As con-artists become more internet savvy, so do their scams.
The top five latest scams are very deceptive in getting computer users to give up vital personal information.
With a click of the mouse, you could be giving a criminal the key to your personal information.
Disguised as a legitimate request, scammers are getting passwords and User ID names from unsuspecting victims.
"So many times people look at items and they look very legitimate. They have all the markings the logos the address, everything looks just right but it's not just right," says Larry Lightfoot of the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB says identity theft is the number one form of fraud in the nation.
And while paper scams are still the majority, identity theft over the internet is just as devastating.
"If they are successful in negotiating transactions with that information, it can leave you with a tremendous number of headaches," says Lightfoot.
Internet provider America Online says the top five latest scams include the AOL you've got pictures scam, AOL Billing scam, eBay scam, and the Washington Mutual Bank and Sun Trust Bank scams.
All of the scams start off with an email sent to the user asking for their ID and password for a specific account in order to verify the information or retreive pictures.
They're big time scams, that steal personal information used for identity theft.
"We have a tendency when we get within the walls of our home to relax and not pay attention like we should," says Lightfoot.
Lightfoot suggests looking for red flags.
Banks will never ask for account information through email, neither will AOL or eBay.
"If they contact you for information you've already provided for them, they're not going to come back to you by email to confirm that," says Lightfoot.
From the BBB website www.bbbbryan.org:
"Identity theft continues to be a very serious threat. One in 23 adults will be victimized this year, with a total loss exceeding $50 billion. To prevent the misuse of our personal information, survey research shows we should be as safety-conscious in our home and office, as we are on the Internet," said Ken Hunter, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, Inc.
The 2005 Identity Fraud Survey report, recently released by the BBB and Javelin Strategy & Research, indicates that common fears about online identity fraud may be out of proportion to the real risks that confront consumers. The surprising results indicate that people should pay greater attention to the more traditional paper-based world when taking steps to protect their personal identity.
The survey of 4,000 individuals found:
The most frequently reported sources of information used to commit identity fraud are not computer-based. A lost or stolen wallet, checkbook or credit card was cited by almost 29 percent of the victims who knew how their personal information had been obtained; 11 percent cited friends/acquaintances and relatives; another, 8% blamed corrupt employees with access to personal information. Computer crimes accounted for 11.6 percent of the perpetrator sources known by victims.
Among cases where the perpetrator's identity is known, half of all misuse of personal information was committed by a friend, family member, relative, neighbor or in-home employee.
"Too often, we think of our home or office as a comfort zone, where we can let down our guard. Unfortunately, that is not the case with our personal information," said Mr. Hunter.
First, Learn How to Prevent Unauthorized Access to your Personal Info
The BBB advises consumers to begin this week by reviewing how they carry, store, send and destroy documents that contain personally identifiable information. This includes credit cards, ATM and debit cards, Social Security card, statements from financial service companies, billing statements, incoming and outgoing mail and other documents.
"A good way to begin your identity safety inventory is to take a quiz specifically designed by Javelin Survey & Research and the BBB, based on the identity safety 'best practice,'" suggested Mr. Hunter.
"The quiz, which is posted online at www.idsafety.net permits people to assess their identity safety from two perspectives. First, are the steps I am currently taking to fight identity fraud really enough? Secondly, how can I protect myself from having personal financial information taken without my consent?"
The quiz takes only minutes to complete, and is available in both English and Spanish. Once finished, the quiz-taker receives a score, with a list of specific suggestions that will help that person improve their identity safety. The higher the score, the more a person needs to do to "lock down" their personal security or the security of their small business.
Second, Be Proactive in Detecting Unauthorized Activity
After you've taken the necessary steps to protect access to your personal information, the BBB suggests you take preventive measures that will help you detect unauthorized activity on your accounts, should that occur.
"Our survey research found that a majority of identity fraud crimes are self-detected. And, the losses are lower if the victim was using electronic review of their transactions, statement and credit reports to detect unauthorized access," said Mr. Hunter.
In addition to monitoring account balances and activity at least weekly, the BBB recommends that consumers monitor their credit reports at least annually; use e-mail account "alerts" to monitor transfers, payments, low balances and withdrawals; and, consider moving to online statements and bill-paying.
"Of course, if you do bank online, take the necessary safety precautions. Place a password protection on your computer and your sensitive files (such as your online banking file); ensure that your computer has a firewall to protect from Internet attacks; install good anti-virus/anti-spyware software on your computer and regularly update it; and, keep the security features of your computer's operating system current," the BBB president advised.