Shawna Mann

Grove – Business owners and employees picked up some useful information on protecting themselves and their businesses from identity theft and fraud during a luncheon sponsored by First National Bank. 

The free event took place on July 21 with guest speaker Elaine Dodd.  Dodd, who is a retired law enforcement official spent twenty two years doing investigative work for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and was the first female undercover agent. 

After retirement in 1995, she joined the Oklahoma Bankers Association in 2003 helping thousands of bankers and customers throughout the state.

Statistics show that in 2009, 11.1 million people fell victim to identity theft, and more than fifty billion dollars was involved.  Dodd stated the use of computers has ramped up fraud crimes a lot.

Although technology has brought many conveniences to our society, it has also opened up many more opportunities for thieves to scam, con and rob the average person. 

Many of the devices used today to steal personal information most people have never heard of.  During the luncheon Dodd explained some of them and how they are used. 

There are such things as key loggers that log your keystrokes, so thieves can obtain your passwords and account numbers; skimmers which are card readers and writers that can obtain your credit card numbers and then write them on a blank card. 

It’s not just these gadgets that are being used.  Sometimes it’s as simple as an e-mail or a phone call.  According to Dodd a lot of fraudulent activity originates in Canada and Nigeria.  Dodd noted the third largest source of income in Nigeria is fraud. Con artists in both these countries are using e-mail to scam people out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, promising such things as the individual has won a sweepstakes, or posing as someone from their bank informing them of a “security breach”.  Dodd went on to explain that citizens cannot afford to take a chance.

“If someone you don’t know wants you to wire them money, then you should run backwards.”

The business of counterfeit bills is not a new one.  Our government has made several drastic changes over the years to protect our currency but crooks still find a way to alter and pass these fake bills. 

“There are bogus hundred dollar bills floating around.  They will wash the ink off of a five dollar bill and change it to a hundred.” Dodd said. 

Businesses usually use pens that can detect counterfeit bills but Dodd says not to trust them.  She says you are better off using a black light to see the watermark on a bill. 

The identity theft epidemic doesn’t just affect the unaware or uneducated.  Very smart people have fallen victim to such scams, particularly the elderly. 

It seems as though no matter what we do there is always a “risk factor”.  Protecting your identity and finances is one of those things that cannot be taken lightly. 

A few tips to help reduce your risk of theft at home are opting out of any circulations offering prescreened credit cards.  You can do this online by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com or by calling  1-888-567-8688.  Avoid sweepstakes and free offers. Signing up for these puts your name and information on mailing lists that are sold and re-sold. 

Check your credit report and bank statement.  Statistics show that only 7-12% of the population look at their statement monthly.  By viewing it daily or every few days you can check for discrepancies and report them early on.  Credit reports can be checked for free annually online at www.annualcreditreport.com. Shred all sensitive information and watch for scams.  Information on scams that may affect you can be found online at www.onguardonline.com.

Some other tips for protecting yourself - don’t carry your social security card, account numbers or medicare card in your wallet.  Change your passwords often and include numbers and symbols; and lastly, don’t respond to any e-mails from people you are not familiar with. 

With so many things to watch out for with the ever changing world of technology you can still utilize the benefits, but just keep in mind that there is always someone out there waiting to take advantage of you.