Protect yourself by knowing ways identities are stolen

This was originally published on Monday, July 08, 2013, in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Many people don’t realize just how easy it is for criminals to get a hold of their personal information. The first step in protecting yourself against identity theft is learning how thieves steal personal information. Some techniques have been around for decades and some are very new age and techie.

• Dumpster diving: Thieves rummage through your trash for bank/credit card statements, utility bills, pre-approved lines of credit, and other mail with personal identification information.

• A stolen or lost wallet or purse: Many of us carry more than just credit cards in our wallets. Our driver’s license and other IDs may contain some very sanative personal information.

• Mail theft: Thieves simply take mail out of your box and use your information.

• Change of mailing address: The thieves first obtain your mailing address then fill out a change of mailing address at the post office or online and divert all your mail to them.

• Skimmers and overlays are small electronic devices that are made to look like a slot of an ATM, gas pump card reader, or handheld card scanning device. A thief then can read your card number and information. They don’t interfere with the transaction so everything seems normal.

• Shoulder surfing: Today’s technology makes this old practice much easier. Most mobile phones are equipped with cameras and video recorders. Thieves can take pictures of your credit card or record a conversation with a bank. By glancing over your shoulder, they can record any personal information.

• Data breaches: Many financial institutions keep their records on electronic files which can be hacked.

• File sharing: Peer-to-peer file sharing allows computers to share files such as music and photos via the internet. If your computer isn’t set up properly, thieves can download any information you store on your computer.

• Phishing: Identity thieves use a fake electronic message that looks legit from your bank or service organization. This email then takes you to a phony website and asks you to enter your personal information such as a credit card number or PIN.

• SMSishing is a lot like phishing but uses text messages to lure you to the phony website.

• Vishing: Instead is using electronic means of getting your information, a thief uses the phone and voices the requests for your personal information.

• Malicious software (Malware): Malware consists of viruses, Trojan Horses or worms that install a program into your computer. This program then transmits your personal information to the thief.

• Keystroke logging is a program that’s downloaded to your computer through email attachments, links or false websites. The program tracks the keyboard keys as you use them to type account information, PINs, passwords and other sensitive personal information.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and with financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at


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