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Protect Your Identity

Jan 28, 2008
In October 2007, 25-year-old Houstonian Meghan Whitmore had her bank account drained by an unknown thief. It was a perfect case of identity fraud. Meghan saw thousands of dollars taken out of ATMs by someone using her account number and even her PIN - all while her card was in her wallet. Amazingly, almost exactly a year later, Carol Whitmore, Meg's mother, was also targeted by an identity thief who made fraudulent charges on her debit card. Oddly, the card was still in Whitmore's possession, just as her daughter's card had been. How did this happen? Is it just bad luck in the family? No. Identity theft has become so widespread that it can happen to anyone, and even seem to "strike twice".

How can the Whitmores - and anyone - protect their money? The key is to protect your whole identity - not just your name, but everything that makes you, you. Your account number, PIN, passwords, and your social security number can all be stolen by today's highly advanced identity thieves.

So, really, how could someone make ATM withdrawals or debit card purchases without even having the card in their possession? It's a clever scam known to thieves across the globe, but unfortunately, mostly unknown to the unsuspecting victims. British TV hit "The Real Hustle" exposes these tricks with real-life demonstrations, showing us how cons can steal our information, and what you can do to protect your identity.

The show calls the ATM card trick "Waitress Card Cloning," though of course it could be done by anyone in the service industry who handles your card during payment. Here's how the scam works:

In the example, a sweet-looking, friendly waitress serves a couple some coffee. When it comes time to settle the bill, the customer hands her his credit card, as we all so often do. Then the waitress, who is actually one of the show's professional con exposers, Jess, "accidentally" drops the credit card. As she picks it up, she swiftly swipes it through a hidden card reader in her pant leg (thieves also hide it in their pocket or apron). In an instant, that card reader has read the card's magnetic strip and copied the victim's personal information.

Then, as the "clumsy" Jess cheerfully hands the card back to the customer, she even sneaks a peek at his PIN number as he enters it into the legit card reader. You may think nobody could possibly see what your PIN is if you type it in quickly enough, but thieves are paying attention. Sometimes, they even have an accomplice in line behind you, or hovering nearby, to get a better look as you type your PIN in full view of anyone watching closely.

Most people aren't uncomfortable typing in their PINs. The idea is that without your card information, your PIN is useless, so if anyone saw you enter it, they couldn't do anything with it. But not in this scam. Now the criminals have both the information on your credit card and your PIN - everything they need to cause serious damage to your bank account and credit.

Once the thieves have your information, they can use it to make a duplicate card and start a crime spree. They can even sell your information to international crime syndicates, meaning "you" could be making purchases across the globe in Japan within 24 hours of the initial scam.

Fortunately, credit card companies and banks are catching on and are sympathetic to victims of this kind of scam. However, the feeling of violation, the headache of straightening out the situation, and the damage caused by such a scam can take a long time to recover from.

Tips to Protect Your Identity From Card Cloning Scams

* Put your hand over your PIN when entering it so that nobody can sneak a peek.

* Don't trust your waiter or waitress, no matter how nice they seem.

* Don't let anyone walk away with your credit card, claiming the card reader is "in the back."

* Always keep your credit card in sight. If you see something that looks suspiciously like a surreptitious swipe, do not be afraid to ask to see the manager.

* Examine your bank and credit statement closely and often -everyday if you have Internet banking capabilities. The instant you see fraudulent charges, alert your bank and cancel the card.

As easy as it is for some criminals to steal your information, it is just as easy to protect your identity. Make yourself aware of these common scams and remain constantly vigilant against such threats.
About the Author
Ralph Winn. 35 years in the Security System industry. Home Security and Alarm Monitoring tips.
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