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Thursday, July 14, 2005

High-Tech Identity Theft

I was recently cleaning out my notes file, and came across this article from the "Tech Insider" column on Yahoo! Finance, titled "Surviving Identity Theft".

The upshot of the article is that identity thieves have a lot of ways to ply their trade. While the recent database thefts got a lot of media play, there are other high-tech ways thieves can get your credit info. The article lists a few like:
  • Pharming: thieves create fake Web sites similar to the Web sites of banks or credit-card companies. When consumers who don't know the difference try to log in, their account information is sent along to the thieves. They get traffic either through customers mistakes (they go to the wrong website) or through computer viruses that automatically redirect traffic from specific Web addresses, such as those for banks, credit-card companies or shopping Web sites.
  • Keystroke catchers: These are small devices attached to the cable that connects your keyboard to your computer. They look like a standard connector, but have a memory chip that records everything typed. Thieves often set these up on public library computers.
  • Gas stations: When you use a card at the gas pump, the information is sent by satellite feed to your bank for verification. Now, according to Truecredit, identity thieves have invented a way to hijack that information by modifying the program that carries out the data transfer so that your credit-card number is sent to them at the same time it's sent to your bank.
Click here for the whole article.

Not to make you paranoid, but there are a few common-sense ways to help protect yourselves. You've probably heard them many times before, but they bear repeating:
  • Don't send personal financial information (or make transactions) over public computers
  • Use credit cards rather than debit cards where possible (if you catch a fraudulent transaction, credit card companies credit it back faster)
  • Keep an eye on your card. When making purchases in an unfamiliar restaurant (or foreign country) it might be best to use cash. If traveling overseas, use only one credit card, so it's easier to track purchases.
  • Don't give out social security numbers or personal info if you don't have to. In most cases (like renting a video), they can easily use another number (like the part of your driver's license).

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