The Law Office of Paul Mankin

Former Con-Artist Tells Consumers How to Prevent Becoming a Target of Identity Theft

Frank Abagnale, Jr., a notorious conman and identity thief, turned trusted FBI consultant and one of the world’s most respected authorities on fraud, forgery and cyber security is now offering his advice on protecting yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.

Who is Frank Abagnale, Jr.?

The academy award nominated feature film, Catch Me If You Can, starring, Leonardo DiCaprio is based on Abagnale’s story. While some details of his story concerning his scams, frauds, and identity thefts cannot be verified, he served less than five years in prison for his crimes before beginning work for the federal government. He is currently a consultant and lecturer for the FBI academy and field offices and runs Abagnale & Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company, and author of his 1980 memoir, Catch Me If You Can, 2008 book, Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan, and newest book, Scam Me If You Can: Simple Strategies to Outsmart Today’s Rip-off Artists.

What Does Abagnale Recommend You Do to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft?

Abagnale says that telephone and e-mail scams where the thief contacts you directly will generally raise one of two red flags: the scammer or thief will ask you for money and will want it immediately or they will ask you for your personal information. The easiest way to combat these types of direct contact theft attempts is to hang up on the caller or simply delete the e-mail and not give out your information or send anyone any money. But what else can you do to protect yourself?

Stop Making Mistakes With Your Internet Passwords

If you use the internet a lot, you have probably noticed that some websites now offer alternatives to passwords, like signing in with your phone. This is the future of technology, which is now seeking to eliminate passwords all together. As Abagnale says, passwords are 1964 technology, and a major contributor to the success of scammers and identity thieves. So, if your bank or financial institution, ATM, e-mail provider, or commonly used retailers offer you a way to sign in without a password, use it. Until passwords are a thing of the past, however, there are things you can do to help minimize your risk of becoming a target of identity theft by those trying to steal your passwords:

  1. Use passwords containing at 8 to 14 characters, with 14 being the ideal number.
  2. Do not use personal information such as pet’s names, social security number, or birthdates in your passwords.
  3. Do not use the same password for everything. Limit each password to only a few websites so that if it becomes compromised, it is easier to change.
  4. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and characters in your passwords.
  5. Change your passwords on a regular basis.
  6. Write your passwords down on paper; do not use electronic means to help you remember them.

            Never Use a Debit Card

Many consumers live on their debit card and rarely carry cash or use credit cards. But this may leave them vulnerable to identity theft. While cash may offer the greatest protection, it may not be practical for most consumers in most situations. Who wants to go into the gas station to pre-pay for fuel, when they can just swipe their card at the pump? But credit cards can offer the same convenience as a debit card, while providing more protection in case the card is compromised. For example, if an identity thief gets a hold of your debit card number and uses it, the money will come out of your bank account almost immediately, but you will not be able to get it back for days, or sometimes weeks, once you discover and report the charge(s) as fraudulent. This can leave you unable to cover checks for important bills or extract cash at an ATM for daily living expenses. For those are not willing or able to get and use a credit card for everyday expenses, there are pre-paid debit cards to consider and now many retailers are offering options such as Google Wallet, Square Cash, and Apple Pay. While these apps may use debit card information, it is more secure than swiping or handing over your card and may offer additional ways to load money to your account.

            Pay Attention to What You Post on Facebook

Your Facebook profile most likely already contains personal information that can be a good start for a patient identity thief. You may have included some of this information in your profile, posted some on your timeline, or unwittingly shared it by just being someone’s Facebook friend. This information might include:

  • Your birthday (even if you do not intentionally share it, you may receive public birthday wishes from friend and family)
  • Information you may use in passwords such as your pets names, anniversaries, and favorite foods or vacation spots
  • Your home address, when you create events that you are hosting or post items you wish to sell or give away, or when replying to a friend in the comments of a post
  • Your mother’s maiden name, if she is your friend on the social media site and is currently using her maiden name as part of her screen name

This does not mean that you have to stop sharing on social media sites, but Abagnale recommends that you simply be more selective about what information you share and with whom you share it.

            Protect Your Personal Information

The most important thing you can do to help prevent becoming a target of identity theft is to protect your personal information. Abagnale says that some of the things you should to in order to protect this information is:

  • Shred anything with your personal information on it when throwing it out, including social security statements, old checks, and bank statements
  • Never give out personal information over the phone to someone who called you
  • Do not send any of your personal information to anyone via e-mail
  • Never share your personal files or information on or over the internet
  • Do not print your social security number on your checks or carry your social security card with you
  • Always pick up your mail as soon as possible, do not leave your mailbox overflowing
  • Do not trust ATM or credit card devices that look suspicious
  • Cover the ATM keypad with your hand when entering your PIN
  • Be on guard for spyware, malware, and other malicious software when using your computer, tablet, or smart phone

Where Do I Get More Identity Theft Protection Information from Frank Abagnale, Jr.?

Abagnale is the co-host of the American Association for Retired Persons’ (AARP) The Perfect Scam podcast, has videos posted on YouTube, and his books, Stealing Your Life and Scam Me if You Can are available for purchase on Amazon. His website also contains information about his company and books and other publications.

If you are a victim of identity theft and are unable to correct any of the results of such theft, feel free to contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.