Now that identity thieves use technology that would make James Bond jealous, the Midwood Civic Action Council heard bankers explain how to avoid being tricked by the bad guys.
At a meeting at Caraville Restaurant, 1910 Ave. M, two bankers from Astoria Federal Savings Bank told civic council members that personal information can be easily stolen from unsuspecting customers.
The amount of money lost to fraudsters reported to the Federal Trade Commission jumped by 20 percent from $568 million in 2004 to $682 million in 2005. And more than a third of those consumer complaints involved identity theft.
Just using ATM machines can lead to identity theft.
Thieves have dreamed up ever more sophisticated ways of stealing PIN numbers and account information.
One method uses hidden cameras in bank lobbies, perhaps hidden in a fake leaflet box, pointed toward a keyboard.
Another uses a fake keyboard that is laid over the actual keypad, which records the information as the customer types in their PIN number.
A third uses a false card reader placed over the financial institutions legitimate ATM card reader.
Next thing you know they are creating false ATM cards, said Jacqueline Shapiro, assistant secretary of Astoria Federal Savings.
The general rule is that if it doesnt look right, report it.
It is never a good idea to keep personal identification numbers written down, or to use PIN numbers that crooks could easily guess, such as a date of birth, said Kathleen Macario, assistant vice president of Astoria Federal Savings.
Perhaps the biggest prize for anyone who wants to assume someones identity is getting hold of the victims name and Social Security number.
Macario says that she frequently sees pay stubs left by customers lying around her bank branch. These documents often have the Social Security numbers, names and addresses printed on them.
We are trained to walk around and look for them, Shapiro said. If they have your Social Security number and your name, that is all they need to be you.
But with all the talk of high-tech crime, it is easy to forget that some crooks use more old-fashioned methods to separate victims from their hard-earned cash. They simply grab money as a customer withdraws cash from an ATM, or they look over the shoulder as the PIN is entered.
It is therefore never a good idea to hold open a door for someone while entering a cash machine lobby after business hours. Customers should also withdraw their money as quickly as possible, and keep an eye out to make sure nobody is lingering close by.
With so many transactions being done electronically, balancing the checkbook has become more complicated.
But this should not stop anyone from going through their bank statement to check for unauthorized transactions.
Like parasites, some thieves take small amounts of money over time from many different accounts, hoping that their pilfering will go undetected.
You have to make sure you check your statements when they come in, said Shapiro.
Receipts or statements should never be discarded into trash cans, but should be shredded.
Anyone with an email account should be very wary of opening messages with attachments. These could have spy software, which steal account and personal information from a computers hard drives.
But identity thieves also use hoaxes to get personal information.
There are many different ways to trick people to giving over personal information. Some bogus Web sites pose as legitimate auction houses. Other scams offer money from overseas in exchange for an upfront fee or account information, while other fraudsters pose as catalog salespeople.
The bottom line is to never give out information over the Internet or over the phone, unless the identity can be confirmed.
Never give personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call, said Shapiro.
Many banks now offer customers identity theft protection. For example, Astoria Federal Savings Bank charges $5 a month for theirs.
©2006 Community News Group
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