How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

Identity thieves are upping their game. In their relentless pursuit of your personal identifying information (PII) they are constantly evolving in their technology and their techniques to stay one step ahead of you. We deal with these cases every once in a while with our income tax preparation business and because it is our overall goal to provide the utmost information to our clients about their finances, we want to ensure that everyone is kept abreast on how identity thieves steal your information. These are a few of the methods law agencies are reporting as increasing in use. 

Credit Card Skimmers

Although credit card skimming has been around for a while as a proven method for stealing credit card information, it is becoming more wide spread because anyone can now buy a skimmer for $40 on Amazon. Card skimming devices are placed on ATMs or point-of-sale terminals at gas stations waiting for victims.

We have long been warned to examine the card reader on the machine to look for anything out of the ordinary – a loose fitting, or an odd color.  But some of these skimming devices are very authentic looking, and now thieves are placing a PIN-snatching overlay over the keyboard to capture PIN numbers.  Even without that, thieves can watch you PIN entry from a nearby camera. The bigger threat may be the handheld skimmers. Anytime your credit card is out of your sight, it takes just a few seconds to swipe the card and capture your PII.

The best defense is to be overly vigilant. Don’t use ATMs in remote locations. At point-of-sale terminals use your cards that contain an EMV chip as they are harder to skim.

Phishing, Spoofing and Smishing

Phishing is another form of ID theft that has been around for a while, and thought to be outdated due to the improvements in spam technology. However, phishing thieves have been successful in staying a step ahead of security technology by upgrading the quality of their attacks. One way they do this is through phishing emails, which are designed to lure a person into providing sensitive account information online (looking for a Social Security number, Bank account information, etc.). A good tip is to always look for "https://" at the beginning of your search bar. This ensures that your website is encrypted from hackers or spam detectors. 

Spoofing can occur in a couple of ways – on your cell phone or computer. Spoofing is when someone masquerades as someone or something in order to gather sensitive information. On your cell phone, it could happen when your caller ID shows an unfamiliar number, or a number that looks to be legitimate. The person on the other line claims to be from your bank or brokerage firm requesting account update information.

It can also occur on your computer when a scammer sets up a fraudulent website to obtain information or install a virus. The website masquerades as a bank or a retail store, asking for log in information as any legitimate website does. However, when you log in, the scammer can use your information to log into the real website and access your account.


Smishing is similar to phishing except it uses cell phone text messages as the lure. In most cases, the text return address is a URL or phone number. The message usually asks for your prompt response. If you don’t recognize the phone number or URL address, do not respond.

Whether its card skimming, phishing, spoofing or smishing, the objective of the thief is the same: To trick you out of your personal identification information.  The only defense is your vigilance and your strict adherence to the cardinal rule of identity theft protection – Under no circumstances should you ever provide sensitive information, including a credit card number or an account number, over the phone or through an email, unless you can absolutely verify the legitimacy of the caller. There is absolutely no reason to give your full Social Security number over the phone or through an email.


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