Your personally identifiable information (PII) is all around you, and much of it is impossible to protect. While your driver’s license and Social Security numbers are a significant part of the equation, you can take certain protective measures to keep those from prying eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not the case when it comes to more visible forms of PII—like your birthday, email address, home address and even your name. There are criminals out there who see you as their day job, and they know how to use the most gettable pieces of your PII, like your name, to commit crimes.
The fact is, most everyone will experience some form of identity-related compromise during their lifetime. Yes, you most likely will become a victim. The crimes are often hard to detect, but they happen all the time, and there is absolutely no service out there that can give you complete protection from identity-related crimes.
Here are a few ways you can get scammed that only require the clever application of a name, the most basic piece of your PII.
The Grandparent Scam
The first complaints of this scam were logged by the Internet Crime Complaint in 2008, but as the FBI reports, fraudsters working the senior circuit are becoming more sophisticated, using PII gleaned from social media sites to hone their performance.
Typically, a call comes from overseas either late at night or early in the morning, when people aren’t thinking as clearly as they might. The caller poses as a grandchild in trouble. There is a request for money, and a plea for secrecy: “Please don’t tell mom and dad! They’ll kill me.” Sometimes an attorney or “an arresting officer” makes the call. Money is wired, and fairly soon after that, the victim comes to realize that he or she has been had.
Variations on the scam include military personnel on leave and friends calling friends. With an increasing number of people oversharing their information on social media, it’s not difficult to figure out who will help whom, and when they’re away.
What to do: Tighten your privacy on social media; don’t share details about vacations, and when anyone asks for money over the phone—even a “family member”— stop, think and don’t allow your emotions to drag your good sense and wallet to Western Union.
The Package Scam
Many crimes considered “identity-related” were being perpetrated long before identity theft became part of the national psyche. Stealing mail is one example.
Personally identifiable information has given thievery of mail a real “boost.” The latest ploy in urban areas involves the collection of names. Using a notepad, a local thief slipped into a group of condominiums in my neighborhood and started to document who lived where by looking at the junk mail left in the lobby. He used that to gain entry after the courier services made their daily drops. “This is Gary from 2C. Locked myself out. Can you please buzz me in?” In minutes, every package was in his custody and he was gone.
What to do: Don’t leave junk mail in your lobby, and urge the building to have a policy that doesn’t allow packages to be left unattended.