“Identity theft,” sometimes referred to as “identity fraud,” refers to the act of another person impersonating you, usually to obtain some financial gain. In most circumstances, this will involve another person gaining access to your personal information, such as your Social Security number, birth date or driver’s license numbers.
How does an Imposter gain access to my Personal Information?
One of the main ways that a person can obtain your personal information is by tricking you into providing that information. Scammers have a variety of techniques that they use to convince you to either download software that they can use to gain this information or to trick you in to providing it to them.
In many case, you will receive an email that appears to be from a financial institution where you have an account and which asks that you download a file or follow a link to a website. The email will look authentic and will usually advise that there is an urgent matter that requires you to immediately log in to your account. Common scam techniques are to claim that someone is trying to access your account and you need to log in to stop the unauthorized access, to tell you that your account is locked and you need to log in and create a new password, that you will lose money such as a tax refund unless you log in, or similar lies.
Another way scammers operate is to gain access to one person’s computer and then send out emails to everyone on that person’s contact list which contain malware. So even if you receive an email from someone that you know, you still need to be cautious. Be wary of any email you receive which asks you to download an attachment or visit a link. The same goes for official looking email that ask you to log in to your bank or credit card account or require you to download an attachment.
When a scammer attempts to gain access to your computer or your personal information by using an email it is referred to as “phishing.” Often a phishing scam will either contain malware, a software program designed to damage or disable your computer, or will link to a fake website that is infected with malware. In the most extreme cases this can result in you inadvertently installing “ransomware” on your computer, which is software that can lock you out of your computer until you pay the scammer to unlock it.
Scammers also can try to obtain this information through sending a text message or Short Message Service (“SMS”) which is known as “smishing,” or can attempt to gain access by calling your cell phone and claiming to represent your bank, or credit card company, which is called “vishing” or “voice-mail phishing.” Regardless of the manner in which the contact is made, the scammer’s goal is to have you either download malware or get you to directly provide your personal and account information to them.
The best ways to avoid a phishing, mishing or vishing scam is to always use anti-virus software and to never open a file or visit a website until you have checked to ensure it is legitimate. If you do visit a website, check to make sure the URL or address begins with “https” and that there is a “closed lock” icon near the address bar. You should also check for the website’s security certificate. Always look out for any message or warning stating that there is an issue with the website or that it may contain malware. And never download or open files from emails or websites until you are sure that they are safe.
Also, keep in mind that your bank or other financial institution will never ask you to provide your personal or account information through text, SMS or voice-mail messages. If you are unsure if the contact you received is actually from your bank or financial institution, then find the phone number for that entity on its official website, from a billing statement or from your credit card number and contact it directly. It is always better to take the time to be sure that you are dealing with the actual financial institution and not a convincing scammer.