Criminals get more bold. Tactics appear more credible. Targets face an increasing number of attacks from an ever-expanding lineup of fraud-susceptible avenues.
Potential losses continue to mount.
Identity theft this year will strike more than 9 million Americans, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It comes in the form of fraudulent use of someone's personal information - such as a Social Security or credit card numbers - to steal their money.
Authorities say criminals commonly prey on consumers' fears, inattention or simple naivete in gaining access to bank or credit accounts and other financial resources that can take months to years to rebuild or reclaim.
Among the latest fraudulent solicitations: Coordinated attacks seeking peoples' personal data in the Lawrence area, as automated phone-calling programs apparently used public phone lists to warn people that their "accounts" had been compromised, and that the purported victims should call back and provide account numbers and other personal information to help clear things up.
Hundreds of people recently received such calls - often late at night or early in the morning- in the Lawrence area, and some people disclosed their information.
"The accounts had not been compromised here in any way," said Ginger Wehner, assistant vice president for KU Credit Union in Lawrence, which was fraudulently referred to in the latest round of calls seeking the information. "That can't happen unless an individual gives out their personal information. Financial institutions won't ask for personal financial information; we already have that information."
The credit union was among several other financial institutions across the country to be the subject of such attacks, officials said. The efforts also included e-mail messages and text messages, and in all cases such fraudulent solicitations went out to credit union members and nonmembers alike.
"They're trying to communicate through technology, in any way they can," Wehner said. "Whether it's in Spain or somewhere else, that's where the transactions are coming from."
As the credit union works to get the sources of such activity shut down - in two weeks, officials submitted more than 45 illegal Web sites and more than 40 phone numbers to authorities - Wehner knows that the end of such attacks often remain ever elusive.
"They're being very creative in how they're trying to get this information," she said. "There will be another round. It may not be us. It could be another credit union, or another bank. But it will happen. :
"Just do not give out your personal information about your account numbers or anything else. That's the main point that everyone needs to hear."
Learning to identify risks can reduce identity thefts
Kevin Speck, a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Kansas City, Mo., offers these tips for minimizing your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft:
¢ Use common sense
"Don't share what you don't want other people to know. Be suspicious."
¢ Ask how your information will be used
"If you go to the grocery store, and you sign up for the mail card, what do they do with it? Does it go on a list? Ask those types of questions. Most legitimate places will provide you, up front, what they do with that information."
¢ Know your billing cycles
Also, contact your creditors if bills fail to show up.
"Somebody could use a change-of-address (card), have your bills diverted and get the information from them."
¢ Don't send mail from home
Place your outgoing mail in a collection box or at the U.S. Post Office.
"Don't use the 'steal me' flag."
¢ Carry only essential identification cards
"I wouldn't carry my Social Security card and everything else that people have traditionally placed in their wallets. If you lose everything, they've got your identity, so carry only that which you really need."
¢ Be careful with the phone
Don't give out personal information over the phone, or respond to unsolicited e-mails, unless you can verify or you somehow trust the source.
¢ Don't discard documents that contain personal identifiers or account information.
"Shred it or destroy it. One of the ways a lot of people get information from Dumpster diving - going through trash and seeing what's out there. What you put on the curb, where does it go? You don't know."
¢ Obtain a copy of your credit report once a year, and review it.
"You can go to Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. They all provide one free per year. If someone's stolen your identity, and tried to get credit or something else, it could show up on your credit report."
¢ Opt out of programs that permit your bank and other financial institutions to share your data with other firms.
Whether it's online or on a written application, check the box that restricts use of your information to the particular firm involved. "If they give it to third parties, you have no control over what they do with the information."
¢ Opt out of preapproved credit offers.
"You can do that by calling (888) 567-8688. : It's like a no-call list for preapproved credit card offers." If such an applications falls into the wrong hands, a crook could add other information and assume your identity and "get a credit card, in your name, that you're not even aware of."
¢ If you discard or recycle a computer or personal communication device, destroy the hard drive, data card or anything else that holds - or once held - sensitive data, even if the information's long since deleted.
"For the most part, whatever information you've had on a hard drive, it's still there. (Thieves) are able to go back and find the deleted stuff. Pull out and destroy the hard drive."