Identity theft modern day nightmare

By Karl Terry: PNT columnist

My dear wife hollered at me from her position in front of the computer in our home office one morning last week as I was getting ready for work: “Did you buy something on EBay?”

“Don’t reply, they’re just phishing,” I hollered back.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with fishing tackle,” she responded.

I left the bathroom and went into the office and spelled the word p-h-i-s-h-i-n-g out for her and explained it was the word some genius came up with for the act of sending fraudulent e-mails and popup Web pages in an effort to mine personal information out of unsuspecting people.

This whole identity theft thing has gotten completely out of hand these days. If you had mentioned identity theft to me 20 years ago I would have been on the lookout for someone dressing like me, cutting their hair the same and trying to impersonate my voice. These days we’re no longer that individual to the people we do business with, now we’re just a series of numbers, passwords and “secret questions” that control dang near everything we do.

Just last week I activated a credit card given to me as part of a bonus program where I work. In order to activate it so I could check the balance online I had to register by filling out an online form containing personal information along with passwords and “secret questions” longer than most of the semester tests I took in high school.

Another person I talked to had trouble remembering the answers to all the “secret questions” associated with a loan at his bank because they asked him so many.

In my job as an automobile salesperson we’ve recently been given lots of new rules for the procedures we use in dealing with customers’ personal information to make us compliant with what the Federal Trade Commission calls the new Red Flag Rules. The rules make us more alert to persons who might be using improper identity and it helps give customers assurance that we’re protecting them from their personal information being stolen or misappropriated. I’m all for that because folks are having a hard enough time these days without having to correct the problems of an identity thief.

Correcting those problems once they occur can be a nightmare according to sources (including actual victims) I’ve talked to in doing identity theft stories in the past. Sometimes people have been held responsible for debts they didn’t incur and suffered from the lack of credit because of the dastardly sorts that have used stolen numbers for their own personal gain.

My quick and simple advice to everyone on avoiding identity theft is to absolutely not give out personal information like Social Security, bank account, driver’s license or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know or whose contact you didn’t personally initiate. That includes phone calls, e-mail and Internet contact and even door-to-door peddlers or contractors.

If someone calls and says they’re from the bank and a mistake was made in a recent deposit or they’ve detected some unauthorized person trying to access your account, whatever you do, don’t give that person your account number or any information, which they will say is to verify they have the right person on the line.

Hang up and look up the phone number of the bank or entity that is supposedly calling you and tell them what has just occurred. Even if you do hang up on your banker, he/she is going to understand completely why you did it and not mind at all.

You should call the police immediately if you think you’ve been victimized. However, law enforcement officials in the past have told me there is often little that can be done to track down and prosecute identity thieves after they hit you so the best course of action is to stay alert and learn more about their methods.

For information, visit the FTC’s Web site for avoiding identity theft at:

http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

or the New Mexico Attorney General’s Web site at:

http://www.nmag.gov

Try the tabs for Internet Safety, Need Help and Publications for lots of information.

Karl Terry writes for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at: karlterry@yucca.net