Friday, March 28, 2008

Cautionary tale

I've actually been victimized by identity theft criminals myself, so I was very curious when I spoke to a very close family member about an attempt to steal her identity and rip off her credit card companies. It would seem that the international criminals who are behind this well-designed scheme emanate from India, the epicenter of corporate outsizing. Thanks to the pencil pushers and bean counters who decided to send all of our important account information jobs to the sub-continent, the country has not only lost positions that could be held by out-of-work Americans, but we have now been placed at grave financial risk. There's little to be done about this when, after all, one places the fox in charge of the henhouse. Had the corporate geniuses from AOL Time Warner thought through their plan to have Travelocity staffed by people working for rupees per hour, they might have discovered that given an opportunity to steal thousands of American dollars, their "trusted" outsized employees might stray from the straight and narrow. Such was the case with this family member, who received an e-mail alert from American Express notifiying her that she had requested a change of address on her card and that a new card had been sent to her new address. The e-mail urged her to contact them right away if that was not the case. Thankfully, she was able to spring into action almost immediately because had she not been successful in reaching American Express in time, at least $800 would have been stolen by criminals in Detroit who had received the new card overnight. One would think that notifying American Express would be a simple act: just pick up the phone and notify them, right? Not so fast. These criminals had also stolen her social security number and using that and other sensitive account information available to them through the Travelocity site, they were able to disconnect her phones! If they had only been clever enough to also cancel her cell phone, they would have been able to plunder at will. But the story doesn't end there. She added security to all of her credit cards with new passwords and ordered a replacement American Express card to arrive overnight. When it didn't arrive, she called American Express to complain. They indicated to her that the criminals had cancelled the new card only a few hours after she had made her request These guys are very slick. The scheme began when calling AOL's Travelocity a few weeks back. Normally, when one calls an entity rather than receiving a call from someone, it is fairly safe to reveal personal information. When changing out an airplane ticket, she gave the person on the other end of the phone her Discover Card. After a few moments, he informed her that the charge did not go through. Rather than standing by that card and demanding it be re-run, she elected to give him an American Express card number, but not until after being placed on hold for an inordinately long period of time. It was during that period that the criminal contacted his fellow grifter and, unbeknown to my family member, it was this criminal who gathered the sensitive account information. Along with the other personal information available from the AOL Travelocity worker like the social security number and home phone and fax numbers, the criminals' plan was almost perfect. Had the cell phone also been cancelled, she could not have notified American Express and her other credit card companies in time. Thank goodness for stupid criminals.

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