IDENTITY  THEFT

MANILA, December 8, 2004 (STAR) MY TWO CENTS’ WORTH By Dickson Co (DFNN.COM) - Among the downsides of the Internet revolution are the new kinds of scams and the lack of new laws to protect citizens from these. (Sorry, I am not talking about the pork barrel). Identity theft is the new name for stolen cards.

A friend of mine recently had his identity stolen. He owns a US-issued credit card. Although he has used it occasionally to buy goods on the Internet, he thinks the theft happened when his new cards were on route via regular mail, somewhere between the post office and his mailbox. (Hmmm...I wonder if that includes the post office as a point of penetration). Even with the security of passwords and key questions, the credit card issuer authorized the stolen cards. (These scam artists are good!) Once the stolen cards were authorized, they used it to purchase goods and to even withdraw cash. They even convinced the credit card issuer that my friend has moved to a new address, and in paying the next minimum amount due, the check, of course, would bounce.

The damage to my friend was minimal since his card has a financial guarantee that he would not have to pay for a single cent that was not authorized. This is better than the US federal rule that limits loss to $50. However, he had to file affidavits of loss, notarized and in triplicates, etc., to make sure his claim was properly filed. Generally, a pain in the you know where.

Another friend misplaced a local credit card and the replacement card was delivered through a messengerial service that could give Fort Knox a run for its money. Then again, one should not really use local credit cards, except for convenience only. The interest rate of three percent of these local credit cards can be considered usurious in other countries.

Phishing. There is an exploding new scam known as "phishing" (the "ph" is for using the phone lines). These scam artists are now using the e-mail to get your personal details by using the trademarks of these companies and pretending that they are official. Citibank and eBay are among the top five companies most frequently used by these fraud artists. Their objective is to convince you that you need to resend your information and voila, your identity is gone.

According to the Gartner Group, 57 million Americans received what they believed to be "phished" e-mails, from which 1.8 million took the bait and responded and close to a million now claim they were scammed as a result. The Gartner Group estimates that "phishers" steal approximately $1.2 billion in goods, services and cash every year and the figure is growing. According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group, there were close to 2,000 "phishing" attacks in July this year compared to 176 in January. The more sophisticated "phishers" can install trojan horse software to get into your personal computer to gather whatever information is available.

Unfortunately, this is likely to grow because the credit card issuers find it cheaper to close an account rather than investigate and prosecute those behind the scam. And online retailers do not want any extra friction like passwords or PINs to increase security; increased friction mean lesser sales.

How to protect yourself? Be paranoid.

Online. Always be suspicious of urgent e-mails from banks or credit card issuers. These companies will never ask for your PINs or account numbers via e-mail.

Offline. Always tear up your copies of credit card receipts after you have updated your records. Never leave them in restaurants. Never take phone calls from suspicious customer service personnel.

I hung up on a Citibank customer service call recently which asked me to pay up. I hung up and told the caller that I would call customer service instead. It turned out the call was legitimate and I had to pay up. You never know these days.

My Two Cents: Just because you’re paranoid does not mean no one is out to get you!

My 2nd Two Cents: The holidays are upon us once more. We should be thankful for our friends and family, and we should help someone like the less fortunate everyday! The best of the holidays to you all!!

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Dickson Co is CFO (C is for Cheap) for Dfnn, Intelligent Wave Philippines and HatchAsia.com. For comments or suggestions, e-mail twocents88-@yahoo.com.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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