Traveling Safely To Avoid Identity Theft

When traveling we take extra care to secure our gear. Entering unknown worlds requires an extra measure of caution, causing us to keep cash, cards and travel documents out of sight. We pay special attention to where these things are at any given time and taking extra precautions keep them from being lost or stolen. But how much thought goes into protecting our identity on the road? It’s a topic worthy of a little thought and some action before traveling.

“Our phones are used more and more to organize our lives,” Nikki Junker, social media coordinator and victim advisor with the Identity Theft Resource Center told us in an email. As the use of smart phones increases, con artists are finding ways to access personal information. “Smart phone security is going to become even more important,” says Junker.

Protecting smart phones, and the information that is transmitted over them does not take all that much work or time, just a few security pointers.

Create a complex password. Your first line of defense is a strong password, one that combines letters, numbers and symbols. An 8-digit combination of letters and numbers, once the gold standard of passwords, is no longer good enough to foil identity and data thieves.

Seek backup/wiping services. iPhone and other brand users have this ability built in but it has to be turned on to work. Some brands require it to be loaded onto the phone. “Not having these services is one of the biggest mistakes smartphone users make,” says Junker. “They’re easy to obtain through the phone’s manufacturer or your wireless provider.”

Install security software. “Treat your smartphone like you would your home computer,” Junker says. Install security software that contains an antivirus, and be diligent about downloading updates as they’re available.

Take action. If your phone is missing, call your carrier as soon as possible to report that it’s been lost or stolen and to have the data wiped.

If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, Junker advises taking these three steps:

  • Place a 90-day fraud alert on credit reports
  • File a police report
  • File a fraud affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission

All of this is especially important for those who email copies of travel document, confirmations and identification to themselves and then store them on their smartphone.

Already have your phone password-protected? Think your password is secure?

Test the strength of your password here

[Flickr photo by dmott9]

Hotel employees nailed in $20 million airline ticket scam

The feds just threw down indictments against 38 people accused of pushing fraudulent airline tickets at hefty discounts. They were slashing between $100 and $200, usually, from the normal price of a (real) ticket. And at least two of them worked in hotels, where they were accused of swiping credit card and debit card information to keep the con afloat. Among the charges are: conspiracy, credit card theft and identity theft. The rings appear to have begun in 2001.

How did it work? In Los Angeles, according to USA Today:

The government’s 25-page indictment against Jason Burks and eight other defendants says that Raun Lauderdale Jr. was one of the people who would obtain stolen credit card and debit card information and sell it to Burks, who would then use it to fraudulently buy airline tickets. Lauderdale worked at an unidentified hotel in Long Beach, Calif. On one particular day in September 2009, Burks allegedly used a stolen American Express card number to buy $3,466.03 worth of airline tickets – an Alaska Airlines ticket from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and three US Airways tickets for travel from Los Angeles to New Orleans, records show. Prosecutors say this ring operated from July 25, 2007 to May 14, 2009.

And in Atlanta:

The government’s 31-page indictment against Steven James Palmer, based in Brooklyn, and nine other defendants based in cities such as Orlando, Los Angeles and Atlanta names another hotel worker. According to the document, Alexander Lewis, 25, of McDonough, Ga., stole credit card and debt card numbers from his jobs at unidentified Atlanta hotels. Lewis also went by an alias: “Mike Gotti,” the indictment says. Prosecutors say this ring operated between August 2008 and March 27, 2010.

The alleged scammers would pick up the tickets online with stolen credit card info and use text messages or e-mail to push discount codes to their customers, which could then be parlayed into boarding passes. To stay under the radar, the bookings were kept close to departure times. Advertising was kept to a minimum, and word of mouth was used to generate new “business.”

[photo by abardwell via Flickr]

Fake airline offering non-existent jobs to desperate seekers

In this poor economy there are two things with no shortage – people looking for a job, and people looking to take advantage of people looking for a job.

Sadly, when the two meet, someone is going to get scammed, and usually this means someone who is down on luck, gets hurt even more.

Such is the case of “Bull Airways”. This completely fake airline posted job listings looking for flight attendants, offering $17 per hour, with a $1/year raise. El Paso local Patricia Solis jumped on the ad, and had a meeting with the airline CEO at the fountain of a local mall (that should have been the first alarm bell).

She filled in a W-2, handing him all her personal information, and was told she’d hear back from him. She was indeed contacted, and offered the job, based out of Seattle.

By now, she obviously knew something was wrong. The local ABC affiliate tracked down David Sanchez, the so-called CEO of this airline, and discovered that the whole thing was a scam. The FAA had no records of the airline, and Mr. Sanchez initially claimed he was a Canadian businessman trying to start a US airline, but after a bit of prodding, he admitted to the fraud. It isn’t entirely clear whether he was just pulling an identity theft scam, or if he had more sinister plans in mind.

What strange things have been found on planes?

Bonnie and Clyde: the follow-up

Here’s an update to my posting from Wednesday on the Ivy League couple who traveled the world, courtesy of dozens of stolen identities they took on. I found a site with lots of multimedia on their lurid romp, including nice before and after shots (mugshots, to be more accurate).

The bad news is they’re free on bail right now. But what’s somewhat satisfying is that afterwards they went back home and continued to hang out with their neighbors, some of whom they robbed for the last year, and got picked up again by the cops on more charges!

It’s no surprise all of a sudden they want to turn their lives around. To begin, they want a nice cozy deal from the district attorney. I’m really crossing my fingers that the couple will turn on each other, and hopefully this’ll give us some more drama.

Bonnie and Clyde: Ivy League style

From the lovely people at the New York Post comes a holiday story of fraud and greed. A 20-something couple, one of whom went to UPenn, spent the past year jetsetting around the world, on everyone else’s dime. The press has labeled them the “21st century version of Bonnie and Clyde” for going horseback riding in Hawaii and Caribbean, drinking champagne in private hot tubs at posh resorts, and flying back and forth to New York, Paris, London, and Montreal.

What’s really creepy is that they had duplicate keys to 30 of their neighbors’ apartments. Yikes. I did, however, find it somewhat funny like some true Ivy Leaguers, they needed prep books to do anything: “The Art of Cheating: A Nasty Little Book for Tricky Little Schemers and Their Hapless Victims,” was found in their apartment, which coincidentally was paid for with stolen money.

Anyways, just another reminder this holiday season to be careful with your personal data and identity. Cheers!