In a matter of a few years, one group of fraudsters has managed to create hundreds of fake companies all over the world to steal millions of dollars and even victimize a well-known actress. It might sound like the plot to a movie, but federal agents recently uncovered a major international identity theft ring that did just that.
With what we know about the identity theft group, we can offer a few tips on how to avoid some of the tactics they used to find victims.
What we know about the identity theft ring
The alleged fraudsters behind the ring were part of “The Deutche Group,” and had ties to activity in India, Thailand, Britain and the United States, as the Washington Post reported. The FBI discovered that the group had two strategies to reel in victims. One was through job postings on Craigslist, where they would steal the information given to them by applicants. The other was through fake online companies offering travel deals on airfare and lodging.
When customers signed up for these deals and paid for their travel packages, the fraudsters kept the money for themselves and booked the travel arrangements with stolen credit cards. For that reason, many travelers had their trips halted due to fraud alerts, leaving them stranded.
According to the Washington Post, the group had a few tactics to cover up their spending and avoid suspicion. One was by creating its own bank based in India, through which it could approve its own spending activity. The other was by digitally creating credit cards and passports.
When the ID theft ring used a picture of television actress Laura Vandervoort on a passport, it caught the eye of an FBI agent who recognized her from the TV series “Smallville.” That began an investigation into how the passport was created, leading the agency to the group behind it. Prosecutors believe the conspirators have been in operation since 2012 and formed at least 353 shell corporations.
How you can protect yourself
This identity theft ring used two common online scams to grab victims. Luckily, both of them have certain telltale signs that can help you sidestep them.
raigslist scams, for example, aren’t so difficult to detect. When you apply for a job through the website, be careful about how much information you give upfront. If a potential employer from Craigslist asks for a lot of information via email, especially sensitive details like your Social Security Number or bank account/payment info, it’s probably a scam.
According to Craigslist, one of the most common scams on the site is a foreign company asking you to receive payments on its behalf then having you wire the funds back to it. These scams will typically offer you a cut of the profits.
To avoid travel scams, pay close attention to the site you’re using. Make sure it’s secure by looking for “https” at the beginning of the URL. According to the Better Business Bureau, you should also be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. In most cases, your instinct is correct.
For even more help against these threats, you can invest in a service like Identity Guard, which can monitor your credit files and notify you of certain activity that may indicate fraud. This way, you’ll know if you need to take action to lessen the damage.