, because of people claiming to be with those companies and seeking assistance in suing local businesses here in Oklahoma. How would such a scam work you may ask? Well, the plan is to actually defraud the attorney. The scammer would typically either request that you provide them with your account information so that they can “wire” you the retainer you require, and then sweep your account, and the other is the age old fake cashier’s check. They will send you a cashier’s check, which you then deposit, then they will decide they do not wish to pursue the matter and request a refund of the unused retainer. For example, they send a $20,000.00 retainer, three days later notify you to cease work and refund their unused retainer, let’s say $19,000.00. A check is then sent to them and three weeks later it is discovered by the bank that the original certified check was fraudulent. The attorney has then lost $19,000.00.(Note: If you ever get an email from Nigeria saying that a former government agent needs your assistance in getting his money out of the country, or you have surprisingly won their lottery without having entered, it’s a scam also.) Anyway, crooks are getting better and better at trying to deceive people. Luckily I am naturally skeptical and double check everything, or I may have even fallen prey to a few of these scams. (Another thing you should always do is hold your cursor over any “link” on a website or email to make sure that the destination site actually matches what the “link” says that it goes to.)
Another area in which I have noticed an increased surge in scamming attempts is when people are applying for a job. Fake postings on job-listing sites can quickly convince you to divulge significant amounts of information which a scammer can use to obtain the additional information needed to commit identity theft. In this day and age there isn’t much information about you that isn’t available for a small fee. For $35.00, I can tell you every address at which you have ever lived, who your neighbors are and usually their phone numbers and address, who your relatives are, along with addresses and phone numbers, and a whole list of additional information. All I need to know is your name and birth-date.
The short and simple summary to this post: Be careful. Take a few extra minutes to make sure people are who they say they are, that emails are from who they say they are, and that you are providing information to legitimate entities. Whether you have significant assets or not, identify theft could end up costing you more than you can ever imagine.