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Crime is Everywhere. Always has been. And with the advancement of technology, criminals now have a whole new world in which to commit their crimes. Staying one step ahead of them is a genuine challenge and one that most of us have no idea how to accomplish.
Computer crimes, more commonly known as cybercrimes, are much more difficult to prevent due to the vast expanse of the web and the simple fact that technology changes in the moment. Software designed to beat the software designed to offer defenses against internet fraud and scams are being developed almost simultaneously. These types of crimes usually involve your most sensitive information; you identity, your finances, your family and often cause significant, long-term, damage to the people who are affected. Consequently, remaining ignorant of the types of criminal activities being perpetrated online leaves you vulnerable and much more likely to click you way right into one of the thousands of traps lying in wait.
During a police officer breakfast earlier this month, Detective Robert Wiley spoke to the attendees about Cybercrime in all its many forms and the importance of taking responsibility for your own safety online After the meeting, I invited Detective Wiley to our office to discuss this vitally important issue in depth. Education is your main protection. You cannot defend yourself against an enemy you do not understand. Detective Wylie was gracious enough to share much of his training and experience in hopes of encouraging the community at large to take the steps necessary to “self-police, when possible and learn some preventive measures we can all use to ensure our online forays do not leave us victims of an attack.
One of the biggest forms of cybercrime is identity theft which, according to Detective Wiley, “occurs when someone uses your personal information without your knowledge or permission for financial or other gain.” People who steal your identity can use your information to drain your bank account, receive medical care with your insurance, take out loans in your name and much more.
Criminals can gain access to your identity by several means. Detective Wiley shared an example of criminals gaining access to your information by confiscating the victim’s mail. To combat this, he suggests follow proper mail disposal methods. “The best method would be to shred your mail, especially the ones that contain personal information such as bank statements or credit card numbers on them,” Simply tearing them up and throwing them away is not the best course of action because “criminals know how to put them back together.” Dispose of trash the day of trash pick-up rather than setting it out the night before when a criminal is more likely to rummage through it undetected.
There is another practice called “ Card Skimming”. Webopedia defines it as “The act of using a skimmer to illegally collect data from the magnetic stripe of a credit, debit or ATM card. This information, copied onto another blank card’s magnetic stripe, is then used by an identity thief to make purchases or withdraw cash in the name of the actual account holder.
Skimming works by replacing a card reader like an ATM with a camouflaged counterfeit card reader. The counterfeit reader records all of the data on a credit, debit or ATM card as it passes through the skimmer. In addition to ATMs, other locations where card skimming happens include restaurants, taxis or other businesses where an employee will take the card from the actual account holder in order to run the charge. In these instances, the thief has fitted the card reader with a skimmer, or uses a hand-held skimmer hidden in a pocket.” To combat this, Detective Wiley suggests that people use the gas pumps that are closest to the doors of the service stations, to avoid paying at the gas pump and pay inside with the clerk, and to always use a credit card rather than a debit card. “Because, if you use a credit card, it will ask for your zip code, and this is a better alternative than using a debit card and typing in your pin.”
I also asked Detective Wiley what a person should do if they feel their information or identity has been stolen. “The first thing they need to do is call their bank and close their account,” he told me. He stressed the importance of calling your bank and your credit card company before calling the police because, when it comes to charges on the card, the police will go off of what the bank says. After contacting the bank, you will have to take banking affidavits to the police, which will then help them to start an investigation. “But I highly urge everyone to get banking alerts,” Detective Wiley said. “With these alerts, anytime a charge is made to your card, you will find out about it immediately. So if it wasn’t your charge, you can take care of it right then, rather than waiting until you check your account.”
Hopefully this information has been helpful but it barely scratches the surface of what we all need to know in order to protect ourselves from online scams. However, there will be a class offered to the general public sometime after the first of the year, taught by Detective Wylie which will delve much more deeply into this all too prevalent type of criminal activity. Detective Wiley has been with the Texas City Police Department for 11 years, currently works for the Fraud Investigative Team and has a Cyber Investigation Expert Certification. In the meantime, should you suspect that you have been a victim of internet fraud, card skimming or identity theft, do not hesitate to contact your local police department. We are fortunate to have the level of expertise we have in Detective Wylie and we would all be wise to learn as much as we can about this type of activity in order to better protect ourselves, or families and our coworkers. Watch this space for more information regarding upcoming classes, workshops and activities TCPD offers.

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