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Identity Theft Resource Center

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ITRaC News - Q2 2011
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Identity Theft Resource Center

 

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For the Consumer

Lax Hotel Network Security
Leads to Credit Fraud

Have you ever wondered what happens to your credit card information after it’s swiped at the hotel front desk?  New York Times reporter Joe Sharkey knows. Sharkey told petergreenberg.com that he discovered a small unauthorized merchant charge on his credit card the same day he checked out of the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. It wasn’t the first time. Earlier, Sharkey reported in The New York Times that he and his wife had their credit card accounts compromised following hotel stays. In both cases, hackers made multiple small unauthorized purchases. Why were the charges small, you might ask? That’s how hackers check whether card holders are paying attention and whether credit card accounts are vulnerable.

Hackers Are the Hotel Industry’s Frequent Uninvited Guests 
According to a 2011 Global Survey Report released by Trustwave SpiderLabs, Sharkey has plenty of company. The report shows that one in ten of the data breaches that Trustwave investigated in 2010 happened in the hotel industry. If you’re a frequent hotel guest, that’s not good news.
  
Hotel hacking that leads to credit fraud seems to be as easy as shooting ducks in a barrel. The reasons:  Point of sale devices are vulnerable; there’s huge volume of credit card transactions; and credit card information is retained for reservations and loyalty programs.

Unsecured hotel wireless networks at hotels have also proven to be an ideal place for hackers to commit a variety of other crimes.  At the luxury Thompson Hotel chain, a hacker captured embarrassing emails belonging to guests and staff members that were transmitted over its wireless network and threatened to make them public.
 
In many states across the country, hackers staying at hotels or parked nearby have used the anonymity of hotel wireless networks to download kiddie porn.
 
Guests looking to use their hotel’s wireless Internet may face another security threat.  In 2010, The CBS Early Show had an ethical hacker set up a fake WiFi access point at a New York City hotel, calling it “Best Free Public WiFi.” Before long, dozens of unsuspecting wireless device users tried to log on. When an unsuspecting hotel guest connects to a rogue WiFi access point like that, his sensitive financial information can be harvested by a hacker.
 
How to Hide From Hotel Hackers
Remember, staying at a nice hotel with good security doesn’t guarantee that your financial information will be safe from hackers. Here’s what you can do to protect your most valuable possession – your identity.

  • Find out what your hotel is doing to protect your credit card information.  Ask whether its wireless network uses WPA (WiFi Protected Access) encryption.  It requires a password to get onto the network and encrypts all the information transmitted on it.  This prevents eavesdropping over wireless.  But it may not stop other guests connected to the same hotspot from stealing your information.
  • Watch out for Evin Twins. Some WiFi networks you spot at hotels may look like the real thing. They may even contain your hotel’s name. But they can still be rogue access points created by hackers to steal your data. Check with the establishment to make sure which network is the real one.
  • Always assume you’re not alone on any public WiFi network. Disable file sharing; and never send Social Security numbers or financial information when over a wireless connection.
  • Use a credit card instead of a debit card at hotels so your bank account will be protected.
  • Use a VPN (virtual private network) like Private WiFi to ensure that the information transmitted over your WiFi connection is invisible to hackers.

Jan Legnitto is an investigative journalist and documentary producer who writes about criminal justice and intelligence issues. Jan is also a frequent contributor to the Private-i blogs. 

Dear Wilma 
Dear Wilma,
Hello I've just reviewed my credit score and  its unbelievably HIGH.  dear WilmaI'm only 17, can you please HELP ME?  Princess

Dear Princess,
As a minor you should not have any credit score or history. Your parents or guardian must submit documentation to the credit bureaus to obtain your credit report (use the information below). Remember to file a police report for identity theft, and submit a copy of it with proof of age to each company.
 
For more information, please read our ITRC Fact Sheet 120A – Ordering a Child’s Credit Report.  Please use ITRC Letter Form 120 to request a child’s credit report
 
All of the necessary contact information for the Credit Report Agencies will be found in this document.  It will also detail what each CRA requires as necessary documentation.
 
Click on the following links for additional information about Child Identity Theft:
 
ITRC Solution 05 - Ordering a Child’s Credit Report
 
ITRC Fact Sheet 120 - Identity Theft and Children
 
ITRC Fact Sheet 120B - A Guide for Parents – Child Identity Theft Indicators 

  Dear Wilma,
Hello I've just reviewed my credit score and  its unbelievably HIGH.   I'm only 17, can you please HELP ME?  Princess
Dear Princess,
As a minor you should not have any credit score or history. Your parents or guardian must submit documentation to the credit bureaus to get your credit report use the information below. Remember to file a police report for identity theft, and submit a copy of it with proof of age to each company.
 
For more information, please read our ITRC Fact Sheet 120AOrdering a Child’s Credit Report.
Please use ITRC Letter Form 120 to request a child’s credit report
 
All of the necessary contact information for the Credit Report Agencies will be found in this document.  It will also detail what each CRA requires as necessary documentation.
 
Click on the following links for additional information about Child Identity Theft:
 
ITRC Solution 05 - Ordering a Child’s Credit Report
 
ITRC Fact Sheet 120 - Identity Theft and Children
 
ITRC Fact Sheet 120B - A Guide for Parents – Child Identity Theft Indicators 
For the Business
The ITRC is supported only by sponsorships, grants, and company directed contributions.  A sponsorship from your company could help the growing number of victims of identity theft regain their life.  It is estimated that more than 4% of the U.S. population are victims of this crime.  Shouldn’t your company be a known partner in helping your affected customers or clients?

Please contact the ITRC for more information on sponshorship or partnership opportunities (888) 400-5530, ext. 111.

 
 
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Toll-Free Victim Assistance
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Archive Issues

ITRaC News Q1 2009
ITRaC News Q2 2009
ITRaC News Q3 2009
ITRaC News Q4 2009

ITRaC News Q1 2010
ITRaC News Q2 2010

ITRaC News Q3 2010
ITRaC News Q4 2010
ITRaC News Q1 2011

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Survey Says...

Identity Theft Doesn't
Take Vacations

A survey was recently commissioned by Experian's ProtectMyID™ to understand if summer travelers will be taking the necessary steps to protect their identities before heading on vacation. The results showed that many people are still vulnerable to identity theft.

"The survey results were very telling about the many ways your identity can be exposed when you travel," said Jennifer Leuer, senior vice president of Experian Consumer Direct, which owns ProtectMyID. "What people don't realize is that thieves wait for summer vacation, too — not to take in some beautiful sights, but to take unsuspecting travelers' information."
 
Identity theft is a real risk and one that is amplified during the summer months. Survey results indicated that, whether booking flights at home, logging on at a Wi-Fi hotspot in the airport or surfing the Web in a hotel room, people can put their information at risk if their connection is not secure. Other findings indicated that an alarming number of people are not protecting their sensitive documents before leaving on vacation. In fact, 76 percent of consumers do not place personal items in a safe or safety deposit box when they depart for their trip.
 
"Many identity thieves know peak travel times and simply break into empty homes in search of information," said Linda Foley, founder of the Identity Theft Resource Center. "Think about where your bank statements, Social Security cards, and other important documents are right now. If they're not secure, you're at a higher risk for identity theft."
 
Additional results indicated that enterprising identity thieves who monitor social networks or online activity will find plenty of victims. About one-fifth of all survey respondents post their travel plans to social networking sites, and the number increases in the 18-to-34 demographic. Survey trends also showed the bulk of travelers staying connected while on vacation, with a disturbing number accessing public Wi-Fi, increasing their personal data's vulnerability.  
 
"The summer months are traditionally peak travel times," said Wendy Sabins, senior vice president of the Automobile Club of Southern California, which offers a ProtectMyID membership benefit. "We all should relax while we're on vacation, but planning ahead is the key to enjoying a trip. That should include safeguarding your identity before you leave and taking steps on vacation to ensure you have a monitoring service in place that will notify you if something does happen."
 
Whether on a staycation or a far away vacation, following are ProtectMyID summer travel tips that people can do themselves as way to better protect their identities:
 
Wi-Fi hotspots are a hotbed for identity thieves.  Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents use public Wi-Fi in some capacity while traveling.

  • When available, use a hard-wired connection or a personal Wi-Fi hotspot rather than public Wi-Fi. A DSL connection is typically more secure than any free Wi-Fi network you may find in a hotel business center or lobby.
  • A weak password, while using free Wi-Fi can make your computer more susceptible to invasion. Strengthen your password by making it longer and including an array of symbols, letters and numbers.
  • If you plan on using Wi-Fi provided by your hotel, ask what security measures are taken to protect guests' information.

 
Beware of broadcasting travel plans. Almost 50 percent of survey respondents between the ages of 18 to 34 post to their social media pages with updates on their travel whereabouts.

  • While managing privacy settings is a great way to control who views your page, you can never be certain who is reading about your whereabouts.
  • Postpone posting pictures of your adventures until you return home. Posting photos in real time are an indicator that your home is vacant, welcoming intruders.

Lighten your load before hitting the road.

  • Cash or credit cards are the best forms of payment while traveling. Go through your wallet, purse and/or briefcase and remove any unnecessary personal items such as Social Security card, bills, extra credit cards, library card and check book.
  • Protect these items from home intruders by locking them in a personal safe or a safety deposit box.

 
Book travel on secure sites. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents aged 18 to 34 usually book travel via online third party sites.

  • While third-party sites may offer better prices, some deals are too good to be true. If it is a boutique travel site, be sure to do your research. Check for any feedback on the site, such as in online forums, blogs or groups.
  • When you click on the page to pay, ensure that it's a secure site. The URL should begin with "https."
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Identity Theft Resource Center
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