Crime in the Express Lane?
Date Added: Jan. 22, 2004
Identity theft. It's a media buzzword that has everyone scrambling to stay one step ahead of the crooks and con-artists. Combine an old trick of the trade with the questionable privacy implications of cellular phones with photographic capabilities, and you have a very frightening possibility of becoming a victim. But how real is the threat?
Keep a watch out for people standing near you at retail stores, restaurants, grocery stores, etc., that have a cell phone in hand. With the new camera cell phones, they can take a picture of your credit card, which gives them your name, number, and expiration date. Identification theft is one of the fastest growing scams today, and this is just another example of the means that are being used. So ... be aware of your surroundings.
The warning above paints a picture of a scheme that is very possible. Is it happening? Probably, but so far there are no reported incidents.
Is this a new threat? No, not really.
In order to use your credit card, a thief has to have three pieces of information. Your name (as it appears on the card), your full card number (15-16 digits), and your expiration date. (Newer cards also include a three-digit security code printed on the back, but this is largely used for added protection in online transactions.) For decades, crafty thieves have employed various tactics to get this information from you, from store employees making carbon rubs of your card, to others picking up your payment receipts at restaurants, to outright calling and asking for it.
A few highly skilled crooks went as far as to develop extremely good photographic memories that could capture all of the needed info from just a glance at your card. However, as you might expect, this was a rare occurrence, since not many possess such a gift.
But now, as the chain letter above suggests, thieves won't need highly developed memories. They'll just pretend to be talking to dear old mom next you in line at the Sack-N-Save, and "click, snap," you're identity is theirs and has been transmitted half-way around the world.
The proliferation of camera phones have many privacy experts worried about their implications. By the early 2000s, news reports were telling of health clubs and schools that have banned camera phone use in locker rooms because some folks were secretly snapping explicit (and in the case of the schools, illegal) photographs. Some companies have also banned cell phones from meetings and certain areas of their facilities out of fear of industrial espionage.
History tells us that for each new invention that is meant to simplify our lives, someone will find a way to use it for personal gain. If this scam is occurring, however, it's unlikely to be very common at this time, simply because of the limits of the technology. All but the highest-end cell cameras are relatively low resolution devices, meaning that a crook would have to be pretty close to your card to get an image he or she could use.
The advice above, however, is good. One should always be aware of one's surroundings whenever one's purse or wallet is open. Whether plastic or paper, there's always someone who, if given the opportunity, will be more than happy to separate a fool from his money. That said, keep in mind that what the message above offers is an anonymous author's imagining of a possible scam, not proof of one. Break this chain.