Preventing Identity Theft!

Part of the battle of preventing identity theft is recognizing how this personal information is stolen and from where.

Your Computer

Most casual PC users are unaware of how dangerous the Internet can be. Without the proper knowledge and protection, you could be just a few simple keystrokes and clicks away from having your identity stolen. Here are some tips for preventing online identity theft.
  • Use anti-spyware and anti-virus software.
  • Be wary of online shopping sites. Only shop at sites that you trust and are secure. See for more information.
  • Don't get baited by phishers.
  • Encrypt your wireless internet connection.
  • Erase your hard drive if you ever sell, donate, or otherwise give away your computer.

Your Trash

One man's trash is another man's treasure. Nothing could be closer to the truth when it comes to discarding personal documents. If it has your social security, bank account, credit card, or any other identifying number on it, remember to shred it before you trash it. Crosscut shredders are the best, lower tier models tend to leave the information in such a way that it can be re-created. Once you have your shredder, here is a list of items you should always shred when it comes time to discard them.
  • Bank statements.
  • Credit card statements.
  • Pre-approved credit card offers. ( Read this to see why .)
  • ATM receipts.
  • Canceled or voided checks.
  • Expired passports, visas, and credit cards.
  • Tax forms.
  • Bills.
  • Pay stubs.

Safeguarding Your Personal Information

Keeping your personal information from falling into the wrong hands will help you from becoming another identity theft victim. Immediately report lost or stolen credit cards and debit cards
  • As soon as you discover that one of your credit cards or debit cards is missing, contact the issuing bank immediately, even if you think you may find it in a day or two. It's always better to be safe than sorry. Most banks will immediately cancel your missing card and reimburse you for any fraudulent charges. In most cases, you'll receive a new card in the mail within a week.
Don’t keep your TRN card in your purse or wallet.
  • Sadly, this is a very common mistake. It may be convenient to keep your TRN or social security card in your wallet. That is, until your wallet is lost or stolen, in which case the thief now has everything he needs to steal your identity — name and address from your driver's license, credit cards and debit cards, and TRN number. Keep your card in a safe place in your residence.
Never provide your personal information to anyone who contacts you through a phone solicitation.
  • It is easy for any con artist to pretend he is a legitimate business over the phone. So always think twice before providing your credit card over the phone. If you do provide your credit card number over the phone, be certain that you were the one initiating the call. Better yet, opt out of these telemarketing calls entirely.
  • Check your bill and bank statements as soon as they arrive.
  • If you have online access to your accounts, check them regularly. Be on the lookout for any fraudulent charges. If you notice something suspicious, contact your bank immediately.
Use your ATM card wisely.
  • If an ATM must be used, it should be accessed only during the business day at large protected facilities, preferably inside commercial establishments, rather than at glass-enclosed, highly visible street ATMs.
  • Guard your checkbook
  • Since your checks come with your name, address, and bank account number right on them, you should guard these with care. Don't leave your checkbook in an unsecured place or your car. If stolen, the thief could write a fraudulent check or even break into your bank account. If you ever notice that any of your checks are missing, contact the bank immediately.
Select strong passwords.
  • Avoid using words or numbers that other people can easily guess. Using your birth date or last four digits of your social security number are too obvious to use as passwords or PINs. Read How to Pick a Safe Password for more information.
Secure personal information in your own home.
  • Just because you're in your home doesn't mean you're safe. If you have roommates or employ outside help, such as a housekeeper, avoid leaving your mail lying about and secure your privacy when making any personal phone calls.
Know who else has your information o   Inquire about personal security procedures at your work, doctor's office, university, or any other institution that keeps a record of your personal information. Find out who has access to your personal information, and verify that it is being handled securely Remember: Personal information of yours should be kept private. While some personal information is inevitably going to be made public, there are some items with high sensitivity that should never be made public. See the table below for details.
Item Sensitivity
Full Name Low
Address Low
Phone Number Low
Date of Birth Medium
Birthplace Medium
Mother's Maiden Name Medium
Social Security Number High
Bank Account Number High
Credit Card Number High
PIN or Password High
Protecting yourself against identity theft involves nothing more than protecting this personal information, particularly the high sensitivity items. Anyone with knowledge of just one of your high sensitivity items can do a lot of damage. Skimming Skimming is a hi-tech method by which thieves capture your personal or account information from your credit card, ATM card, driver’s license, or even passport. An electronic device used to capture this information is called a “skimmer,” and can be purchased online for under US$50.00. Your card is swiped through the skimmer and the information contained in the magnetic strip on the card is then read into and stored on the device and can be downloaded to a computer. Skimming is predominantly a tactic used to perpetuate credit card fraud--but is also a tactic that is gaining in popularity amongst identity thieves. Skimming is a problem, not just in the U.S, but globally (Jamaica as well). As the use of smart card technology grows, as evident with its integration with driver’s licenses and passports, it is likely that skimming will continue to grow as a popular tactic of identity thieves. Incidents of credit card skimming have risen 45 percent globally and there have been several reported incidents here in Kingston.  One victim recently reported that his credit card had been used to purchase goods from Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Malacca totaling $7000, while he was traveling in Europe. How They Do It: Skimmers are quite a creative bunch--and since the skimming devices are so small and easy to hide, it is not difficult for them to skim your card without you noticing. The following are some examples of how your cards can be skimmed:
  • Your credit card can be skimmed at a restaurant. Many skimming rings have been known to employ restaurant serving staff to capture your credit card information.
How many times have you given the server your credit card to pay the bill and never thought twice about it when they walked away to complete your transaction? You may be surprised to know that most skimming incidents occur at a restaurant where a server is carrying a skimming device in their apron or somewhere close by. Your card is scanned twice, once for the transaction that you expected and another in the skimming device to capture your credit card information for further use. An example of such an incident occurred in Charlotte, North Carolina in which two wait staff from a chain restaurant were accused of skimming more than 650 credit card numbers from unsuspecting patrons and selling them for $25 each.
  • ATM machines. It is not uncommon for a thief to be bold enough to tamper with an ATM machine.
Typically, a "card trapping" device is inserted into the ATM card slot. This trap scans the card and stores its associated information or just traps the card and doesn't return it to the owner. There is no cash dispensed in either case and the crooks retrieve the cards and information at a later time. ATM skimming has been a problem worldwide; with estimates, that 1 in every 28 ATM machines had been equipped with skimmers from thieves.
  • Skimming by store clerks. A very common form of skimming involves store clerks skimming your credit card when you make a purchase. The clerk scans your card twice, once for your expected transaction and another in a skimmer for later retrieval. There have also been reports of clerks skimming driver’s licenses when customers are writing checks and supply the license for verification.
  • Skimming devices implanted in card payment terminals. Skimming is becoming more sophisticated where thieves are rigging card payment terminals with electronic equipment to capture the card information. The recorded card numbers are stored in an additional implanted chip and thieves return at a later time for retrieval.
How the Information is Used: Once a skimmer captures the information on your credit card, ATM card, driver’s license, or passport it can be used in a variety of ways.
  • Thieves will sell your information. Many times the criminals skimming your information into the devices are not the same criminals that will use that information to commit identity theft or other crimes of fraud. The "skimmers" will sell your information to other criminals--typically for about $25-$75 each.
·         Credit Card Fraud. Credit cards are a popular choice for skimmers. The information that is obtained can be used to order products and services online sometimes for several weeks until the unsuspecting victim is made aware, giving the thieves plenty of time to run up some bills.
  • To make counterfeit cards. Once the information from your credit card, driver’s license or passport is captured, it can be used to make duplicates. Duplicates are very valuable as they can be used to further perpetuate credit card fraud or identity theft.

Next Steps

Now that you have an understanding of what skimming is and how it can be used to commit credit card fraud or identity theft, your next step should be to understand how to prevent it.  You now know that skimming is an effective tactic for criminals to perpetrate identity theft and other crimes of fraud. You also likely realize that it can take 30 - 60 days before you would even know that you were a victim, leaving the criminal plenty of time to get away. Even worse, statistics show that the longer it takes to discover identity theft and account fraud, the greater the financial impact to the victim. How You Can Protect Yourself Against Skimming: Here are some things that you can do to lessen the chances that you will become a victim of this tactic:
  • Closely monitor anyone who handles your card. To protect against skimming, closely watch anyone that you give your card to for processing, such as a waiter, clerk, attendant, etc. If at all possible, do not let them out of your sight. If a clerk makes a hard copy, retrieve the carbons.
·         Keep low-limit credit cards. Keeping a low limit on your credit cards restricts the amount of money that thieves can steal. Although not exactly a prevention tactic, it will help if you fall victim. ·         Sign all credit cards. Sign all credit cards immediately upon your receipt of them. You can also write "Check ID" so that the clerk, if they actually read the back, will ask for ID for verification during a transaction.
  • Cancel credit cards that you do not use. It is important to cancel all credit cards that you do not use and to monitor the ones that you do use.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. The first step to prevent skimming is understanding what is going on around you. When at an ATM cover the key pad when entering your pin. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the ATM card reader to make sure that it looks appropriate and is not altered.
  • Take your receipts. Do not leave receipts at ATM's, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk.
  • Protect your PIN. Some people make it easy for criminals by writing the PIN to their Credit or ATM card on something that they keep in their wallet, or even worse--writing the PIN on back of the card itself! Please don't do it. Commit the PIN to memory as it is very obvious that a thief having the card and the PIN is not going to work out well for you.
Conclusion: Credit cards, ATM cards, driver’s licenses and passports are parts of our everyday life. We need them and in many ways, can't live without them. However, all experts agree that skimming is on the rise and is a favored tactic with criminals committing identity theft and other crimes of fraud. It is difficult to prevent skimming, but with some common sense you can lessen your chances of falling victim.

Courtesy of Emma Lewis, Public Affairs Associate, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Embassy, 142 Old Hope Road, Kingston 6 Jamaica, West Indies. Website:

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