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Beware Disaster Scams in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey

Identity thieves prey on those who are most vulnerable. You may be in the process of cleaning up your lives, but predators running disaster scams may want to clean up on you by stealing your valuable private information.

As we learned from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, one of the most despicable side effects of a natural disaster is the massive increase in reported cases of identity theft in the affected areas. Thieves take advantage of those who are vulnerable, and those who have suffered flooding, wind damage and the effects of the storm are more vulnerable than ever. Imagine how devastating it would it be to apply for a line of credit to help your family recover from the storm only to find out that your entire net worth now belongs to a thief.

Here are some of the highest priority actions for victims of Hurricane Harvey to take once they have taken care of their immediate safety needs.

Secure your personal information immediately.  Clean-up crews will be heading to the area. MOST are good-hearted volunteers, but some are coming with the intent of looking for physical clues to help them steal identities.  In your distress, you may not even know what to think of.  Be sure you’ve accounted for:

  • Social Security cards, statements or related documents
  • Birth certificates, passports and drivers licenses
  • Wallets, purses, checkbooks and boxes of extra checks
  • All financial records, including bank, brokerage, mortgage, credit card, and insurance
  • All digital devices containing sensitive information, including laptops, computers, smartphones, iPads, etc.

Beware of people offering “help” falsely using recognized names like FEMA or Red Cross.  Organizations like this will never contact you; the only time they ask for money or any personal information is after you have contacted them.  The key here is to be skeptical if anyone is asking for your personal information, even as part of emergency relief. Ask enough questions that you can verify who they are, their intentions and their credibility. Do not just give away information in exchange for a promise (e.g., “This is how you will get a reimbursement from the government”). Make sure they are who they say they are.

As a side note, for those of you who are not disaster victims but want to help, the same rule applies: you should contact the agencies.  Don’t fall for phone solicitations or pleas via email that may lead you to fraudulent websites. One key to look for is “.org” that most non-profits use rather than “.com” in the address.

Beware of fly-by-night contractors offering cheap or quick repairs.  To protect yourself, check on the business.  Make sure they have a permanent business address, carry insurance, and have been in operation for more than a year.  Very importantly, get a written contract before you give out any money!

Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit File. Immediately place a Fraud Alert with all three credit-reporting bureaus (listed below). This is only a temporary solution, but a necessary step. Once the water has receded, consider freezing your credit.

Order & Monitor Your Credit History. By law, you are entitled to one free report from each agency once a year. The easiest way to get a report is to visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You can also request your first report when you are placing a Fraud Alert on your account in Step 1, above. Review your credit report for signs of theft or fraud. If you discover irregularities (accounts you never opened, loans that aren’t yours, credit cards you don’t recognize), contact the credit bureau immediately to report fraud, as well as the company listed in the credit report.

Monitor Your Statements Online. Half of the battle in minimizing identity theft is catching it quickly after it happens. Online bank, credit card and brokerage statements will allow those with Internet access to monitor and detect suspicious transactions on a daily basis. If you have access to the Internet, check your bank, credit card and investment statements to make sure that you recognize every transaction.

Resist the temptation to click on photos from questionable sites.  We are a society that thrives on sensationalized images.  However, some of those dramatic photos we want to know more about are infected with malware.  Stick to legitimate news sites and be especially wary of links on social media sites.

Remember to make safety a priority in every area of your life as you work your way through this trying time.  Our hearts are with you.

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

5 Steps to Stop Lost Wallet Identity Theft

How to Protect Your Lost Wallet or Purse against Identity Theft

In a panic that your lost wallet or stolen purse might lead to identity theft?  Take a deep breath and then take the First 5 Steps to Stop ID theft. First, you need to understand that a lost wallet or purse is one of the most concentrated sources of identifying documents. For now, assume that your lost or stolen wallet or purse will be used to exploit your identity. Sometimes, even when your missing item shows up unexpectedly, the damage has already been done by a clever thief who is simply returning your valuables so that you don’t suspect further theft and shut down your accounts. Don’t take any changes. Instead, take these first five steps (adapted from my Identity Theft Recovery Guide):

1. Inventory Your Lost Wallet or Stolen Purse from Memory

Want us to walk you through the entire recovery process with quick videos, easy forms and expert advice as you go? Click on the Recovery Guide and get started before your wealth evaporates.

The first step is to identify exactly what was in your purse or wallet.  If you haven’t photocopied everything, start making a list and add to it over the next few days as you remember more.  Here are some of the highest risk items:

Checks/checkbook*, Cell phone or smartphone, Keys, garage openers, Credit cards, debit cards, ATM cards, Drivers license, Student ID cards, Military ID cards, Medical ID cards, Auto insurance, Social Security card*, Loyalty cards, Bills to pay, Passport*, Library cards, Birth Certificates, Receipts, Passwords, PINs*, Child/Parent InfoWork ID…

* You should NEVER carry these items with you unless absolutely necessary for a certain occasion.

2. Make Immediate Calls & Log Conversations

The next step is to make calls regarding missing items and keep a log of all correspondence. The sooner you properly shut down these accounts, the less you will lose. (See Video or Identity Theft Recovery Guide)

3. Protect the Sensitive Data on Your Mobile Devices 

If you have taken any preventive steps to protect your mobile device, such as remote tracking and wiping, don’t hesitate to remotely erase your mobile device. It is a digital treasure trove of personal identifying information. If you haven’t already implemented remote tracking and wiping on your cellphone, do so now. (Step 4)

4. Change Passwords on Affected Online Accounts

If you carried any information regarding your online accounts in your lost wallet or bag (especially on a smartphone or tablet that was stolen too), immediately change passwords on all relevant online accounts. A single mobile phone can have multiple logins for banks, investment brokers and numerous financial institutions. I highly recommend utilizing a password protection software to encrypt and protect your numerous passwords.(Step 5)

5. File a Police Report

In order to draw a line in the sand (any crimes committed in your name or money taken out of your accounts that happens after the police report are easier to defend, should it be required.) As discussed in the Guide, filing a police report can be difficult, so attempt to submit it online before trying in person. (Step 8)

In total, there are 31 unique steps for you to consider during the recovery process, including filing victim and police reports, locking criminals out of your credit, taxes and medical benefits, as well as defending your online accounts, children’s identity and safeguarding your financial investments.

John Sileo is the award-winning author of four books on identity theft, including The Identity Theft Recovery Guide. John delivers keynote speeches to conferences and companies that don’t want to end up as the next data breach headline. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa and Homeland Security. Watch John keynotingon Rachael Rayor through the eyes of his clients.

 

Latest Tax Scams "Target" Data Breach Victims

It’s no surprise that identity theft once again tops the “Dirty Dozen” tax scams put forth by the IRS for 2014.  They warn that if an identity thief has access to your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number or other identifying information, he or she may use it to fraudulently file a tax return and claim a refund in your name.  Think of the implications for the 110 million victims of the recent Target data breach as well as victims of the hundreds of other breaches at other retailers, universities, healthcare providers, government agencies and so on.

KrebsOnSecurity reports that the information from the Target breach alone has reportedly flooded underground black markets and cards are being sold from around $20 to more than $100 each.  This data is being sold in hundreds of online “stores” advertised in cybercrime forums.  A fraud analyst at a major bank was able to buy a portion of the bank’s accounts from such a store.

The twist this year is that telephone scams are being linked to the breaches as well.  There are many variations, but most involve criminals contacting a victim saying they are from the IRS and that money is owed.  They know the victim’s personal information such as Social Security numbers (from the stolen breach data), so it is very convincing.  They may demand payment be sent immediately, threatening anything from arrest to driver’s license revocation if non-compliant.

Then here’s the kicker, there is often a follow up call supposedly from the local police department or the state motor vehicle department (with realistic numbers on the caller ID using a “spoofing” technique) to scare the victim into action even more.  So far victims in nearly every state have fallen prey to this scheme to the cost of more than $1 million.

To read more about the characteristics of these scams and how to avoid them or get help if you think you’ve been a victim of this hoax, visit the IRS website.  In the mean time, remember what IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel said in a press release: “Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer.”

Also remember to guard well your personal information.  This tax scheme is just one example of how obtaining your personal information from one source makes it easier to socially engineer you in another way.  Be wary to be on the safe side!

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

How Do I Stop Obamacare Identity Theft? [Burning Questions Ep. 3]

Today marks the start of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). As with any new, massive, government-sponsored program, scammers and identity thieves will try to take advantage of the public’s confusion and unfamiliarity with the new Health Exchanges (which we’re calling Obamacare Identity Theft).

Read more

Higher Education Features Cyber Security Expert John Sileo

Universities perfect learning environment for data security

Higher Ed Organizations are among the highest risk groups to become victims of identity theft and data breach. Because students are relative “beginners” when it comes to personal finances, because university environments are predicated on trust and credibility, and because of the recent progress towards a mobile-centric, social-networking-dominated campus, higher education’s digital footprint is constantly exposed to manipulation.

"The most engaging speaker I've ever heard - period"

“The most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard – period.”  Debbie Bumpous, NSU Chief Information Technology Officer speaking about John Sileo

“John Sileo was the secret sauce in launching our cyber security awareness program” – University of Massachusetts Director of IT

Universities are 357X more likely to be affected by data breach than the average organization. High profile cases, some of which ended in class action lawsuits against the breached university include the University of Nebraska (650,000 breached records at an estimated cost of $92 million), UCLA, Auburn, Delaware, and Texas. Data theft is bad for students, time consuming for the administration and a public relations nightmare for the university. John Sileo knows their pain first hand, as he is generally the person contacted by universities after they have been breached. 

Video: watch John help a university prevent data theft before it happens

Universities Have a Distinct Advantage in the Fight for Data Privacy

There is genuinely optimistic news amidst the gloom and doom. Because of their teaching facilities, their communication channels and their understanding of pedagogy, universities small and large are uniquely equipped to train campus wide on the simple steps to keep private data secure before it is breached. But it takes the right speaker to introduce security in such a way that it connects with a mixed audience–student and faculty, young and wise, technologically-oriented and digitally-challenged.

John Sileo sets the standard for presentations that get students, faculty and administrators to emotionally connect to the critical nature of privacy, security and identity protection. Using his own personal story of identity theft, John interacts with your audience to gain “buy in” to the increasing importance of securing identity in a mobile-driven, social-media-dominated world.

“If the presentation is boring or overly technical, the campus won’t listen, won’t learn. John is anything but boring…”

Video: Hear what university leaders have to say about John’s ability to make it personal

John has spoken extensively for other universities to increase awareness on privacy, security and identity. Unfortunately, he’s usually brought in AFTER THE BREACH and asked to sign confidentiality agreements that don’t allow him to disclose his work with the university. And if there is someone that respects his client’s right to privacy and confidentiality when requested, John is it. We can say that John has worked with top ranked universities in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Dakota, Nebraska, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania , Washington D.C., Utah, Wyoming and Virginia. We hope that your university/fraternity/organization chooses to proactively address the problem like those public references listed below:

Listen to what Universities have to say about John’s presentations

Wellesley College“Your presentation had the audience engaged from the first moment you started speaking. Data security is so often such a dry topic that it can be very challenging to get our users to listen to anything we have to say (let alone to show up). Your personal stories were both heart wrenching and thought provoking, and they provided an important backdrop for the lessons you were teaching. And you did all of this with humility, and a wonderful sense of humor, that caputred the audience’s attention. When people were leaving the event, many told me it was the best presentation they had ever seen and it was unanimous that was time well spent.”

— Donna Volpe Strouse, Information Security Officer, Wellesley College


 

UMASS“John’s presentation was excellent. He has a unique and skilled way of connecting with the audience and relating personal security to university security initiatives.”

“Felt like a knowledgeable friend grabbed me by the shoulders, slowed me down and saved me from getting into trouble.”

Engaging and entertaining delivery of what is typically a dry topic – it makes the message stick.”

“Compelling, persuasive, intelligent, common sense and passionate presentation that opens your eyes. Funny too!”

— Various CIO Coordinators and Attendees at the Six University of Massachusetts Campuses


 

Seal_of_Northern_State_UniversityThe most engaging speaker I’ve ever heard – period. As part of a campus-wide cyber-security awareness program, Northern State University hosted John Sileo on our campus. John’s presentation was the culmination of a month-long awareness campaign for faculty, staff and students and part of the National Cyber-Security Awareness Month. The presentation itself was of the highest caliber. John personally catered the content of his presentation to our unique and diverse audience members. John is an incredibly motivational presenter that can speak directly to any audience, of any age. Throughout his presentation, he actively engaged members of the audience, capturing and holding their attention. This engagement brought a personal touch to the presentation and underscored the importance of his message. I would highly recommend John Sileo as a presenter or guest speaker. His expertise, friendliness, and professionalism are exemplary.”

— Debbi Bumpous, Chief Information Technology Officer, Northern State University


 

Foundation_LogoThe Delta Gamma Foundation is the heart of the Delta Gamma Fraternity… One of the most successful programs we offer our collegiate and alumnae members is our Lectureship in Values and Ethics. Now present on 15 campuses throughout the United States (with 4 more Delta Gamma chapters in the process of completing their lectureship), our lectureship series has featured such nationally acclaimed speakers as Colin Powell, Queen Noir, Maya Angelou, Barbara Bush, Gerald Ford, Jeff Probst and many more.

On June 18, 2010, at our 64th biennial Convention in Denver, CO, the Delta Gamma Foundation sponsored our Convention Lectureship in Values and Ethics. This lectureship is very special because it is presented to the entire Convention body. Our guest speaker was John D. Sileo who spoke on identity theft prevention… John captivated an audience of 900 ranging in age from 19 to 90 telling his personal story of theft identity and educating all of us to intellectually understand the importance of one’s privacy. John is a story teller who tells a compelling story with humor, intrigue and ongoing audience interaction. The presentation was outstanding.

Delta Gamma continues to receive positive feedback on John’s presentation and performance. On behalf of the Delta Gamma Foundation, we would strongly recommend John for any audience of any age. His story needs to be told and shared.

— Roxanne LaMuth, Delta Gamma Foundation


 

CSC Wordmark 208- 2006John Sileo is the real deal. He speaks because he has something to say, but also because he is interested in his audience! If you host speakers, do yourself a favor and hire John… he will remind you of all that is good about offering a speaker to an audience.

Loree MacNeill, Chadron State College