Seattle police say criminals are playing on people’s fear of identity theft to commit identity theft by posing as representatives of a major credit bureau agency.
One victim is a woman we’ll call “Mary.”
Mary and her husband have always been afraid of identity theft.
“We only carry one major credit card. We don’t shop online. We don’t bank online,” she said.
It is this guardedness that may have made Mary susceptible to a sophisticated scam.
Last week a woman called saying she was a representative of Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.
The suspect alerted Mary that someone had used her credit card to buy a pricey plane ticket to Chicago, rented an expensive car and ordered a computer online. The suspect gave specific dollar amounts.
“My antennae went up and I’ve become exceedingly nervous at that point,” she said.
It was all a lie.
But to gain Mary’s trust, the suspect provided some vital information.
She knew all four credit cards Mary had ever used.
She knew all five banks Mary’s ever had accounts in.
She knew her current and a 35-year-old former address.
She even had a partial Social Security number.
Because the woman knew so much about her, it made Mary trust her.
So when asked to give the last four digits of her social security number, Mary did so.
Minutes later, Mary had a call on other line – it was her real credit card company.
“Two charges had been made on my account, so while I was on hold with the perpatrator charges were actually being made on my card,” she said.
“These incidents are not isolated at all, unfortunately. With this particular batch we’ve got at least three that we’re looking at right now,” said Sean Whitcomb of the Seattle Police Dept.
Whitcomb said it’s a sophisticated version of a disturbing crime.
“What they’re really doing is fishing for information. They’re hoping that you’re going to provide them with your social security number, your birthday or any other privileged information,” he said.
“If something this sophisticated can be conceived of, who knows what one might do with pertinent information,” said Mary.
Police say when credit and banking institutions call you, they will only verify changes to the account, but not ask you for information.
Here’s a really good way to protect yourself. Call one of the big three credit agencies and ask for a free 90-day fraud alert. So if you lose a wallet and you want the agency to watch out for questionable activity like someone applying for a credit card, you can do that. The alert can be renewed every 90 days.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, if you file a police report and then mail it in, you can get a free 7-year fraud alert placed on your account.
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