Jacquelyn Lynn - Online Consumer Advice and Commentary

Jacquelyn Lynn is a business writer whose dynamic books and insightful articles have been helping business owners and managers work smarter and more profitably for more than two decades. She is the author of Entrepreneur’s Almanac, Online Shopper’s Survival Guide and co-author of Make Big Profits on eBay, as well as a regular contributor to Entrepreneur magazine. For more information and for the link to her business blog, visit www.jacquelynlynn.com.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pretexting: another angle on identity theft

Have you ever participated in a telephone survey? In most cases, it was probably a legitimate poll, but fraudsters have discovered this as an identity theft technique.

It’s called pretexting. A pretexter uses false pretenses to trick you into revealing personal information, such as financial data (bank, credit card, investment account information), your Social Security number, your various passwords, and anything else they might be able to use to commit fraud. In addition to claiming to be conducting a survey, pretexters have been known to say they represent government agencies, banks, law enforcement agencies, and more.

The pretexter’s call may seem harmless enough, especially in the beginning. Remember, these are con artists, and they know they need you to relax and drop your guard so you’ll give them what they want.

Sometimes the pretexter is also the person who will commit the identity theft or fraud. Other times, the pretexter sells the information to private investigators or to scammers.

The concept isn’t new but, as with so many other scams, the criminals are getting increasingly sophisticated and doing far more damage.

How can you protect yourself?

Be wary of any unsolicited call asking you for information. Participate in phone surveys if you want to, but consider your answers carefully. For example, if the survey is about pets, it’s reasonable to expect questions about the number and breed of your animals, but there’s no reason for a survey company to need to know your pets’ names—especially since a lot of people use their pets’ names as passwords. The same thing applies to children: number and age, fine; names, no. And speaking of passwords, don’t use the names of your immediate family and/or pets as passwords.

If the caller wants to “verify” account numbers or other information, do not volunteer and details he does not already have. For example, if the caller says, “I show your account number as 12345,” your response should simply be, “No, that’s not accurate.” But do not offer the correct number. And never give the name of your bank, stock brokerage, or other financial services provider.

Remember that criminals know how to do things like spoof Caller ID – so you see a display with a phone number and name of a legitimate business, but that’s not really where the call is coming from.

Never totally relax when you are talking with someone you don’t know on a call you did not initiate. And before you answer any question, ask yourself this: Does this person really need to know this and can he or she use the information to commit fraud or steal from me?




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