When I had my credit card ‘skimmed’ in Spain the first I knew about it was when my bank had the sense to realise it was outside my usual spending pattern, and put a stop on my account.
Someone had cloned the details on the credit card I’d been using on holiday in Spain and set off to Morocco on a car-buying spree!
The first I knew of it was when my bank rang me.
It made me realise that anything could be going on – in my name – without me having the first clue about it. And that’s a frightening thought.
What’s more, I thought I had always done everything I could to protect my personal details.
It just proved to me that fraudsters are ever-more devious. And while we might not be able to protect ourselves 100%, knowing the ways they work helps you keep yourself safer.
Card skimming is only one sneaky way they work.
1. Email phishing
There’s a PayPal one circulating right now, where you get an email asking you to click a link so you can read and acknowledge some new terms and conditions.
In this case, the request seemed benign enough – a link to go through and simply read the new t&cs,. But to get there it needed a PayPal log-in and password. Hand those over and my account could very well have ended up in a fraudster’s hands.
What was worrying was that, to all intents and purposes, the email looked as though it was from PayPal (there was even an official-looking logo and company address on it).
But fortunately, a couple of spelling errors and one very strangely-worded sentence rang alarm bells. I reported it to PayPal and they confirmed it wasn’t from them at all.
Knowing whether an email is from a legitimate sender is tricky at times, but as the fraudsters get more sophisticated in their tactics, we need to get savvy.
A fuzzy-looking corporate logo, an unusual font, or an oddly-worded email can all raise alarm bells. So read it closely.
This email displayed a new level of cunning. While we should all know by now not to give our log-in and password details etc out this wasn’t explicitly asking you to do this.
So stay on your toes. And if your suspicions are raised, like mine were, then double-check before you click.
2. Phone phishing
This was a new one on me, until a former colleague had some fraudsters attempt to swindle his bank card details from him, bold as brass, over the phone.
He had a call from ‘the bank’ who wanted to check his details and warn him that a number of large transactions had gone through that they suspected were fraudulent.
Scarily, these people had his home phone number, knew his name, who he banked with, and even his address. He smelled a rat and reported them. And they were indeed not from his bank at all.
But how often do you answer those relatively benign questions your bank asks when it calls you out of the blue?
Next time, think twice and suggest they hang up and you’ll give your bank a call straight back. That way you have a better idea of who you’re dealing with when you hand over personal information.
3. Social networking
What would you think if a mate turned up on a night out wearing a t-shirt with their name, address, birthday, phone number and pet dog’s name emblazoned across it?
They’re crazy? Eccentric? Desperate? Or possibly all three!
It would look decidedly odd. What sort of person broadcasts that sort of information about themselves to all and sundry?
The fact is that in the virtual world many of us do, without thinking twice. Too many of us are more than happy to hand over all sorts of personal information to total strangers, whether it’s on Facebook, on dating sites or anywhere else online.
It’s little wonder that fraudsters are rife, and nowhere more so than online.
How many times have you ‘chatted’ to someone you don’t know – only to never hear from them again? How many new ‘friends’ have you agreed to ‘connect’ with or allow into your network, without really knowing who you’re dealing with?
Fraudsters are often prepared to play the long-game; sneaking into circles of contacts and then harvesting the data, which they can then use in fraudulent ways.
So, as in the ‘real’ world, be careful who you associate with online.
4. Mail forwarding
Even junk mail, if it has your name and address on it, can be a tool for fraudsters, so when you move house, make sure you take your mail (the important stuff and the junk) with you.
Sometimes all that’s needed to set up a bogus identity (in your name) is a couple of low-grade proofs of address – anything from a letter about a loan agreement to a mail-order catalogue account will do; it doesn’t need to be a credit card or bank account statement.
If you sign-up to the Royal Mail mail forwarding service, they’ll send all your mail on to your new address for as long as you need it.
Data protection experts say that even if you are super-diligent and inform everyone you can think of that you’ve got a change of address, it’s still good practice to set-up the mail forwarding service for a minimum of six months.
If you live in a shared building or have a communal mailbox you are even more at risk of having your identity stolen, so it’s well worth keeping tabs on it and making sure no one’s using your identity at your old address the minute your back’s turned.