Tag Archive | "identity theft"

Beware of Fraud Following Natural Disaster

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Hurricane Sandy and other destructive acts of nature bring out a humanitarian and neighborly spirit in Americans like no other events can. Unfortunately, natural disasters also attract scammers and opportunists waiting to take advantage of that benevolence in the aftermath of catastrophic events. The Better Business Bureau recently issued a warning about fraudulent charities and other scams that appear in the wake of weather-related misfortune. There are steps that can be taken to ensure you don’t become a victim during these difficult times.


Identity Theft


Natural disasters can force victims to start their lives over from scratch. This already daunting process is made even more difficult when you don’t have the necessary documents proving who and what you are. Lifelock, an industry leader in solving identity theft issues, protecting your debit card and keeping track of financial information, says Dumpster diving and mail theft are two of the most common techniques used by identity thieves to execute data breaches. But imagine a looter rummaging through your flood and storm damaged house, only to discover your original birth certificate and house deed. It’s essential to have scanned copies of all of your most important documents, including car titles, bank statements and social security card. This will speed the process in not only re-claiming what you can salvage, but also nip-in-the-bud any potential identity theft which may have already commenced.


Bogus Charities


In the old days, scammers posing as charity organizations had to make phone calls or send direct mailings soliciting “donations.” Today, it’s much easier to execute this type of fraud because of the internet. Predators will send unsolicited emails and messages on social media posing, either as a well-known relief organization or a completely fabricated one with an official-sounding name. Well-known charities, such as the Red Cross, generally don’t solicit donations via email and have official websites that donors can visit at their leisure. You can cross-check any organization you may not be familiar with on the BBB website before contributing. Another website called Seriousgivers.org (SGO) provides a simple search engine, which you query their database with the name or employer identification number for the charity. The organization is likely fraudulent if no results come up.


Repair Scams


Storm victims desperate to get their lives back on track often fall victim to scammers claiming the ability to quickly repair or clean property. The results often entail the victim giving their credit card number or cash to a supposed contractor, only to never get the repairs done or receive identity theft. It’s recommended by the BBB to check the potential contractor’s accreditations and to never pay for the service in full up front. The terms and conditions of the work to be done should be in writing, and definitive dates as to when the work will be completed should be included.



Scam Alert: The Hotel Reservation Scam

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I recently received several emails purportedly from Booking.com, a reputable reservations booking site on the Web (see email image below).  Having not booked a hotel reservation, I would normally simply delete this email.  However, I was struck by the warning that a cancellation or prepayment penalty of $195 would be billed to my credit card and tempted to click on the link provided in the email.


I’m glad I didn’t.  I did a little research and discovered that these emails represent a very widespread scam.  The scam can work in one of two ways – either with an email attachment or a link within the email.  In each instance, whether a phishing expedition or a Trojan attack or both, the result can be potentially devastating for users with sensitive information on their computers.


Malware attacks are on the rise and computer users should be on guard against them.  However, even the most security savvy among us may – in a moment of weakness – click a link or open an attachment that we will come to regret.


Of course, a close look at the email provides us telltale signs that this email is not legitimate.  Take a look at some of the grammar in the email like “The hotel Arriva Hotel” and “does the expiration date of the card finish until the date arrival registration.”  Also, misuse of punctuation can be indicative of malicious intent, such as the word “shouldnt” without the apostrophe and the “195$” prepayment penalty with the dollar sign following the amount (not typical of an American establishment).


Should you receive an email similar to the one below, or any email of which you are uncertain, do not open any attachments or click any links within the suspicious email.  You may be saving yourself from the consequences including identity theft, credit card fraud,  or costly computer repairs.



The Scam Masquerading as a Government Agency

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According to a report on NJ.com, the identities of Motor Vehicle clerks and other co-conspirators (complete listing below) engaged in the sale of driver licenses to illegal immigrants has been revealed.  In at least one instance, Social Security numbers to carry out this fraud were obtained illegally from a Motor Vehicle database.  This news coming just weeks after two New Jersey Motor Vehicle clerks, Sherilyn Rivera, 28, of Reeves Avenue in Hamilton and Johnny Semmon, 31, of Center Street in Trenton, were charged with official misconduct, bribery, and identity theft for allegedly selling the confidential information (including Social Security numbers) of New Jersey drivers shatters any illusion that residents of the State may have had regarding the integrity of those in its employ.

According to NJ.com, this most recent criminal activity was a true conspiracy, involving not only the clerks but brokers and intermediaries including runners and middle men.  The brokers would identify prospective customers, help them to fill out the paperwork, and accompany them to a Motor Vehicle office where a crooked clerk would issue the license and sign off on documents indicating that they had provided adequate proof of identity according the State requirements.  So much for the State’s 6-point identity verification program!

Acting as collections agent, the broker would split the haul with the clerk and any runners or middle men engaged in securing the prospective customer or making contact with the unscrupulous clerk.  At $2,500-7,000 per license, the participants in this latest scam on the public make the $200 charged by Rivera and Semmon appear negligible.  And, with at least 40 licenses sold in this manner, had the scheme gone undetected, it would have been a Merry Christmas indeed for the rogue’s gallery listed below!

While New Jersey’s Attorney General and the Chief Administrator of the State’s Motor Vehicle Commission are lauding themselves over the indictment of these individuals, one wonders what damage has been done to the residents whose sensitive information has been compromised.  If the procedures in place to detect criminal activity of this nature have been effective, why did it take the sale of 40 licenses before identifications were made and action taken?

And, how is it that these crooked clerks secured their jobs in the first place?  What standards and criteria were employed in their hires?  With unemployment levels ballooning in this State, could not employees with more honesty and integrity have been found?

As citizens of New Jersey, we have a right to expect more of our government and governmental agencies at every level.  The instances above beg the question of how many undetected instances of identity theft are perpetrated by state employees at every level of government.  As information, particularly identity data, becomes a progressively more valuable commodity, these types of crimes by those feeding at the public trough are likely to become more prevalent.  Absent the ability to protect themselves, our State’s citizens must hold our elected leaders accountable to see to it that safeguards are enacted to combat this problem.

Below are a list of those charged with this most recent crime:




MVC Clerk

Anne Marie Manfredonia, 43, of Little Ferry


Hildeberto Salinas, 43, of Carlstadt

1. Abraham Chali, aka Carlos Jacobo, 26, of Cliffside Park
2. Miguel G. Sacoto, 35, of Jersey City
3. Melvin Lita, aka Arben Lita, 33, of Fair Lawn
4. (Juan) Pablo Gavilanez, 26, of Irvington
5. Jose Pelaez, 26, of Bloomfield
6. Gustavo Pamavilla, 22, of Irvington
7. Roberto Yumbla, 27, of Irvington
8. Ana Altamirano, 39, of Newark
9. Ariolfo Altamirano, 42, of Newark
10. Luz Alvarez, 32, of Hackensack
11. Omar Avila, 33, of Newark
12. Claudio Angamarca, 26, of Newark
13. Aurelio Aju-Chitic, 31, of Fairview
14. Sandra Avendano-Marin, 26, South Hackensack



MVC Clerk
Laquanda Murray, 28, of Newark

Jason P. Thomas, 28, of Irvington, a former MVC clerk
Tyrone Q. Canada, 26, of Hillside, a former MVC clerk

Martin A. Martinez, 53, of Newark
Antonio Vasquez, 40, of Hillside

1. Virginia Martinez, 41, of Somerville
2. Guillermo “Willie” Prieto, 50, of North Bergen
3. Rogerio DaSilva, 36, of Cliffside
4. Gustavo Valencia, 68, of Morris Township
5. Domingos Bonela, 48, of Kenilworth

MVC Clerk
Rashaan A. Smith, 31, of Irvington



Martha Jalil, 54, of Dover
Ricardo Jalil, 63, of Dover (Martha’s husband)

1. Delmis Urquia, 43, of Hackettstown
2. Fredy H. Quiroga-Cobos, 34, of Dover
3. Jaime E. Espinoza, 38, of Dover
4. Constantino Grandados-Hernandez, 41, of Dover
5. Julio C. Rios-Elejalde, 33, of Wharton
6. Carlos R. Ramirez-Yepes, 52, of Morristown



MVC Clerks
Sonia Noel, 48, of Union City
Melody Noel, 26, of Union City (Sonia’s daughter)

Peter Loveras, 32, of East Rutherford

Hernan Chica, 53, of Hackensack



MVC Clerk
Cristian J. Toledo, 33, of North Bergen

Are You an Unwitting Accomplice to Today’s Technology Savvy Thieves?

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Jesse James, John Dillinger, Lester Gillis (aka, Baby Face Nelson), Bonnie and Clyde…  The list could go on.  These men and woman were all notorious bank robbers and murderers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  During their nefarious careers, their names struck terror into the heart of those who might become their victims.  Yet, their actions in committing crimes and eluding capture, despicable as they were, required daring and ingenuity.  Stories about their exploits romanticized them and characterized them as sympathetic subjects to many members of the public and even heroes to future generations of criminals.

Today’s thieves require little of the derring-do of the criminal masterminds of yesteryear.  In fact, many people may actually be helping today’s thieves to steal from them.  How?  Via information available on the oh-so easily pilfered technologies of today!  I received an email alerting me to these possibilities and want to share the stories contained in it. 

The first concerns the GPS systems that are spreading like wildfire in today’s vehicles.  The criminal report indicates that a family was attending a football game.  Their car, parked in a reserved parking area adjacent to the field, was broken into and stolen from it were a garage door opener, some money, and the GPS device prominently mounted on their dashboard.  To make matters worse, upon arrival at home, the family discovered that their house had been ransacked and just about everything worth anything had been stolen.  Apparently, the thieves had used the GPS system to guide them to the house where they used the garage door opener to gain easy entry.  Knowing the approximate length of time of the football game, the thieves knew how much time they had to identify and remove the home’s valuables.

The second story concerns the ubiquitous cell phone.  A woman at a restaurant with some friends discovers, upon getting up to leave, that her handbag has been stolen.  Her bag contained her cell phone, wallet, and ATM and credit cards.  Among the list of numbers stored in her cell phone was an entry with the name “hubby.”  A short time later, she calls her husband to inform him of the theft.  Before she can relate the story, he indicates that he received and immediately responded to her text asking about the ATM card’s PIN number.  When they contacted their bank, they were informed that a sizable amount of money had been withdrawn from their account.

Whether or not these stories are completely accurate, each is certainly conceivable.  Technology has made much of our lives a veritable open book to others, including those who would use this information to our personal detriment.

To help protect yourself from potential thefts such as these, consider the way in which you store and title information.  Avoid using descriptive titles, such as “hubby,” that reveal relationships between you and those in your phone contact list.  If “home” is a stored destination in your GPS, consider renaming it or modifying the address to a nearby one so that you will not be revealing your actual home address.  And, if sensitive information is being requested via text message, always call to confirm that you know the identity of the party requesting such information.  These few simple precautions may save you from the predators looking to steal from you.

Thanks to Wes Centers for alerting me to this issue. 

Scam Artists in the Job Search Market

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Some sage once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Be sure you’re not one of them, when trawling the Internet in search of gainful employment!

Among the ever-widening sea of job hopefuls, Internet job searches have increased by 7% in a two-year period (73% in 2007 versus 66% in 2005 as per The Conference Board).  These figures include not only the unemployed and the soon-to-be-downsized, but also, individuals bringing home paychecks while searching for another employer to write them.  Computer hackers and the downright unscrupulous are well aware of the state of our economy and all too willing to take full advantage of the gullible.

“The gullible” are defined, for purposes of this article, as those who make it easier for their identity to be compromised, their finances stolen, and their dreams shattered, including fantasies of the perfect “work from home” jobs.  11,000 complaints concerning the latter, many of them linked to Internet searches, were filed with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in a single year (2007).  The BBB, also known as the Better Business Bureau, projects that the stringent economy will produce escalating numbers of complaints from job candidates ripped off online.  To ensure that you do not fall into “the gullible” category, please take heed of our well-considered advice.

1.   Your English teacher was right; we hope you paid attention in class.  Reputable employers usually take care in writing their job descriptions/postings.  Unfortunately, errors in syntax, punctuation, and spelling do slip through the cracks; this is one of the fallouts of living in an electronic age.  However, honest employers do not make many such mistakes; they can’t afford to.  Foreign rip-off artists, however, do.  English is not their mother tongue.  Their sentence structure is often not only faulty, it is downright confusing, and the emails will be rife with errors a fourth grader would not commit.  Should you receive an email configured in this manner, understand that it is bogus.  It is a scam.  Purge it immediately from your system.  Do not respond to it!  Responding may open the door for them to hack into your computer, for in so doing, you will be giving the thieves your IP address and thereby, easy access to all of your personal data.  

2.  “There’s something wrong with your account.”  Really?  The account in question is one that you initiated on one of the many job boards, particularly the major ones.  These are so accessible that you may not think twice about responding to an email claiming that something is amiss with your account.  But if you don’t think twice, you could be in serious trouble.  If you receive an email “alerting” you with a message of this nature, and if the email contains a link, don’t click on it.  It may take you to a site that is in no way associated with the job board; in fact, the site may contain a virus or other harmful software tool that will demolish your system.  If you are asked to submit all of your personal information again, who, in actuality, is receiving it?  The job board or a hacker/robber?

3.       Don’t get personal.   Believe it or not, some job seekers open their Inboxes to find that, lo and behold, they have been “awarded” jobs for which they have never even interviewed.  It appears as if they’ve won the lottery and indeed, the chances of the emails being genuine are about equal to those calculated to win the Mega Millions.   The catch is that the “employer” requests a ton of very personal information from you, including the one piece of information with which you should be extremely circumspect: your Social Security number.  These are not employers but scam artists, so don’t feed them your information!

4.  The “Work from Home” Lies.  Hackers and robbers understand that the paucity of jobs, and the graying of America, has created a real market for them to mine by way of phony or trumped up “work from home” schemes.  While a number of such job opportunities are real, the majority of them work to the employer’s (thief’s) advantage, not yours.  Those that promise you riches in a brief span of time, and those that demand that you pay them up front for these “wonderful opportunities” are to be avoided like The Plague.   Senior citizens are not the only ones who are targeted.  Students, stay at home moms, and disabled individuals are also at risk here.   Do your research thoroughly before you commit to any “work at home” program.  Contact the BBB at www.bbb.org if you have questions.

5.  London Calling.   It doesn’t have to be London, but the so-called employer does need to be far enough away so that he demands that you wire money to him via the usual routes (Western Union or a MoneyGram).  Allegedly, the money is for a start-up fee for a “work at home” job, or some form of equipment, or supplies, or even a uniform required to perform the work.  The phony employer may send you a small check for your initial efforts and then request that you send a heftier amount to him.  Do the math.  Who comes out ahead?

Be smart.  Be alert.  Don’t be a victim!

Stop, Thief!

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Identity Thief

Identity theft is rampant and escalating.  It is a crime whose impact is often disastrous and life altering.  To protect yourself against the potentiality of victimization, never let your guard down.   Check all of your bills frequently for charges you never made.  And consider taking the steps below to safeguard you and your family against the theft of your identify and finances.


 1.      Do not carry your social security card in your wallet.  This is one of the most vital pieces of information a thief needs to initiate accounts in your name, including loans for big-ticket items such as cars.


 2.      Never, ever recite your social security number to anyone.  This includes those with a “need to know” such as the bank that owns your mortgage or the company that leases your car.  Tell the representative that you will give them only the last four digits of your social security number, as this is all that they should really be privy to.  If the rep gives you a hard time, demand to speak with a manager.  Citigroup is now fighting a rumor that their patron’s records have been compromised to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.  The wise know that most rumors have their basis in fact.


 3.      Do not give out your telephone number or email address to those who do not need to have them.  This includes clerks at sales counters promising discount coupons in exchange for your personal information.  Trust me, the coupons will never amount to, say, the $130K of debt incurred by a young woman of my acquaintance by way of the bastard who stole her identity.


  4.     Change your password from account to account.  The strongest passwords are those that combine letters and numbers.  Do not use passwords that include your mother’s maiden name, for that can be traced back to more accounts than you even remember.


 5.      Monitor your snail mail and your emails carefully.  Some “pre-approved credit cards” arrive as checks that you can deposit to your bank account.  Once deposited, you’ve left a paper trail straight to your account.  Retrieve your mail promptly to prevent would-be thieves from ripping off your credit card account numbers and other person information contained in bills and other forms of correspondence.


With respect to emails, delete any and all that come from foreign nations, claiming that your long-lost relative has died and left you a tidy sum, or that you have won some type of international lottery.  The bastards sending them ask for your banking information, in order to facilitate online transfer of money.  They’ll transfer it, all right — right out of your account and into theirs.  


  6.     If someone calls to verify one of your credit card numbers, do not give out your information.  The also holds true for parties soliciting donations over the phone.


  7.     Maintain a single credit card with low available credit if you order merchandise online.  And check out the vendors’ ID theft policies before you purchase, to understand your financial responsibilities should an unscrupulous party compromise your account.


 8.      Be careful with all bank documentation, including deposit and withdrawal slips.  If you need to write out another slip after making a mistake, tear the original to shreds and place it in your handbag or wallet, not in the bank’s trash bin.  When ordering checks pick them up at the bank instead of having them mailed to the house.


  9.     Do not sign checks until you are ready to deposit them, particularly if you are carrying around your checkbook.


10.     If the mailbox where you post your bills is not secured/locked, consider taking your mail directly to the Post Office.


11.     If you are planning to invite company to your house, keep all of your personal information and banking papers under lock and key.   If you are invited to a party, men, be aware of your wallets at all times.  Ladies, do not leave your handbags on the hostess’ bed along with your coats.  And this goes for family gatherings.  I know of one family that nervously laughed off a teenaged boy as a “klepto” for having stolen money as well as jewelry from the homes of relatives too embarrassed to press charges against him.


The same caveats hold true if you work in an office or other environment with co-workers.  Secure your purse at all times.


12.     Make sure your computer is protected with the proper firewalls and do not give out the type of personal information on social networking sites that might allow thieves to track you in cyberspace.  Also, guard against storing a lot of personal information on your computer.


13.     Request your credit report occasionally to prevent unauthorized activity from occurring.


14.     Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately, because the timing can affect how much loss becomes your responsibility.


15.     Be vigilant if someone calls to say that a prize will be shipped to your home for a nominal shipping fee.  Do not give them your address or credit card number.


Many of these measures are inconvenient.  What you lose in time you may very well save in terms of thousands of dollars as well as peace of mind.  If you suspect tampering with your accounts, file a police report.  Cancel and put out fraud alerts on credit cards that may have been compromised.  You may do the latter by contacting one of the primary companies that manage reports of consumer fraud:


Equifax                          1-800-252-6285

Experian                        1-888-397-3742

TransUnion                    1-800-680-7289

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