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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Talk on Identity Theft

Yesterday at 3 p.m. in the Asia Room, Mr. Gary Brown, assistant Attorney General-in-Charge at the Westchester Regional Office of the NYS Attorney General (Phew!) spoke to about 43 residents on identity theft and financial exploitation of the elderly. Ms. Laurie Johnson from Health Services and Mr. Mark Willmer from I.T. were also present.

Brown stressed the need to password protect all online accounts. The password should include numbers and upper and lowercase letters and should not be a form of your user name or an easily guessed word like "Maryknoll". (I can't tell you the number of Maryknoll sites that use 1911 as a password. I can't tell you because I don't know. But I know at least three places use it!)

Email scams, sometimes called "phishing", are on the rise. They look like emails from legitimate banks or credit card companies and ask you to click on a link (Don't do it!) and give sensitive and personal information, like your Social Security Number or Bank Account. (Don't do that either!)

Case in point: two months ago I got an official-looking email purportedly from Capital One bank informing me of "an errors" that caused my account to be suspended but if I clicked the link all would be well. Yeah, right. It also misspelled "receive". So I phoned Capital One and they said it was a scam. I forwarded the bogus email to them to help them track down and arrest the perpetrators and sent the following reply to the senders:

"Dear Illiterate Idiot, Clearly you are either a high school dropout or not a native English speaker, or both. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your clearly bogus email to the authorities. On a positive note, perhaps you can use your time in jail to study spelling and proper English grammar."

So grammar and spelling errors are also two things to look for. And do not hesitate to call the company yourself (Don't use the number given in the suspect email) when in doubt.

Other cautions: do not give a caller your PIN or the security code on the back of your credit cards. (Of course, this only applies if someone contacts you. If you called the bank or the merchant, it should be safe to give that information.)

Check all your monthly statements and report any unfamiliar charges. Many credit card companies will call you if they suspect unauthorized activity.

Some years ago I was doing Christmas shopping in the area and when I got home realized I didn't have my credit card with me. I had only gone to one store so went back immediately but they said they didn't have it. I called the credit card company and said "I think my credit card has been lost or stolen." The agent said, "Yes, we know. We already put a stop on it." Apparently whoever got hold of my card tried to make a huge purchase of a flat-screen TV. When the merchant asked for further ID, the person couldn't produce it. By the time he tried that stunt at another store the card was already cancelled and labelled "stolen."

Sometimes it pays to have Big Brother watching!

If you receive any questions about suspicious email or financial activity, contact Maryknoll I.T. and your superior.

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