Identity theft is on the rise. Here are some ways to protect yourself : NPR

NPR’s Michel Martin talks to Eva Velasquez, President and CEO of the Identification Theft Useful resource Heart, concerning the rising menace of SIM swapping.


When you’re one of many thousands and thousands of individuals utilizing your smartphone to pay your payments, ship cash to household and simply do some banking, pay attention up. This month, the FBI issued a warning concerning the rise in a kind of cell phone rip-off known as SIM swapping, saying it value customers greater than $68 million in losses simply final yr. And in keeping with the FBI’s figures, it is 15 occasions extra prone to occur to you as we speak than it was simply a few years in the past.

So what’s SIM swapping, and how are you going to shield your self? We known as Eva Velasquez for assist with this. She is the president and chief government officer on the Identification Theft Useful resource Heart. That is a non-profit whose objective is to assist customers cut back their danger of falling sufferer to identification theft. And she or he’s with us now. Eva Velasquez, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us.

EVA VELASQUEZ: I am so completely satisfied to be right here, and I am glad we’re masking this actually essential subject.

MARTIN: Properly, to start with, might you simply clarify simply what’s it? I imply, how are scammers stealing our info from the SIM playing cards in our smartphones?

MARTIN: Properly, it’s considerably complicated. And simply to stage set right here, your SIM card is that tiny little microchip in your telephone and it tells your telephone what quantity it responds to. And there is a number of info in it, but it surely’s transferable to a different telephone, and that is how one can improve or purchase one other telephone if yours is broken and nonetheless hold your telephone quantity, your pictures, you understand, your music. However very like telephone quantity porting, SIM porting is – it is very easy to do if somebody apart from you may persuade a mobile worker to assist them do it.

MARTIN: So this can be a rip-off directed at staff of cellular provider firms? Or is that this a conspiracy by which they’re concerned?

VELASQUEZ: Properly, you understand, it could possibly be each. We frequently do not know whether it is an insider menace the place an worker is concerned, however generally it is simply an worker attempting to supply good customer support they usually’re being socially engineered. So we have a tendency to have a look at the workers extra as an instrument of the rip-off somewhat than the perpetrators.

MARTIN: So the FBI says these SIM swap scammers netted greater than $68 million in 2021, which was up from nearly $4 million in 2020. How did this get to be so profitable and the way did they get all that cash? Like what did they do?

VELASQUEZ: Properly, if we step again and simply take a look at the complete fraud panorama and ecosystem, individuals ought to perceive that we now have had unprecedented charges of fraud throughout the board in all of our techniques, principally, for the reason that pandemic began. There have been simply numerous new alternatives. There was much more cash in our techniques and much more vulnerabilities have been uncovered. So it would not shock me in any respect that we noticed a dramatic rise in this sort of fraud as a result of frankly, we noticed a dramatic rise in all kinds of fraud, notably identification crimes, over the past two years, and we’ll proceed to see this kind of new baseline. It hasn’t gone down.

A whole lot of people suppose that, OK, the pandemic is, I will not say over, however we’re coming to the tip of it and so the fraud has waned. And whereas we aren’t on the peak numbers that we have been seeing in 2020 and 2021, we now have a brand new very excessive baseline and there is going to be a really lengthy tail on this fraud. Sadly, customers are those which might be going to must cope with this on the finish of the day.

MARTIN: How do you cope with this? And I feel first, since you have recognized staff of cellular provider firms as being sort of the – forgive me for utilizing this language – the weak hyperlink right here. How are the wi-fi carriers doing something to handle this? After which after all, I’ll ask you, is there something that customers can do themselves?

VELASQUEZ: Properly, the truth is, after all, the wi-fi carriers are implementing processes, similar to lots of our establishments are implementing further anti-fraud processes. They do not wish to be shedding these {dollars} they usually don’t need sad clients, both. I imply, that goes with out saying. However the notably insidious a part of the SIM swapping menace is that it is – there’s little that a person can do proactively on that – for that individual situation. It is about detection and it is about performing in a short time.

So we actually encourage individuals, if something seems to be amiss and their telephone stops working, generally individuals will not discover instantly as a result of they’re at house and their telephone is related to their Wi-Fi community, they usually do not realize that they do not have that entry to that mobile account till they’re not related to Wi-Fi. However we do encourage individuals, in the event you see any unusual exercise to take it critically. And albeit, this goes throughout the board. You recognize, it would not matter if it is a bizarre cost in your bank card assertion, a notification from an organization that you just do enterprise with, any of these indicators, please comply with up instantly as a result of it might be indicative of an even bigger drawback.

MARTIN: And the way do you comply with up?

VELASQUEZ: You’ll have to comply with up straight together with your cellular provider. And the place that creates a problem is, typically individuals can’t get again into their account, so generally they can’t do that digitally. They really should go right into a retailer entrance and have that dialog.

MARTIN: That was Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identification Theft Useful resource Heart. That is a nonprofit whose objective is to assist customers cut back their danger of falling sufferer to identification theft. Eva Velasquez, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us and sharing this experience with us.


VELASQUEZ: Oh, I am completely satisfied to be right here and keep secure on the market.

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