You Don’t Know Me, So Watch Out

When you’re shopping online or in person, you can’t be too careful. I’ll first discuss my experiences, then give you some information from some research that I’ve gathered (source references are at the end of this article).

My Experience

In October 2005, USAA bank called me to say that there was activity with my debit card in Rumania. I told the rep that I have never been there. She cancelled the card and issued me a new one.

In December 2005, I stopped at a gas pump and tried to use my Chase credit card. It didn’t work, and when I got home to check, my account had been temporarily disabled because of some large purchases that had been made on the West Coast by someone—but it wasn’t me. These purchases caused my account to go over the limit. I was charged fees, and when I disputed the charges on the phone, I was told to sign a form indicating which exact charges I did and did not authorize.

In 2006, my company sent a letter to me saying that they had lost a disk that contained the sensitive information of their employees, their spouses and dependents. They offered me 6 months of free credit monitoring.

In April 2008, I logged onto two different bank accounts and discovered that a strange electronic check had cleared both accounts, although they used my old name and my old address. The banks were unable to trace the source, but I checked the company name online and found that this company was operating under a few different names (“Three, Inc.” and “DCL ENV, Inc.” ), running a scam. The bank required that I file a police report and close my account. It was resolved on my end in a matter of weeks, but to this day, I don’t know where the crooks got my information from, or whether they’ll ever be prosecuted.  I documented this in a post at

In February 2009, I found a fraudulent charge on my account from a company called “Shock Toyama” for over $343. I called and was asked a couple of verification questions, then the person cancelled my card and issued me a new one. Thank God I check my monthly statements.

Maybe you can relate to this: you go to Wal-Mart, or a fast food drive-thru, and when you take out your ID with your credit or debit card, the cashier says, “That’s OK, I don’t need to look at it.” Or, “An ID is not required for purchases under $25.” Is there anybody here who wouldn’t mind losing money as long as it’s under $25? I can’t afford it. The post office clerks will not only check your ID, but make sure that the back of your card is signed before you can use it for a purchase of any amount.

Complaints on the Rise

According to, 2008 was the seventh year in a row that identity theft was the number one consumer fraud complaints submitted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to the agency’s 2007 report on fraud complaints, of 813,899 total complaints received in 2007, 32 percent were related to identity theft.

According to the FTC, total consumer fraud losses totaled $1.2 billion, with the average monetary loss for an individual at $349. Credit card fraud was the most common form of reported identity theft at 23 percent, followed by utilities fraud at 18 percent, employment fraud at 14 percent, and bank fraud at 13 percent.
The top form of credit card fraud was opening a fraudulent new account at 14.2 percent, followed by fraud on an existing account at 9.4 percent.
According to an official FTC survey released in November 2007, 8.3 million Americans were victims of some form of identity theft in 2005.

Arizona-Worst in the Country

Arizona ranks number one in the nation for identity theft complaints per capita, with the number of complaints having risen 55 percent since 2002. The findings include:
·    Approximately 293,500 Arizona residents fell victim to identity theft in 2007.
·    Children in Arizona became victims of identity theft at nearly four times the national rate. More than 1.1 million Arizona children’s identities have already been stolen.
·    More than a third of stolen identities in Arizona are used for fraudulent employment.
·    Identity theft cost Arizona victims an estimated $147 million last year, and spent a total of 1.2 million hours resolving identity theft issues.

How Do People Become Victims of Identity Theft?

Thieves get access to your personal information in many ways:

They obtain your credit card information, forge a credit card application, and use it to make purchases.

They obtain a paper or computer record with personal information on it and use that to forge their identity.

They open a bank account in their name or forge checks.

They steal mail.

They use IDs and other cards in a person’s wallet or purse.

They access public records.

They create false IDs and posed as them the actual person to get government benefits or payments.

They were a friend, relative or co-worker.

What Is the Cost of Identity Theft?

Millions of people incur many out-of-pocket expenses trying to restore their identity and clean up their credit.  A 2002 survey found that 98 million adults say they do not know how to protect themselves against identity theft. Almost 34 million bought a privacy protection product to help avoid identity theft, to check their credit report, and to surf or shop online anonymously. At $75, the average annual price for these products, these figures represent a $2.5 billion expenditure.

Now that we fully understand the magnitude of the identity theft crisis in this country, I’d like to tell you about a few ways you can safeguard your personal information and your identity when doing transactions online and in person.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers: Pros and Cons

A virtual number is only good on the Web site where you made your purchase. An online purchase made with a virtual card number shows up on a customer’s card bill just like any other purchase. Some issuers even list the virtual card number next to the charge.

Making online purchases with a single-use card number gives you an added layer of protection.

You can’t pick up theater tickets with a virtual credit card number, nor can you  confirm airline, hotel or rental car reservations with a credit card number that doesn’t exist off the Web.

Paying recurring expenses, such as monthly phone or cable bills, with a credit card number that expires every few weeks would be a hassle. Pre-ordering unreleased books, compact discs, videos and DVDs off the Web is out as well. The reason? Your virtual card number could expire before the merchandise is available for purchase.

To Avoid Becoming a Fraud Victim

Here is a list of tips you can use:

Use a virtual credit card number when shopping online. This a temporary number (assigned to your account) that’s good for a limited number of purchases – one or a few – and expire within a month or so. After that, it’s invalid. The safest way to make purchases on the Internet is with a credit card, because federal law protects credit transactions from fraud. That law does not protect you using your debit card, PayPal, money orders.

Put a fraud alert or a freeze on your credit. This means that no one can apply for credit in your name without extra verification. It is likely that the application for credit be denied, and the merchant will call you to notify you that someone has applied for credit in your name (even if it really is you).

Train your cashier or server when you’re in a store or a restaurant, by insisting that they check your ID when you present a card for payment.

Find out if the Web site you are visiting has a privacy policy. The same thing goes for your card issuer. Know how your personal information will be handled. If you don’t want your information to be shared with other companies (thus avoiding some unwanted junk mail), there are instructions in the privacy policy on how to opt out of those marketing communications.

When online, make sure your transactions are handled through a secure or encrypted mode. Most merchants use SSL, the secure socket layer protocol. You will know you’re on a secure site if the Web page on which you conduct your transaction begins with “https:” instead of the usual “http:”.  Also look for the right symbol. Before typing in your credit card information, look for a closed padlock or key on the page, letting you know your personal information will be encrypted or scrambled.

If you’re shopping with a merchant for the first time, look for the Trust-e symbol or a Better Business Bureau online seal, which indicate the seller has been independently audited and deemed trustworthy.

Monitor your credit card account frequently. Keep records of all online transactions. If you find a suspicious transaction on your bill, contact your credit card company immediately. It is best to do this within 30 days of the date printed on the bill.

Don’t click the link in an e-mail that appears to come from a retailer. Instead, type in the address of the Web site you intend to visit. E-mail you receive could be spam or a phishing scam, intended to steal your personal information.

Make your online passwords complex. Make sure they are at least 8 characters long, and use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols (if allowed). Don’t use a word or number someone else could figure out, such as your address, child’s name, or your birthday. Change your password frequently.

Avoid doing personal transactions on with sensitive information on public or shared computers.

Consider using just one card for all your online purchases, so they’re easier to track.

Do not carry around your SS card in your wallet every day, or enter your SSN on unencrypted sites. Research the company to be sure that your privacy is protected and that your SSN is required before filling out an online form.

Save and/or print your purchase confirmation emails.

If you have a home network, set up your wireless router properly. Change the default network name (SSID); hackers know the names manufacturers use by default in their routers, such as NETGEAR. Choose WPA encryption rather than WEP. (

Sign up for your financial and medical bills and statements to be delivered electronically, if the service is available. The documents will arrive faster than by regular mail, and you can save them or access them for years. Plus you help the environment by saving trees since all this paper isn’t being printed, and you reduce the risk of mail fraud.

For statements and sensitive documents you no longer need, shred them with a paper shredder (some will even shred credit cards).


Bosworth, Martin H. February 14, 2008. Accessed February 10, 2009 from

Credit card consumer protection.

Gartner Survey – July 2003. Accessed February 10, 2009 from

Lazarony, Lucy. March 2004. Perishable credit card numbers take the fear out of Web shopping. Accessed February 10, 2009 from

Identity theft resources:

Report Examines why Arizona Ranks Worst for Cases of Identity Theft. June 30, 2008. Accessed February 10, 2009 from

Virtual Card Numbers.


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