You Asked, We Answered: Protecting Yourself From Online Fraud

Detective Steve Rizzo is a 10-year veteran of the Delaware State Police. He worked two tours of duty at different patrol troops in New Castle County before he was transfered to the financial crimes unit as a detective. He currently manages a caseload focusing on financial crimes dealing with fraud, deception and internal theft.

Marilyn from Jasper, Tenn., asked: "I keep hearing about the dangers, but I do not hear about any way to protect myself, except to pay $100 a year for a company that will supposedly do that. I did read about many states having a lock law. I read all the fine print and it looked as though every time you want to use a credit card, you have to call and 'unlock' your card by giving your pin. Is that correct? Do you know of a relatively inexpensive way to protect accounts: checking, mutual funds, credit cards? PLEASE give us the story on the remedy if there is one."

Detective Rizzo answered: I am not familiar with lock laws, unfortunately, but I am always very selective on what I purchase online, if anything at all, and I never, ever use a debit card online. I am very selective about what I do online, because there is way too much personal information that is exposed online. Never place your mail in your home mailbox because that allows thieves to have access to it when you are not at home, and much of your mail contains personal information.

D. Rice from Albuquerque, N.M., asked: "Recently my debit card was used to make a transaction in another city. I nor anyone in my family made this purchase. The bank did reimburse me. Because I have only one card and it is in my possession, how could this happen? I have since received a new card and I have not used my old card online."

Detective Rizzo answered: Much like the skimming that goes on, someone somewhere was able to compromise the credit card information and either use the information only or perhaps make a counterfeit card with the accurate information and use it accordingly. Card information is usually only used online and in transactions where the physical card itself is not required to be presented, but it has happened before where store clerks will actually accept card information right in person.

Pauline from Lakewood, Calif.: "My 16-year-old found out that a lady in Vancover, Wash., was using his Social Security number, so now he is $700 in the hole as he begins his life in the work force. What are the best steps for us to take so he gets this off his record and that he can open an account?"

Detective Rizzo answered: First, find out how, if possible, his Social Security number was obtained and compromised, and then contact the appropriate police agency to file a report. From there, if there are investigative leads to pursue, that agency will do so and attempt to identify and arrest any individuals involved. And if not, it will serve for documentation until potential leads can be discovered. Many times it is not known or cannot be determined exactly where the Social Security number was compromised. And if that is the case, a general rule of thumb by many police agencies is to use the residence as the point of compromise/location of the crime, and as such, whatever police agency would serve that jurisdiction would take a report.

Sally from Dunwoody, Ga., asked: "I have heard about a lot of services that will protect you against ID theft. One of them is LifeLock. What I don't like about these is they require you to put in your Social Security number. Do you have a recommendation about what is the best approach to be protected?"

Detective Rizzo answered: Don't give your Social Security number if you can avoid doing so. I do not know much about LifeLock, but many of these frauds can be prevented by just making sure that you limit what you do on line, what information you allow to be exposed, and try to never mail items from your home mailbox, giving identity thieves the opportunity to steal from your mailbox when you are at work or not home.

Unfortunately, I do not know of any foolproof way to protect your identity from being stolen or being a victim of some other type of fraud, but much of the activity associated with fraud and financial-related crimes can be prevented by using common sense and being very selective about where you purchase, what you use to purchase, and who you allow to view pedigree information. Finally, never, ever fall for anything that comes in the mail, especially if it is from another country. If you receive something that says you are getting money for not doing anything, I would hope you would say that it sounds too good to be true. And as we all know, anything that sounds too good to be true is in fact too good to be true.