Common Identity Theft / Fraud Methods & Trends

Common Ways to Commit Identity Theft or Fraud

Many people do not realize how easily criminals can obtain our personal data without having to break into our homes. In public places, criminals may engage in "shoulder surfing" watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number ­or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit-card number over the telephone. Some criminals engage in "dumpster diving" ­ going through your garbage cans to obtain copies of your checks, credit card, bank statements, or other records that typically bear your name, address, and even your telephone number.

If you receive applications for "pre-approved" credit cards in the mail or credit card "Courtesy" checks, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards or use the checks for their use without your knowledge

In recent years, the Internet has become an appealing place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or even banking information. In their haste to explore the exciting features of the Internet, many people respond to "spam" ­ unsolicited Email and provide personal information.

Latest Identity Theft Scam Trends

Nigerian Letter or "419" Fraud

Nigerian letter frauds combine the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, mailed from Nigeria, offers the recipient the "opportunity" to share in a percentage of millions of dollars that the author, a self-proclaimed government official, is trying to transfer illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient is encouraged to send information to the author, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers and other identifying information using a facsimile number provided in the letter. Some of these letters have also been received via email through the internet.

Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are spirited out of Nigeria. In actuality, the millions of dollars do not exist and the victim eventually ends up with nothing but loss. Once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances until the victim’s assets are taken in their entirety. The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. The schemes themselves violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label "419 fraud."

Advance Fee Scheme

An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value, such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift, and then receives little or nothing in return.

The variety of advance fee schemes is limited only by the imagination of the con artists who offer them. They may involve the sale of products or services, the offering of investments, lottery winnings, "found money," or many other "opportunities." Clever con artists will offer to find financing arrangements for their clients who pay a "finder’s fee" in advance; they require their clients to sign contracts in which they agree to pay the fee when they are introduced to the financing source. Victims often learn that they are ineligible for financing only after they have paid the "finder" according to the contract. Such agreements may be legal unless it can be shown that the "finder" never had the intention or the ability to provide financing for the victims.

In Boxborough, we sometimes see variations of this scheme. Learn more about current fraud schemes by visiting the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Common Fraud Schemes page.

Craigslist Scams

Craigslist is a scammers paradise. Although there are many legitimate transactions which occur on craigslist, there are also thousands of scams or frauds. In Boxborough, we sometimes see residents scammed on craigslist. Often times the scams involve the sales of vehicles or property. Victims are often sent a bogus but real looking check and only find out they have been scammed after the merchandise is gone. Another common scam is for the person to send a bogus check and request that you wire them part of the money back so that they can arrange shipping. Often times the money is wired before the victim realizes that the check they recieved is bogus, leaving them out all of the wired money.

More craigslist scams can be found on the Craigslist Scams page.