Guest post by Terry Ambrose, author of the McKenna mystery series
Posted by Jenny Hilborne
Author of Mysteries and Psychological Thrillers
Victims of identity theft take note, I am one of you. I never expected to have someone steal my identity. I wondered why more couldn’t be done to find the perpetrators. And I wanted justice. So begins the dedication of the second McKenna Mystery, “Kauai Temptations.”
It’s a story that uses identity theft as a launching pad for the more typical murder-mystery plot. But this post is about identity theft, not murder. This post is timely in a sense because the holiday season is drawing near. That means celebration, good cheer, and a target on your identity.
Identity theft is a $50 billion per year business. By any measurement, that’s big business. But identity theft is really an industry made up of many “small businessmen.” True, we who are victims don’t regard them as businessmen, we have a more graphic description.
The thieves—no, that’s not the graphic description, it’s far worse—have so many methods to trip us up it can make your head spin. The good news is that for writers, the following list can be a terrific starting point for a murder mystery.
• Unsolicited emails with links for triggers to download a virus or malware have become commonplace. And sadly, the emails, the viruses and the malware grow more sophisticated each day.
• Fake web sites that are exact duplicates of the real thing are set up and hosted under domains similar to the legitimate site. These fakes typically offer deals that legitimate retailers can’t match. The difference is that the fake site will steal your financial information and never fulfill your order or send you substandard goods.
• Telemarketers offer free medical alert systems, home repairs, and other great deals. What they really want is a “yes” and your information.
• Fake charities collect “donations” and never distribute to their cause. This has become a common occurrence and, unfortunately, these sites now crop up and are live and ready to go within hours of a natural or manmade disaster.
• The FBI estimates that 90% of the work-at-home opportunities are scams. If you’re thinking of working at home and have dreams of making that advertised $10k a month, rethink the dream. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get taken for that much.
• Financial planners and investment advisors can take you for your life savings. Think Bernie Madoff. Or better yet, think about my friends who decided to invest with their next-door neighbor—someone they’d known for a few years and was an investment advisor. They lost their retirement money and their neighbor because they didn’t check the guy out.
• The next time you receive a travel clubs offer, read the fine print. Many offer deals you can never use or have ways to disqualify you for any one of a dozen reasons.
• That $5 iPad you saw on the penny auction site? Don’t be downloading your new apps quite yet. Chances are you won’t get it and neither will most of the other bidders. Of course, the dirtbags—that’s getting closer to the right description, but is still too mild—those behind the site will have your information and how will you stop them from selling it? You can’t, no matter how many little checkboxes you check.
As I said above, this list might provide writers with ideas for a scam to incorporate into a mystery. For “Kauai Temptations” I used the theft of checks to get the identification of my protagonist, but it could just have easily been the $5 iPad. All of these scams wind up in the same place, with you struggling to recover while some guy the police can’t find starts on his next victim.
What does all this have to do with the holiday season?
Quite a bit, actually, because this is the time of year when the scammers start working overtime. Between now and Christmas, you’ll probably receive more spam emails, see more unbeatable deals, and maybe even receive telemarketing calls. We can’t stop it, but we can all be vigilant and avoid becoming a victim. In that vein, here are three tips to enhance your financial security.
• Check out businesses and charities with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org.
• Online scammers create great fakes websites and emails. Don’t be fooled by good artwork or perfect logos or a slick website. The good scammers can perfectly duplicate a website or email.
• Never succumb to pressure. Pressure is the con man’s friend. Whether it’s in an email, on a website offering you a “last-minute deal,” or with a real person, remember that if someone demands something, they may be using pressure to dull your responses. Walk away at the first sign.