Identity Theft Credit Card Security

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

Credit card fraud comes in two different flavors: account takeover and new account fraud. Account takeover occurs when the identity thief gains access to your credit or debit card number through criminal hacking, dumpster diving, ATM skimming, or perhaps you simply hand it over when paying at a store or restaurant. Technically, account takeover is the most prevalent form of identity theft. I’ve always viewed it as simple credit card fraud, rather than “identity theft” in its truest sense.

New account fraud, as it relates to credit cards, occurs when someone gains access to your personal identifying information, including your name, address and, most importantly, your Social Security number. With this data, a thief can open a new account and have the card sent to a different address. This is true identity theft. Once the identity thief receives the new card, he or she maxes it out and doesn’t pay the bill. Over time, the creditors track down the victim, blame him or her for the unpaid bills, and demand the owed funds. New account fraud destroys the victim’s credit and is a mess to clean up.

Victims of account takeover are likely to discover the fraud in numerous ways. They may notice suspicious charges on a credit card statement, or the credit card company may notice charges that seem unusual in the context of the victim’s established spending habits. Credit card companies have anomaly detection software that monitors credit card transactions for red flags. For example, if you hand your credit card to a gas station attendant in Boston at noon, and then a card present purchase is made from a tiny village in Romania one hour later, a red flag is raised. Common sense says you can’t possibly get from Boston to Romania in one hour. The software knows this.

Victims of account takeover only wind up paying the fraudulent charges if they don’t detect and report the crime within 60 days. A 6o day window covers two billing cycles, which should be enough for most account-conscious consumers who keep an eye on their spending. During that time, you are covered by a “zero liability policy,” which was invented by credit card companies to reduce fears of online fraud. Under this policy, the cardholder may be responsible for up to $50.00 in charges, but most banks extend the coverage to charges under $50.00. After 60 days, though, you are out of luck. So pay attention to your statements. As long as you do, account takeover should not hurt you financially.

But new account fraud is another story entirely – one that can and will hurt you if you don’t protect yourself. You may not be held financially responsible for the charges themselves, but you will pay in time, and time is money. In some cases you may pay lawyers or private investigators, or you may need to take time off from work, depending on how dire your credit situation becomes. Identity theft victims have been denied credit due to the unpaid debts in their names, and have missed opportunities to purchase homes as a result.

Protecting yourself from account takeover is relatively easy. Simply pay attention to your statements every month and refute unauthorized charges immediately. I check my charges online once every two weeks. If I’m traveling extensively, especially out of the country, I let the credit card company know ahead of time, so they won’t shut down my card while I’m on the road.

Protecting yourself from new account fraud requires more effort. You can attempt to protect your own identity, by getting yourself a credit freeze, or setting up your own fraud alerts. There are pros and cons to each.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing identity theft hackers

TJX Identity Theft Costs Another 10 million, Protect Yourself from WarDriving

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

Most people are familiar with the TJX data breach, in which 45 million credit card numbers were stolen. TJX recently agreed to pay $9.75 million to 41 states to settle an investigation of the massive data breach. According to some reports, TJX has spent up to $256 million attempting to fix the problem that led to the breach.

It’s been said repeatedly that the criminal hackers responsible for the breach were sitting in a car outside a store when they stumbled across a vulnerable, unprotected wireless network using a laptop, a telescope antenna, and an 802.11 wireless LAN adapter. This process is called “Wardriving.”

WiFi is everywhere. Whether you travel for business or simply need Internet access while out and about, your options are plentiful. You can sign on at airports, hotels, coffee shops, fast food restaurants, and now, airplanes. What are your risk factors when accessing wireless? There are plenty. WiFi wasn’t born to be secure. It was born to be convenient. As more sensitive data has been wirelessly transmitted over the years, the need for security has evolved. Today, with criminal hackers as sophisticated as they ever have been, wireless communications are at an even higher risk.

When setting up a wireless router, there are two different security techniques you can use. WiFi Protected Access is a certification program that was created in response to several serious weaknesses researchers had found in the previous system, Wired Equivalent Privacy. Wired Equivalent Privacy was introduced in 1997 and is the original form of wireless network security. Wireless networks broadcast messages using radio and are thus more susceptible to eavesdropping than wired networks.

It’s one thing to access your own wireless connection from your home or office. It entirely another story when accessing someone else’s unprotected network. Setting up a secure WiFi connection will protect the data on your network, for the most part, but if you’re on someone else’s network, secured or unsecured, your data is at risk. Anyone using an open network risks exposing their data. There are many ways to see who’s connected on a wireless connection, and gain access to their data.

There are a few things you should do to protect yourself while using wireless. Be smart about what kind of data you transmit on a public wireless connection. There’s no need to make critical transactions while sipping that macchiato.

Don’t store critical data on a device used outside the secure network. I have a laptop and an iPhone. If they are hacked, there’s nothing on either device that would compromise me.

Install Hotspot Shield. A free ad supported program, Hotspot Shield protects your entire web surfing session by securing your connection, whether you’re at home or in public, using wired or wireless Internet. Hotspot Shield does this by ensuring that all web transactions are secured through HTTPS. They also offer an iPhone application. There are fee based programs, including Publicvpn.com and HotSpotVPN, which can create a secure “tunnel” between a computer and the site’s server.

Turn off WiFi and blue tooth on your laptop or cell phone when you’re not using them. An unattended device emitting wireless signals is very appealing to a criminal hacker.

Beware of free WiFi connections. Anywhere you see a broadcast for “Free WiFi,” consider it a red flag. It’s likely that free WiFi is meant to act as bait.

Beware of evil twins. These are connections that appear legitimate but are actually traps set to snare anyone who connects.

Keep your antivirus and operating system updated. Make sure your anti-virus is automatically updated and your operating systems critical security patches are up to date.

Invest in Intelius Identity Protect. Because when all else fails you’ll have someone watching your back. Includes a Free Credit Report, SSN monitoring, Credit & Debit Card monitoring, Bank Account monitoring, Email fraud alerts, Public Records Monitoring, Customizable “Watch List”, $25,000 in ID theft insurance, Junk Mail OptOut and Credit Card Offer OptOut.

Robert Siciliano identity theft speaker discussing criminal wireless hack