How Do I Know You?
by Teresia Smith
Often you hear of identity theft in the news. Identity theft begins when someone takes information such as your name, Social Security number, birthdate and address to use it without your knowledge or permission, for their personal gain. Having your credit maliciously used is a crime; however, identity theft can also be used to stalk someone for non-financial gain. If a perpetrator gains knowledge of your phone number, address, work location, places you frequent, they can use this information to stalk and possibly harm you.
There are many different types of schemes identity criminals use to gain your information.
1) Dumpster Diving – This occurs when someone goes through someone else’s garbage to obtain information off items found in the trash, such as bills, utility bills, medical insurance and bank statements. Do you just toss your mail? A thief could use your credit card or bank statements to gain more information about you. To protect yourself, shred everything with a paper shredder. Today, many businesses offer paperless statements, so that may be a safe option.
2) Mail Theft – Do you check your mail daily? Some thieves target mailboxes to obtain information to not only steal identity, but to also steal mail and use it to identify places you frequent in order to stalk you. How can you thwart them? You should monitor your mail, removing it daily. Also, many post offices now offer Informed Delivery, where you receive a daily email showing what to expect in your box. That way you will know if anything is missing.
3) Social Engineering -This is the practice of someone either in person, over the telephone, or computer, deceiving someone else into divulging sensitive information. Usually, they know information that leads the victim to believe they are legitimate and give the information asked. This is commonly known as a con game. Think about times you have received an email telling you that you need to secure your account somewhere like Paypal.In reality, it’s a con email working to gain your password. Recently, there have been reports of calls pretending to be a sheriff’s department saying you need to give them a credit card over the phone to pay a phony ticket or else you will be arrested. With Covid-19, you may receive calls asking if you frequent locations under the guise of contact tracing, when in fact, this is a con game to identify places you go. Stay diligent. Do not give out personal information to anyone you do not know. If in doubt, obtain the person’s contact number; let them know you will call them back. Verify with the company the person is representing that such information is really needed.
4) Shoulder Surfing -This is just as it sounds. It can occur anytime you use a password, phone number or a pin pad. The identity thief attempts to get close enough to you so that when you enter password information, such as a PIN number, the thief records the password. It can also be information asked verbally. Recently, I heard from someone that as they checked out at a store, the cashier asked for their phone number to input for the store’s loyalty program. Not thinking anything of it, they verbally gave their number. They had no idea there was a possible abuser in line near them who overheard their number. He recorded the number and later, he started sending multiple unwanted texts trying to get her to meet up with him and even though she rebuffed him, he eventually became quite aggressive even disclosing he’d watched her at the store before this. She had to make a police report against him to get him to stop contacting her.
To stay safer in public, you should always be very aware of your surroundings. Don’t let yourself get distracted and complacent. Pay attention to who is near you, if the same person keeps appearing on the aisle you are on, if someone appears to be too friendly, if someone is covertly taking pictures of you or your kids, etc. If someone stands too close to you, do not be afraid to ask the person to move back. If they are not willing to do so, let the person go first. And when asked by a cashier for your phone number, ask if you can input it yourself in the pin pad while shielding it from view. If not, decline to give the number.
These and many other schemes are used by unscrupulous people to commit crimes. Don’t be fooled if someone contacts you and you have no idea who they are. Find out how they got your information and how they know you, making sure it is legitimate and not a con. We must remain vigilant against these tactics and we also need to use our awareness to intervene if we see something happening to an unsuspecting person.
Crisis Services of North Alabama strives to create a community where we listen, show compassion for those who are hurting, and encourage them as they travel the road from victim to survivor. If you have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services such as crisis counseling, referrals, safe shelter, court advocacy, and support groups. We may be reached locally at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000.
You are not alone.