Woman gets prison for identity theft at medical clinic

A 33-year-old Columbia Falls woman has been sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay more than $18,700 in restitution for her role in an identity theft case.

Andrea Mackowiak, who earlier pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft, was sentenced Friday by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.

Prosecutors say Mackowiak took names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth from patient account records at a clinic and gave the information to a person in Washington state. That person used the information to set up Qwest telephone accounts that were used by prison inmates. Court records say that from August through December 2006, inmates used the accounts to obtain phone services from Qwest without paying.

IRS Alerts Public to New Identity Theft Scams

The Internal Revenue Service reminds consumers to avoid identity theft scams that use the IRS name, logo or Web site in an attempt to convince taxpayers that the scam is a genuine communication from the IRS. Scammers may use other federal agency names, such as the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

In an identity theft scam, a fraudster, often posing as a trusted government, financial or business institution or official, tries to trick a victim into revealing personal and financial information, such as credit card numbers and passwords, bank account numbers and passwords, Social Security numbers and more. Generally, identity thieves use someone’s personal data to steal his or her financial accounts, run up charges on the victim’s existing credit cards, apply for new loans, credit cards, services or benefits in the victim’s name and even file fraudulent tax returns.

The scams may take place through e-mail, fax or phone. When they take place via e-mail, they are called “phishing” scams.

The IRS does not discuss tax account matters with taxpayers by e-mail.

The IRS urges consumers to avoid falling for the following recent schemes:

Making Work Pay Refund

This phishing e-mail, which claims to come from the IRS, references the president and the Making Work Pay provision of the 2009 economic recovery law. It says that there is a refundable credit available to workers, consumers and retirees that can be paid into the recipient’s bank account if the recipient registers their account information with the IRS. The e-mail contains links to register the account and to claim the tax refund.

In reality, most taxpayers receive their Making Work Pay tax credit, which was designed for wage earners, in their paychecks as a result of decreased tax withholding, not as a lump sum distribution from a federal fund. Additionally, consumers and retirees who are not wage earners are not eligible for this tax credit.

Inherited Funds / Lottery Winnings / Cash Consignment

In this phishing scheme, recipients receive an e-mail claiming to come from the U.S. Department of the Treasury notifying them that they will receive millions of dollars in recovered funds or lottery winnings or cash consignment if they provide certain personal information, including phone numbers, via return e-mail. The e-mail may be just the first step in a multi-step scheme, in which the victim is later contacted by telephone or further e-mail and instructed to deposit taxes on the funds or winnings before they can receive any of it. Alternatively, they may be sent a phony check of the funds or winnings and told to deposit it but pay 10 percent in taxes or fees. Thinking that the check must have cleared the bank and is genuine, some people comply. However, the scammers, not the Treasury Department, will get the taxes or fees.

Form W-8BEN

In this scam, fraudsters modify a genuine IRS form, the W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding, to request detailed personal and financial information. This could include nationality, passport number, bank account and PIN numbers, spouse’s name and mother’s maiden name, or other personal or financial information or security measures for financial accounts. The scammers may use the genuine form number and name or may make up a new form number, such as W-4100B2.

They either e-mail or fax the form or letter. If only a letter, the letter itself contains the request for the personal and financial information. The letter, which claims to come from the IRS, states that the recipient will face additional taxes unless he or she quickly faxes the required information to the number provided by the scammer.

In reality, taxpayers file the genuine Form W-8BEN with their financial institutions, not with the IRS. Additionally, the genuine W-8BEN does not request the taxpayer’s passport number, bank account number, security or similar information.

Refund Scam

The bogus e-mail, which claims to come from the IRS, tells the recipient that he or she is eligible to receive a tax refund for a given amount. It instructs the recipient to click on a link contained in the e-mail to access and complete a form for the tax refund. The form requires the entry of personal and financial information. The refund scam is the most common one seen by the IRS. Several recent variations on this scam have claimed to come from the Exempt Organizations area of the IRS. Some others have included the name and purported signature of a genuine or a made-up IRS executive.

Taxpayers do not have to complete a special form to obtain a refund. Taxpayer refunds are based on the tax return they submit to the IRS.

How to Spot a Scam

Many e-mail scams are fairly sophisticated and hard to detect. However, there are signs to watch for, such as an e-mail that:

Requests detailed or an unusual amount of personal and/or financial information, such as name, SSN, bank or credit card account numbers or security-related information, such as mother’s maiden name, either in the e-mail itself or on another site to which a link in the e-mail sends the recipient.

Dangles bait to get the recipient to respond to the e-mail, such as mentioning a tax refund or offering to pay the recipient to participate in an IRS survey.

Threatens a consequence for not responding to the e-mail, such as additional taxes or blocking access to the recipient’s funds.

Gets the Internal Revenue Service or other federal agency names wrong.

Uses incorrect grammar or odd phrasing (many of the e-mail scams originate overseas and are written by non-native English speakers).

Uses a really long address in any link contained in the e-mail message or one that does not start with the actual IRS Web site address (http://www.irs.gov). To see the actual link address, or url, move the mouse over the link included in the text of the e-mail.
What to Do

The IRS does not initiate taxpayer contact via unsolicited e-mail or ask for personal identifying or financial information via e-mail. If you receive a suspicious e-mail claiming to come from the IRS, take the following steps:

Do not open any attachments to the e-mail, in case they contain malicious code that will infect your computer.

Do not click on any links, for the same reason. Also, be aware that the links often connect to a phony IRS Web site that appears authentic and then prompts the victim for personal identifiers, bank or credit card account numbers or PINs. The phony Web sites appear legitimate because the appearance and much of the content are directly copied from an actual page on the IRS Web site and then modified by the scammers for their own purposes.

My doctors employee stole my personal information from my medical file

Submitted by Lauri Fox

I live in Las Vegas NV, and I’m a victim of identity thief. My doctors employee had stole my personal information from my medical file, including my debit card and drivers license they made copy’s of and drained my bank account, and ran up cell phones in my name, also was using my social security number to work, when i was on disability. which caused me to loose a year and a half of back pay when i was approved for disability. and they caught the two employees who did this they also stole 42k from my doctor. but i feel my doctor is also to blame for not protecting my personal information.

How do I go about suing my doctor for allowing such people to work for them is there a name for this I cant find much online about this huge problem. But they stole over 16k from me in a 2 year period, and they are out on bail and they continue to drain my bank accounts, so now I owe two banks money that I had in there but they were with drawing it as fast as it went in. If anyone can please lead me in the right direction on where to turn to in this case. I’m just sick about this and don’t know what rights i have. Thank you.

‘Twitterjacking’ — The New Identity Theft

Here’s a message that aspiring Twitterati shouldn’t miss.

Read those 140-character “tweets” carefully; they may be the work of an imposter.

Celebrities, athletes, politicians and media personalities alike have been flocking to the hugely popular social networking site in droves, with actor Ashton Kutcher leading the way and media magnate Oprah Winfrey recently joining the fray.

But how can you be sure that the Twitter account you’re reading is actually real? How do you know that Condi really just saw John Ashcroft in Sharper Image … or that Bill Gates really wishes you a happy Earth Day?

In some cases, you can’t. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the real thing from a social identity thief, experts tell FOXNews.com.

“It’s easy to do, there’s no identity verification,” former hacking whiz Kevin Mitnick said of the ease of registering accounts at sites like Twitter. “Anyone could set up an e-mail account, change a letter or two and then pretend to be you. Imagine someone influential setting up a Facebook page and asking for resumes. It could be a headhunter who is impersonating a CEO.”

Ironically, Mitnick, who served nearly five years in prison for hacking into computer networks without authorization in the 1990s, couldn’t access his own Facebook account last month due to identity questions.

“[Administrators] thought I was an impersonator and for some reason disabled my account,” said Mitnick, who know heads Mitnick Security Consulting. “It didn’t bother me. People can impersonate me, but what are they going to get? And what am I going to do about it?”

Mitnick eventually got his account restored, but other victims of online imposters may not even be aware that they’ve been “twitterjacked.”

Twitter representatives did not respond to requests for comment, including queries as to how many profiles have been shut down for violations of its impersonation policy.

While Twitter allows parody impersonations if a “reasonable person” would be aware that it’s a joke, sometimes the line can be blurry.

For instance, at first glance, a profile for Tina Fey could be mistaken for the real deal, but a closer read suggests it’s definitely not.

That’s also the case for Christopher Walken, Condoleezza Rice, Bill Gates, Usama bin Laden and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steve Reich.

Politicians haven’t been immune either. Rep. Don Young, R-AK, has also been “twitterjacked,” according to spokeswoman Meredith Kenny.

“The messages posted seem to be the work of someone with a little too much free time on their hands,” said Kenny, who called the tweets “preposterous and outrageous.”

Kenny said one of the posts, which began on Monday, falsely indicated that Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-MN, was preparing to introduce impeachment measures against President Obama.

At FOX News, at least three on-air personalities appear to be victims of “twitterjacking,” including Shepard Smith, Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera. (The “real” Twitter profile for “The O’Reilly Factor” can be found here.)

Moreover, a fake profile for Jesse Watters, a producer for “The O’Reilly Factor,” was also recently debunked and has been removed.

Security and social media experts told FOXNews.com that the ramifications of phony profiles can be serious.

“Let’s say it was an up-and-coming artist or someone like Britney Spears who has a lot of public appearances and they ‘tweet’ that the Dallas concert is canceled, ‘sorry folks,'” said Robert Hansen, president of SecTheory, a security consulting firm.

“That can really drag someone through the mud. Or Tom Hanks could say he’s cancelling the red carpet appearance and drag an entire event down.”

Rick Sorkin, a strategist for enter: new media, a New York-based social media marketing firm, said impersonating an individual or brand fundamentally opposes the very idea behind social networking.

“It makes it difficult for the brand to actually represent themselves if someone else twitterjacks their name and likeness and it is similar to someone registering a Web address that’s not their brand,” Sorkin said. “The most damaging thing is that Twitter is the most organic and transparent form of communication available. Communicating falsely is diametrically opposed to the concept of Twitter.”

Sorkin said he recognizes the humor behind parody profiles of people including Notorious B.I.G. and Homer Simpson, but he said duping users with bogus “tweets” is no laughing matter.

“Any brand worth their salt in social media is on the lookout for this,” he said.

So what can you do once you’ve become a victim of social identity theft?

Twitter advises impersonation victims to contact its Terms of Service group. But depending on how quickly the profile in question is caught, it may be too late, experts say.

“The obvious thing is registering yourself first and beat people to it,” Hansen said. “But as far as the actual act and you’re an up-and-coming artist after the fact, there’s really very little recourse other than saying to people that this is not me. You sort of have to have another way to explain that that is not indeed you, and that can be tricky.”

Enter Knowem.com, which checks the availability of your brand name or name on 120 popular social media sites. Michael Streko, the company’s co-founder, said up to 20,000 people per month are currently checking its site for phonies.

“Since a bunch of celebrity names have been twitterjacked, our hits have been through the roof,” Streko told FOXNews.com. “They’re jumping on it now because they don’t want to deal with a squatter. Unless you start spending money to put out press releases saying that’s not your profile or jump through hoops to contact Twitter, it never works out well.”

MySpace Data Breached by Employee

Social media has been the hottest trend on the internet. With new social networking websites coming along at every turn, it’s hard to keep up with the latest networking trend. Some really hot websites that we hear about often are: Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Employees of MySpace have recently been included in the most recent victims of data being breached. A MySpace employee was fired after it had been learned that they collected sensitive information of many company employees. MySpace is operated by Fox Entertainment Group and has sent an email to all employees making them aware of the event. The email is said to have assured MySpace employees that no banking or medical information was compromised in the theft.

The termination of the accused employee came immediately after it was discovered that they had collected this information. It is also being reported that the email said that the data was used to irritate co-workers, but was not sent to any other parties.

There is no mention of this data breach affecting MySpace users, only employees. If you do use any of these popular social networking sites, it is good to be cautious and create user names and passwords that are hard to guess. A lot of “phishing” goes on online as well. This is where someone sends you an email or contacts you online pretending to represent a company that you could potentially be a customer or member of. They try to lure you into giving them your personal information by scaring you into thinking that your account with them might be at risk and they just need to “verify” the personal information that they have on file for you. Never fall for this type of scam! Legitimate companies never contact you to ask you for your personal information, they have it already. If you are unsure as to whether you are truly being contacted by the company or not, hang up and call back a legitimate number for that company to inquire about your suspicious email or online message.

Florida Man charged with identity theft at Huntsville Wal-Mart

A Florida man was arrested last week and charged with identity theft after being spotted acting suspiciously at the Huntsville Wal-Mart.

Fernando Martinez, 32, a Cuban national with a current address in Florida, caught the eye of Wal-Mart loss prevention officers on April 16 at approximately 4:15 p.m. while he attempted to use several credit cards at a self-checkout station in the store.

According to Sgt. Jim Barnes of the Huntsville Police Department, Martinez was attempted to load a cash value onto several Wal-Mart gift cards using the credit cards, a common practice among identity thieves.

Barnes and Detective Ken Foulch were in Wal-Mart for an unrelated matter when loss prevention officers alerted them to Martinez’s activity.

After observing Martinez for several minutes, Barnes and Foulch confronted Martinez with the assistance of loss prevention staff.

“Everything we’ve learned about identity theft, this guy was doing,” Barnes said. “He had a stack of credit cards and he was trying to use them, and they weren’t working, which is usually a sign that something is up.”

Martinez was detained and questioned by detectives, and later transported to the HPD for further questioning.

“He was very uncooperative with us, and claimed that he didn’t speak English,” Barnes said. “We were able to identify him from his Florida driver’s license.”

While a Spanish-speaking officer interviewed Martinez, detectives investigated the seven credit cards in Martinez’s possession. According to Barnes, several were in Martinez’s name, but others were not. Seeking further detail, detectives enlisted the helped of the Sam Houston State University Police Department, who supplied a card reader machine to determine ownership of the cards.

“We’ve been coordinating with UPD quite a bit in identity theft investigations due to the fact that a lot of students are victims,” Barnes said.

After scanning the cards, it was determined that the account number listed on the card itself was false, and that the card was actually encoded to draw funds from another, pirated account.

According to Barnes, it is very common for identity theft rings to send individuals into stores, particularly Wal-Mart stores, with “cloned” credit cards. The cards are marked with the name of the individual, but the account the funds are drawn from is that of an identity theft victim.

To avoid suspicion, the individual with the cards will load the funds from the stolen accounts on gift cards rather than make purchases with the cards themselves. The gift cards will then be distributed back through the organization, and will be either sold or used to buy merchandise, which will then in turn be sold.

“It’s basically a laundering scheme,” Barnes said. “It’s putting free money in their pocket.”

Martinez claimed to have bought the cards from an individual in Miami, but denied being aware of any identity theft and was on the whole uncooperative with investigators. He did not provide a reason why he was in the Huntsville area.

“He may be a low level person in this operation and his job may just be going to Wal-Marts all over the south with these cards,” Barnes said. “It’s an organized crime event.”

Martinez was transported to the Walker County Jail and charged with fraudulent use of identifying information.

Wisconsin Resident Falls Victim To Identity Theft

One Beloit, Wisconsin woman thought she was taking the necessary steps to protect herself against identity theft but was surprised to find out that it wasn’t enough.

According to AARP, identity theft in 2008 increased 12 percent for Wisconsin residents.

Judy Joslin-Crary said she shredded documents, refused preapproved credit applications and refused to talk to telemarketers searching for information.

Still, she said she became a victim of identify theft.

“To this day, I have no clue how. I have no clue,” said Joslin-Crary.

A letter from Chase Bank was the first sign that, despite her efforts, her identity had been stolen.

“They had received an application that I wanted to open an account and they wanted to verify some information,” said Joslin-Crary.

The letter was real, but it was sent to an old address and didn’t use her hyphenated name.

She said someone else opened the account using her Social Security number.

“They wanted to transfer a $1,300 balance. I just get chills when I say that,” said Joslin-Crary.

Through her experience, Joslin-Crary is looking to educate others by joining AARP’s “Fraud Fighters.”

“It’s almost a retraining process, where we’re getting people to really think about how the new technology we have in 2009 really impacts their liability to becoming a victim of fraud,” said AARP State Program Coordinator Jeanne Benink.

AARP events like this weekend’s “Shred Fest” provide resources for those who are seeking for information on prevention and recovery.

“You should always be contacting your police department first, and getting a case, because then if it does come to be brought to light that there’s an actual fraud committed. You can go ahead and contact the credit bureaus, and have a credit freeze placed on your account at no charge,” said Benink.

Joslin-Crary said she knows her information is no longer private, but without the letter from Chase, she feared her experience could have been far worse.

“I was a year away from retirement, going on a fixed income, and a lower income, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. If that had happened now, we would be hard put to take care of that,'” said Joslin-Crary.

Many victims of fraud and identity theft keep their stories secret, but officials said they need to come forward.

Times Are Tough So Scam Someone!

I’m sure you are tired of hearing that hard economic times cause crime and scam rates to go up. This seems to make sense and identity theft is no exception to the rule. I don’t know what causes people to take advantage of people during hard times, but it’s even worse when people take advantage of people’s misfortunes.

I thought I would take a break from discussing identity theft to inform you of a couple new scams that prey on people’s misfortunes and needs. In my opinion these are the worst kind of scams and I am still bewildered and don’t understand the people that carry them out.

Anyways on with the scams!

Stimulus grant scams – This is a great one because the government is going to give out $787 billion in the stimulus package and websites like federalgrantsolutions.com started to popup everywhere trying to charge people for advice on how to get free money from the government. Here’s a clue, go to grants.gov and sba.gov for information and how to apply. The government no longer gives out grants to pay off student loans or personal debt so if people promise that they can show you how, don’t believe them.

Mortgage foreclosure consultants – There has been a number of scams around the foreclosure market recently. Scammers have trick homeowners into signing over their houses to them in hopes of fixing their foreclosure problems. Scammers have also convinced homeowners that they can solve their problem for an upfront fee and then take off with the money. Be careful when you get a cold call from someone trying to sell services like these.

Auto repair fraud – Auto repair fraud has been around for a long time. With dealerships doing so poorly some have been changing their customers for unnecessary repairs to their car. Always get a written estimate of the repairs and get a second opinion.

Property tax reassessment fraud – scammer convince home owners that they can save money if they pay them to have their property tax reassessed. The funny thing is you don’t need someone to do this you can request a reassessment at no cost to you.

Retail Closeout Sales – This one is interesting businesses have been caught trying to scam people during “going out of business” sales. Some shop owners have been caught taking deposits on high priced items like furniture and then closing the store before delivering the furniture. Then they reopen a couple weeks later under a different name.

It’s never a bad idea to be prepared for scams like these. So keep your chin up and your eyes open and don’t get taken for a ride.

Leaked Medical Records Common on P2P Networks

If there’s anything worse than having your personal information leaked online, it’s finding your personal information along with your medical records leaked online. Unfortunately, the latter is more common than you might think. Over the course of a two-week study by Dartmouth College, researchers found a wide range of sensitive documents, from a spreadsheet of 232 AIDs patients to a 1,718-page document detailing more than 20,000 people’s Social Security numbers, insurance records, and diagnosis information.

So how does this information end up online? Many health care providers aren’t aware of the dangers involved with these online networks, or the extent to which data can be compromised. Patient information could be leaked, for example, when shared music files and personal data are stored in the same folder. Similarly, many types of malware, once downloaded, can expose these files to the wider Web. William Miaoulis, manager at Phoenix Health Systems, told SC Magazine US that “any time you open up your network there are some security risks.”

This is a serious problem. Not only can this type of information leak lead to identity theft and fraud, but it can also lead to employees getting fired, or potential employees being turned down from jobs because of their medical history. There’s really no limit to the potential damage that can be caused. While digitizing medical records has its benefits — even big-name companies like Google are getting in on the action — if it’s not incredibly secure, we’ll stick with stacks of paper and manila folders for now. [

Elderly woman gets identity stolen, then large phone sex bill

Eighty-six-year-old Arlene Hald says she never called a phone sex line. And certainly didn’t make $1,000 worth of sex calls.

The Washington state widow recently received a credit card bill addressed to her husband, Sylvester. He died nearly 20 years ago. Her family suspects it’s a case of identity theft. The billing company, Preferred Platinum Plan, is agreeing to remove the charges.

Hald’s daughter, Peggy Rytych, says a second bill for $70 was also sent. Rytych says the credit card company is removing those charges too and promises never to send her mom another bill.