Paper, snail mail and telephones are a thing of the past. With the Internet and on-line activity at its peak, criminals have had to evolve with the times. According to the Federal Trade Commission identity theft and fraud cost Americans $1.52 billion last year alone.
And Internet crimes are not just a problem nationally. Salt Lake’s Police Chief, Chris Burbank acknowledges that identity theft is one of the biggest issues as far as crimes go that needs to be solved in Salt Lake.
“Everyone gets upset if someone is shot and killed, but fraud costs more and because no one is dying it doesn’t get the attention of the public. That’s the challenge of the future. It is a failure of a single person if we allow someone to be victimized,” Burbank said in Holly Mullen’s Communications 3660 class, at the University of Utah, February 16th.
These thieves have come up with a plethora of ways to go about stealing money and identities. However, the most common ways of identity fraud involve, surfing the social network, dumpster diving, phis-hing for information, your family and friends and skimming for dollars.
Social networking is a great way to connect with love ones, but it’s also a way that Internet criminals get personal information like age, birthday, and place of employment. A lot of people don’t tear up things like credit card offers and bills from the bank. Crooks will take the information found on those items and use it. Phis-hing is the oldest practice of the five. Phis-hers are the ones who send things to personal emails. These emails will be under the guise of winning something or look like an already familiar website. Both will often direct you to sites that ask for personal information. Often times the scam will look like a refuge in another country asking for help or even a family member asking for help. In fact, family and friends account for half of all fraud cases. Skimming for dollars is where thieves will steal bank and credit information when a debit or credit card used during a gas purchase or ATM withdrawal. It’s called skimming because often times the perpetrator will take small often unnoticeable amounts over a period of time.
Rebecca Jarrett was a victim of both phis-hing and family and friends methods. Jarrett’s grandparents received an email one day indicating that she was in the hospital and needed help to pay some of the medical bills. Her grandparents upon seeing that the email address was in fact hers immediately sent money to the bank account and routing number provided. A few months later Jarrett tried to contact her grandparents and got no response. Jarrett finally found out from another relative what happened. “They said they were upset that they had sent money that they needed back. They were even more upset that they hadn’t heard from me after they’d sent it,” Jarrett said. Jarrett later reconnected with her relatives after they found out that they had been the victims of an Internet crime. However, the damage had been done.
Jared White (this person’s name has been changed at his request) was a victim of social networking. It was during the chaos of the holidays. White and his wife were out of town visiting one of their children. There had been a charge to his primary credit card for an international plane ticket. The airline had called their home phone to verify the charge, but they weren’t home and because the crook had all the necessary information they approved the purchase. White didn’t realize what happened until a few weeks later when he went to check his account and saw that it was way over their limit.
Fortunately after a talk with his credit card company they removed the charges to his account contingent on him completing a fraud report. Unfortunately the villain was never caught. As long as they got their money that neither the credit card company or the airline cared about catching the criminal.
“The whole incident emphasized to me why credit card fraud is at epidemic proportions: the ease by which it is accomplished; the difficulty in catching and prosecuting the perpetrators; and most of all, the apathy of the companies involved. It made it clear to me a lot of fraud is written off with the final cost being borne by the consumer in terms of tighter credit, higher interest rates and fees,” White said.
It’s as Burbank stated. If no one has died the importance of crimes like this go unnoticed and often unpunished, which is why identity theft and fraud is rapidly rising to become the most committed and expensive crimes.
White reflects that he would have done things differently. He would have checked his accounts more frequently so that the individual could have been caught when he tried to fly. White also suggests to, “Check your credit card accounts, even your inactive ones every week or so. Try to limit your online purchases using your major cards, use other sources, like Paypal, which offers good fraud protection. If you have fraudulent charges on one of your cards, report it immediately, first by phone (record the important information about the call), then follow immediately in writing. As I understand the law, consumers have the right to dispute any charge if they report it in writing within 30 days of the charge.”