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Identity Theft - Head Matters


1. Identity Theft

a. How does it happen? (continued)

Computer - Home computers can be infected with viruses that transmit your data to thieves. Through internet use, students are often especially vulnerable because their computers may not be updated with the most recent virus protection software. Identity theft through computers has all kinds of names:

  • Phishing  - Phishing is a form of online identity theft that lures consumers into giving their personal financial information to fraudulent web sites, also known as spoofed web sites.  For example, a phisher sends an email message to an unsuspecting victim instructing the recipient to click on the link to a bank’s web site (provided in the email) to confirm his account information.  What the customer doesn’t know is that the web site is a convincing fake or copy of the real web site.  The unsuspecting customer takes the bait and provides the information.  The phisher steals the personal financial information.  The phisher can then use this information to clean out the victim’s bank accounts or commit other forms of identity theft
  • Pharming  - Though similar to phising, pharming is more sophisticated.  Pharmers also send emails.  The consumer, however, can be tricked by the pharmer without even opening an email attachment.  The consumer compromises his personal information simply by opening the email message.  The pharming email message contains a virus (or Trojan horse ) that installs a small software program on the user’s computer.  When the consumer tries to visit an official web site, the pharmer’s software program redirects the browser to the pharmer’s fake version of the web site. The consumer doesn’t even know this is happening!  In this way, the pharmer is able to capture the personal financial information that the consumer enters in to the counterfeit web site.
  • Messenger - This latest form of pharming does not require email at all.  Password-stealing Trojan horses can attack through Microsoft Messenger where keyloggers are run.  Keyloggers are viruses that track a user’s keystrokes on a key board to steal passwords and other information.  The thief now has the consumer’s password or other information for future fake transactions from the user’s accounts.
  • Social networking  websites - Be careful not to disclose too much personal information on your social networking websites – sites like Facebook or Twitter. You may not know all of your “friends” as well as you think you do.  An identity thief could access a friend’s computer and steal your personal information. Even your full birth date can be a valuable piece of information for an identity thief. Consider using just the month and day if you decide to include your birth date. You may also want to keep information more general, such as your city and state instead of a full address. These sites can be fun and a great way to communicate, but should be used with caution.

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