Identity Theft is the PRIMARY objective of Internet Scams and Phishing/Spam E-mails today. YOU ARE AT SERIOUS RISK. Identity Theft merely means someone else becomes you using your personal information without your knowing it until it is too late. Your identity is extremely valuable to scammers. Criminals are determined to steal your personal information from you and your computer so it can be sold on the black market to all kinds of criminal elements in our society today.

The object of scam letters and scam E-mails is not just to get you to send money to the scammers, but to obtain your identity which is worth far more to them than the money you send them. So how do they do this? Actually it is quite simple. In their E-mail, they ask you for your personal information (name, address, sex, phone number, occupation, where you bank, and marital status to name the most common questions. They can download spyware on your computer and/or a virus-Trojan Horse onto your hard drive when you open their E-mail. Very little personal information is required for them to fill in the blanks of the information you did not provide them.

One method they use is to take whatever information you have given them, and from your hard drive, and feed this information into “detective software” easily available on the Internet. From this they can obtain your Social Security Number, or National ID information, plus any of your property information (real estate, car, boat, etc.).

You have to remember everything you do on the Internet is automatically stored on your computer’s hard drive for the hackers to steal with their malware. This includes all your usernames and passwords, purchase information (credit card, online banking) and your E-mail address book. Even if the E-mail you open does not contain any malicious code, a receipt is sent to the scammer which gives them your IP address, and then the malware is off and running on your computer. Once they have your E-mail address, it is then sold to other scammer mailing lists. Now you know how you started receiving all those spam E-mails: fake lottery winning notifications, other solicitations, fake next of kin notifications, etc..

If you are like most of us, once you hear all of this, and learn just what can happen to you, you don’t want to go near a computer or do anything online ever again. While it sounds scary, and it is, the good news is you can take steps to protect yourself. You can safely surf the Internet, do online banking, and send and receive E-mails. So what do you do to make using the Internet and E-mails safe? Follow these steps:

  1. Never answer one of these fake E-mails (you won the lottery, dying widow needs your help, need next of kin, need a money transfer agent, etc.).
  2. If you have responded, break off all communications with them IMMEDIATELY. This is a must!
  3. Immediately change all your passwords on every site you are required to provide a password to access (online banking, retail stores you buy from, websites you visit, etc.).
  4. Run your anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on all your systems. If you don’t have these software programs on your computer, you must get them ASAP and run them immediately to protect yourself. You should do this once a week at the very minimum. If you do a lot of Internet surfing, we recommend you do this every 2 days.
  5. If you do not know how to remove your temporary Internet files, how to defrag your computer, run disk cleanups, etc., consult your Help file to learn how. Or have someone show you how to clean your computer.
  6. If you do online banking, you need to monitor your account at the very minimum of once a week. We highly recommend you monitor your account every 3 days. This makes it easier to spot any unauthorized activity so you can report it immediately.
  7. Be aware of any unsuspected deposits into your bank account from sources you do not know. The odds are that these deposits are an attempt at money laundering, and you could be liable if you do not report it. Report any withdrawals and deposits that you did not make IMMEDIATELY to your bank.
  8. If by chance you did send your personal information to a scammer, contact the issuing agency and ask for a new document if possible. If you cannot get a new identity document issued, then have the one assigned to you be Fraud-Flagged. This means you will have to provide additional means of ID to prove you are the authorized person…you are you.
  9. If by chance you sent them your birth certificate, inform your local law enforcement agency immediately. Get it on record that you filed a report.
  10. Contact the three credit bureaus and get a copy of your credit reports. You should monitor them at least every six months. Some provide a service on a monthly basis for a fee. Only you can determine if that is something you want to do and pay for monthly.
  11. You must contact each credit reporting agency individually. They do not communicate with each other and compare credit reports.
  12. Should you receive any money order, check, or wire receipt take it to your local law enforcement agency. DO NOT CASH OR DEPOSIT INTO YOUR BANK ACCOUNT. Be sure to mark VOID across the face of the instrument.