Identity Theft

Should You Trust Your Lawyer with Your Data?

When you work with a lawyer (or a financial advisor or accountant, for that matter), you almost certainly hand over a lot of confidential information. It may include things like account numbers, birth dates, your social security number, family members’ names — in short, everything necessary to steal your identity.

This could be a problem.

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The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act May Cost Americans Billions of Dollars a Year

Americans spend nearly $6 billion on digital music every year, and that number is growing fast. That is an already-huge and fast-growing pile of digital things. But there is a problem with all those digital assets. Even though you can take your digital music, movies, and books with you everywhere you go, they are much harder than the physical version to give to someone else.

That is because digital things and physical things are treated differently. When you buy a digital thing, it’s more like you are paying for the right to use it in ways specified by the creator of that thing. When you buy a physical thing, on the other hand, you own that thing. You can sell it, loan it, or give it away. Eventually, we all die and give everything away. Maybe our kids aren’t thrilled to get a complete set of Fleetwood Mac records, but someone else might want them — and be willing to pay money for them.

But you cannot pass on most of your digital assets. Not legally, anyway.

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Gangs Add Identity Theft and Tax Fraud to Dealing Drugs

Guest post by Nussin S. Fogel.

Gangs across the country are finding white collar crime much easier than dealing drugs on street corners: they’ve learned how to profit from identity theft and tax fraud.

Florida is ground zero for the crime, but the problem is growing throughout the US.

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Why the Hell Are People Posting Pictures of Debit Cards on Twitter?

Twitter account @NeedADebitCard collects pictures of debit and credit cards that people post to Twitter. Seriously? I’m guessing these people aren’t on top of their Facebook privacy settings, either, which makes them sitting ducks for identity thieves.

People, don’t be stupid. If you have to take pictures of your debit and credit cards, put them in the same place you keep your sex tapes.

[via BoingBoing]

Identity Theft Resources from the FTC

If your identity is stolen, most of the damage done is financial. Since most of us have financial accounts and information spread all over, it can take a long time to sort out all the fraudulent activity. It’s like picking staples out of a huge carpet. There is not much help available to victims of identity theft, either. You are mostly on your own when it comes to cleaning up the mess.

The FTC just made it a little bit easier, though, with a set of resources to help victims of identity theft figure out what to do. It’s Taking Charge: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen PDF walks you through the process of discovering the identity theft, doing immediate damage control, placing a fraud alert on your account, freezing your credit, and so on.


Phishing by Phone

Tonight, I received the following official-sounding message from “the Transaction Review Department of Wells Fargo Bank” asking me to “verify recent transactions on [my] credit Visa card.” While I do have a Wells Fargo business card, this message doesn’t sound quite right. First, I’ve never heard anyone refer to a “credit Visa card.” Second, as far as I can tell, Wells Fargo does not have a “Transaction Review Department.” Third, there are no unusual charges to my account—by me or anyone else.

I haven’t called the number, because I’m pretty sure this is a phishing attempt, and I’m not interested in giving the phisher in question any verification that it has the correct phone number.

It is just good enough that many people would probably respond. I’m quite certain those who respond will be asked for their account information, and would find their cards maxed shortly after.

Be on the lookout for scams like this. Don’t believe anything that doesn’t sound right, and don’t ever give out your account information over the phone.

Consumer News Roundup, Week of September 12th, 2011

Intellectual property is the new legal battlefield, as one industry after another lawyers up to try to make money from its IP, instead of making money from, say, a product people want to buy.

Righthaven, for example, has been running around suing bloggers and website owners who use quotations of copyrighted works. This is fair use, but Righthaven doesn’t care. Which is why it just got slapped with an order to pay $34,045.50 in attorney fees. Trying to weasel out of the inevitable, Righthaven tried to argue that it shouldn’t have to pay attorney fees because its claims were frivolous in the first place. Right. Props to the Randazza Legal Group and J. Malcolm DeVoy for a well-deserved check.

Porn producer Mick Haig Productions has another approach. Keep Reading »

Use Smarter Passwords

Your online security—from email to bank accounts—is only as strong as the weakest link: your passwords. For years, security experts have recommended long passwords with letters, numbers, and symbols, like this: 7@k4eu1jw$8p*gug. But people generally cope with these policies by using words with numbers and letters in them, like this: l0$er.

It turns out, passwords like that are not only hard to remember, they are pretty easy for a computer to crack.

The better password practice is to use four or five random words, which is (a) really easy to memorize and (b) much harder for a computer to crack.

Also, don’t use the same password for every website. If your password is ever cracked—if you wind up on the wrong side of an Anonymous attack, for example—you make it easy to access all your online accounts, unless they have different passwords. A convenient way to use a bunch of different passwords is to get a password safe program like KeePass, 1Password, or LastPass to keep track of them.

Take a few minutes today to upgrade your online security.

Citibank Credit Card Numbers Exposed by Blippy

Upstart social networking site Blippy apparently failed to protect its users’ credit card numbers—or at least some of them. Blippy allows users to see what friends are buying and comment on their purchases. It also let Google index the purchase information, including credit card numbers.

If you are a Blippy user—especially if you have a Citibank card—keep an eye on your account and look for unfamiliar charges. You might even ask for a new card as a proactive measure.

Blippy users’ credit card numbers found on Google | VentureBeat Wants to Sell Your Shopping Habits

According to Felix Salmon,, the popular personal finance website, may be benefiting from playing outside the regulatory rules that govern banks. At a Banking 2.0 panel at SXSW, Mint’s Aaron Patzer explained why:

For instance, he said, he can see pretty much in real time how much money his huge database of customers is, in aggregate, spending at Blockbuster vs Netflix vs Redbox, or any other set of retailers — and that kind of information would surely be extremely valuable to hedge funds. It was clearly something he’s talked a lot about, and he never said that he wasn’t already selling that data to the highest bidder.

If I am to do my banking online, I need to be confident that my financial information is being kept secure. This is not like Google, where I can stomach giving up a bit of anonymized usage data in exchange for great software. No, when it comes to my financial information, I do not want my data sold to the highest bidder.

After reading Salmon’s column, I deleted my Mint account.

Personal finance online | Felix Salmon (thanks, Aaron!)