Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert

Most people are smart enough not to fall for a Nigerian 419 scam. But plenty of very smart people fell for the Madoff investment scams. Madoff was a wolf in sheeps clothing and not as obvious as rogue scammers. The fact that he bilked untold billions in a time when peoples awareness of bamboozlers should be the highest ever, tells us we are no smarter today than 50 years ago.

The root of the problem is there isn’t a day that goes by when we are bombarded with a myriad of scams in the form of an investment seminar, smoke and mirror charity, and of course phish emails or even phexting: text messaging purportedly from our bank. I got a phext yesterday from “r.yahoo.com” saying “changed secret question, log in to update, or text HELP or to end STOP”. It was of course suspicious because of the “r” so I did a search online and found a forum where someone had been scammed here. What I learned was if I had clicked or responded, all heck would have broke loose. I have multiple Yahoo accounts for email, SEO and blog accounts. Any response to this phext would have allowed invaders to compromise lots of proprietary data, instigated possible ransomware (holding my data hostage), or resulted in social media identity theft.

I received an email from a very prominent security and privacy researcher who I’ve developed a professional relationship with over the years and have a deep respect for. He placed an ad on Craigslist and received a quick response to his ad. He contacted me, concerned, but aware that he was almost scammed.

“Robert, so, I registered on Craigslist and posted our above ground pool for sale. Within minutes got a reply from someone asking some basic questions (most of which could have been answered if they had read the advert). Their reply to my answers raised an immediate red flag. This individual claimed to be from Miami and was willing to write me a check for the full amount, plus shipping charges for their shipping company that would pick up the pool. In other words, I deposit a check (in context it seemed to be either a business or personal check, either way I would have had to wait for it to clear) and when it clears, I keep my asking price and give the difference to the shipping company when they arrive to pick up the pool.

I’ve ceased communication with this individual, but this just stinks to high heaven. First, if it is their own shipping company, why should I have to pay them? Second, no way I’m going to deposit this check into my account and risk having my bank info show up on their statement. Third, why would someone in Miami (above ground pools aren’t all that popular down there, it seems to me) want to pay to have a used above ground pool shipped all the way from New England? Fourth, I’m just nervous about stuff like that anyway.

Ever heard of/encountered that kind of situation before?”

Ahhh, yahhhhhhhhhh! This is an advanced fee scam! Now because I am obsessively screaming about this stuff all day I can see this coming from a mile away, as he did, but anyone who only occasionally “puts it out there” may easily become a victim of this type of crime.

With all the financial mess out there and people reaching out and doing things that aren’t all together part of their routine, such as seeking new employment, logging into job placement websites, seeking work at home opportunities, selling stuff out their basements online, or simply spending lots of time in social media, we become susceptible to the “ruse of the day”. Because we simply aren’t accustom to these new wave of scams. But the biggest thing that gets us into trouble, is our own egos. And the fact that we have the gall to believe we are too smart.

The Wall Street Journal reports that research in the past five years on the behavior of victims may smash some of your stereotypes. Consider: Many scam victims are pretty smart. Three studies in 2006 and 2007 of identified investment-fraud victims and randomly selected participants—carried out by the Finra foundation, WISE Senior Services of Los Angeles and AARP Washington State—found that victims of investment fraud tend to be better educated than nonvictims, have higher incomes and have been investing for a decade or more. But they are so confident in their judgment that they fail to seek out professional or other opinions.

Years ago the Better Business Bureau did a test around the holidays and placed a guy in plain clothes outside a store with a plastic pumpkin ringing a bell. In the 20 minutes that he rang the bell people kept dropping money into the pumpkin. When the people were stopped and asked about what they just did, they said they had just donated to the Salvation Army. It didn’t matter that the guy was in plain clothes or holding a plastic pumpkin, it was the fact that he was ringing a bell! And like Pavlov’s Dogs, people opened their wallets.

Criminals aren’t any smarter than we are, they just pay attention to how stupid we can be.

Protect your identity because even though you are smart to read this, someone at a company who has your data may do something stupid to compromise it.

1. Prevent new account fraud. Get a credit freeze. Go to ConsumersUnion.org and follow the steps for your particular state. This is an absolutely necessary tool to secure your credit. In most cases, it prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. This makes your Social Security number useless to a potential identity thief.

2. Invest in Intelius Identity Theft Protection and Prevention. While not all forms of identity theft can be prevented, you can effectively manage your personal identifying information by knowing what’s buzzing out there in regards to YOU.

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Speaker discussing numerous scams on TBS Movie and a Makeover

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