Holiday yard, package thieves hard to halt

via Holiday yard thieves and porch pirates are hazards hard to halt, clarionledger.com

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A few years ago, thieves stole some of our Christmas decorations from our front yard. After carefully laying out our decorations, ensuring that all the lights worked and checking everything twice, we had a yard that (although a little more tasteful) was at least a little competitive with our local Clark W. Griswold (who lived just down the street).

One evening, we arrived home to find that someone had stolen a religious-themed sign that was the centerpiece of our decorations. Later, we found that police had busted some neighborhood kids who had stolen items from several yards, with no obvious motive other than meanness.

Apparently, we have a lot of company; an insurancequotes.com study found that nearly 23 million U.S. homes have reported stolen yard decorations in the past year.

The study highlights a disturbing fact: Grinches are among us and are increasingly targeting homeowners. And it doesn’t stop at stealing signs and lighted deer, either; thieves are also on the prowl for packages delivered and left on front porches. “Porch piracy” is increasing rapidly, with about 26 million police reports filed in the past year.

Insurancequotes.com put together its report, called Holiday Hazards by the Numbers, to reinforce the idea that we need to be more aware of the dangers that can come with the holidays and protect ourselves accordingly.

“During the holidays, certain crimes and home hazards increase. Homeowners need to take precautions and make sure they have the right insurance to protect their finances,” said Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst at insuranceQuotes.

Another holiday danger mentioned in the report is the increased danger of house fires, which may be caused by faulty wiring in Christmas tree lights, overloading of circuits, cooking, improper use of space heaters and other reasons. According to the study, 9 million Americans have had a house fire caused by a fryer or cooking accident; 7 million have had a house fire caused by lit candles and 5 million have experienced a house fire caused by a Christmas tree.

Porch piracy has reached epidemic levels in some areas and has increased as more Americans are doing their holiday shopping online. The recent “Cyber Monday” set a record as online shoppers spent $6.59 billion online (according to CNBC, it was the largest online shopping day in history).

All those packages being delivered to all those homes create a promised land for thieves, who have been known to follow delivery trucks around. Often, though, porch piracy is just a crime of opportunity as crooks see it as a way to jump out, grab a package and make a quick getaway.

Despite all these risks, though, there are some things you can do. To thwart porch piracy, many homeowners have installed security cameras linked to motion detectors and security systems. Others have found success by having their packages delivered to trusted neighbors who are at home.

Some are using hi-tech solutions such as Landport (a heavy metal box which is bolted down on your front porch, locked with a keypad). Landport costs between $500 and $800. Amazon Key (starting at $250, plus monthly subscription fees of $7 to $20 a month) uses a special lock that the homeowner installs on his door, and the homeowner supplies an entry code to the delivery driver. A security camera captures the whole delivery, then Amazon Key then relocks the door afterwards.

Although Amazon Keys are flying off the shelves, some security experts caution that the new technology could come with its own drawbacks (not the least of which is granting a complete stranger access to your home while you’re away.)

Stopping yard-decoration thieves is a little more difficult, the study warns, but motion detectors, more lighting and security systems can help reduce the risk. Some statistics I’ve found indicate homes without a security system are significantly more likely to be victimized than ones without one.

To read the study in its entirety, complete with tips, visit https://www.insurancequotes.com/home/porch-pirates-package-thieves-house-fires-holiday-120117.

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Protect yourself from holiday thieves

via Shopping? Protect yourself from thieves, clarionledger.com

PDF: Protect yourself while shopping

With millions of shoppers preparing to hit the road and cyberspace in search of great deals post-Thanksgiving, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is warning Mississippians to watch out for criminals who are looking for easy prey.

The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sales will increase between 3.6 and 4 percent this holiday season, with consumers spending about $682 billion. NRF surveys predicted that about 164 million consumers were planning to shop on Thanksgiving weekend alone, and increasingly, they’re online. That’s a lot of shoppers, creating lots of targets for thieves.

Before the digital revolution made it easy to order online and have purchases delivered to your door, the main worries for holiday shoppers were pickpockets, purse snatchers and parking-lot crooks looking for tired shoppers with an armload of shopping bags. But now, bandits are also hiding in the bushes along the information superhighway, waiting to pounce on unwitting online shoppers.

“In the past, shoppers only had to worry about someone snatching their wallets to get their cash and credit or debit cards. Now, our account information can be stolen from us even when we are shopping online in the safety of our homes,” Hood noted in a news release. “Our credit and debit card payment information can be stolen by an invisible thief who may have hacked into the retailer’s payment system or even our own computer systems. During the holiday season, consumers should exercise extreme caution whether they are shopping at stores or online.”

Here are some recommendations, provided by the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division:

  • Be self-aware. Always park in well-lit areas and try to place purchases in the trunk so valuable items are out of view in your car. (It’s also a good idea to look around for security vehicles or cameras.)
  • Know when a deal is too good. “The old saying ‘it’s too good to be true’ has stuck around for a reason: “If it seems too good to believe, it probably is a scam,” Hood noted.
  • Keep up with your purchases by checking credit card and bank statements throughout and after the shopping season. Recognizing an unauthorized user will be more of a challenge during the high volume of the holiday season. Monitor your credit card and bank statements regularly, especially during and following the holidays.
  • Report theft of your cards ASAP. It can take seven to 10 days for a card to be reissued if it is compromised. As a result, shoppers need to be prepared to use cash in the event their card is compromised so they are not prevented from completing their holiday shopping or essential purchases.
  • Understand return policies. If you need to make returns, you want to be sure you do not get caught out of money for not following the return policies set by each store.
  • Only buy from trusted stores and salespeople. “It’s easy to get into a giving mood during the holidays, but don’t let a generous heart fog your commonsense when unscrupulous salespeople try to take advantage of your wallet,” Hood advises. “When shopping online, check feedback for particular sellers when applicable. Be wary of sites that have grammatical errors, broken links, or other signs that may indicate lack of trustworthiness.” And be sure you’re shopping at a secure site, indicated by an “https” or padlock symbol on the web address.
  • Watch out for card “skimming” at ATMs, gas pumps, or any other place you may use a debit or credit card. If you see a card reader that appears to have been tampered with, that could be a sign of “skimming,” where criminals install small devices in the machines that steal sensitive financial information.
  • Keep your computer’s security up to date. That means checking your anti-virus and anti-malware features. Never open links or attachments from unknown sources, since this is a way for criminals to steal identities, and don’t email financial information.

One more tip: If you order online, be aware that “porch package” theft has become a big problem in some communities. Thieves have been known to follow package delivery trucks, looking for boxes left on porches and entryways. To foil package thieves, arrange to pick up your packages, require a signature or have them delivered to a place where someone will receive them. Track your deliveries, and sign up for text delivery notifications. You might also consider installing a camera to monitor your front porch.

To report fraud or scams, contact the AG’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418 or aginfo@ago.state.ms.us.

Skimming ring in 3 states busted

via Skimming ring in 3 states busted

PDF: Card skimming ring

As you gas up your car during holiday trips, the FBI is warning consumers to watch out for credit card skimmers on gas pumps, which could be used to steal your money and identity.

The FBI and a U.S. attorney this week announced they had busted a multi-state ring that had installed skimmers on gas pumps across Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Officers collared eight people in an operation that included more than 30 law enforcement agencies across the three states, after the thieves made off with more than 7,000 card numbers and about $3.5 million.

“This form of identity theft is causing untold losses to both financial institutions and individuals who are merely filling their tanks at the gasoline pump. As we begin the busiest travel season of the year, consumers need to pay special attention to where and how they pay for gasoline as criminals are using new and more sophisticated technologies,” noted U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman.

Skimmers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and thieves have gotten proficient at making them look close enough to the real thing to fool all but the savviest customers. Thieves install the devices over the card-swipe device on the pump, and in some cases, replace the pump’s original card reader. When unwitting customers swipe their cards to pay for gas, the device reads the card number and other information, which is then used to raid the customer’s bank account or steal their identity.

You may recall that police last year found a skimmer installed on gas pumps in the Clinton area, resulting in arrests and indications the activity was part of a larger ring operating across several states.

In the case announced this week, the FBI reported the thieves installed the devices inside the gas pumps, then later retrieved them. The stolen financial information was then re-encoded, transferred, or cloned on to the magnetic strip of other plastic cards that were sold or used to purchase merchandise.

Although skimming is not a new phenomenon, it is getting harder to detect. PC Magazine’s Max Eddy wrote about the technology last year, noting the devices are now smaller than a deck of cards, and can be placed on an ATM or point-of-sale terminal easily. Often, he notes, thieves will also place a camera nearby to record Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) of customers, but in some cases, they have installed fake keypads as well.

Spotting a skimmer is not always easy, but Eddy gives a few pointers:

  • Watch for mismatched colors or styles. If the overall color in the area where you insert your card is black, for example, but the card reader is yellow, that could be a sign that it’s fake. Also, watch for mismatches in lettering or the materials used.
  • Wiggle everything. Since readers have to be hastily installed so the thieves won’t get caught, they don’t usually have much time to make sure everything fits perfectly. Eddy advises pulling at the reader and keypad to ensure nothing moves.
  • Look around. Cover the keypad with your hand, to prevent anyone from seeing your fingers as they enter the PIN. Many devices now have a little shield over the top of the keypad to prevent someone seeing your fingers as they enter the numbers, or recording your movements from a distance. Still, covering the keypad as you enter can prevent thieves from getting the all-important PIN.
  • Use the EMV chip. Since most newer card readers accept EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) chips that require your card to be inserted, this option gives you more security and requires thieves to install devices inside the reader.
  • Pay inside. It’s less convenient to pay inside the store, but generally more secure.

It’s also a good idea to keep up with your purchases. Most banks now have apps that allow you to keep up with transactions, so if you notice any activity you didn’t authorize, report it immediately.

Thieves manipulate retail supply chain

via Thieves manipulate retail supply chain

“Organized retail crime” is one of those things of which most of us remain blissfully unaware. While for most of us, the term “organized crime” conjures images of Tony Soprano and Vito Corleone, the true purveyors of organized retail crime activities likely wouldn’t stand out in a crowd of businessmen or your neighbors.

But organized retail crime has become a major menace on the American business landscape. According to a survey released this week by the National Retail Federation, more than eight in 10 businesses have reported an increase in losses from it, with those losses reverberating through the economy in the form of higher prices, more restrictive policies and increased security measures.

Loosely, the term “organized retail crime” refers to any criminal activity that involves more than a single individual and seeks to steal merchandise, information or resources from businesses. These crimes might involve someone hiring thieves to steal certain items for resale on the black market, manipulating store return policies to steal merchandise, or stealing cargo bound for your neighborhood retail store.

“Retailers continue to deal with the challenges that come with fighting organized retail crime,” said Bob Moraca, the NRF’s vice president of loss prevention. “Every day, criminals are getting more creative in the ways they manipulate the retail supply chain. Combating ORC is a full-time job, and it is a constant battle industry-wide for retailers large and small to stay one step ahead of these savvy criminals.”

In the NRF’s 12th annual Organized Retail Crime Survey, the organization asked 59 senior retail loss prevention executives whether they’d experienced losses from ORC in the past year. For the first time in the survey’s history, all of them reported losses from organized retail crime activities.

Among the 83 percent who reported their losses had grown, the average loss was $700,259 per $1 billion in sales, a significant increase from $453,940 last year.

Organized retail crime gangs often use storefronts, pawn shops, flea markets and kiosks to fence stolen goods, and 63 percent of those surveyed said they had recovered merchandise from a physical location. But many criminals turn to the Internet for the anonymity it offers — 58 percent of retailers said they had identified stolen merchandise from an e-fencing operation.

Criminals are also finding ways to manipulate store return policies. According to the survey, 68 percent of respondents said they had experienced thieves taking advantage of generous return policies and returning stolen merchandise for store credit, then selling the credits to secondary-market buyers.

Four new states have enacted ORC laws in the past year, bringing the total nationwide to 34. But the survey found that 56 percent of retailers in states with organized retail crime laws said they had seen no increase in support from law enforcement, the highest in the survey’s history. Retailers continue to support creation of a federal organized retail crime law, which is backed by 79.7 percent of those surveyed.

Cargo theft continues to take a rising toll on retailers. The most common place for cargo theft to occur is when merchandise is en route from the manufacturer to a retailer’s warehouse or from the warehouse to a store. Often, according to Loss Prevention Magazine, thieves will stake out a truck on its way to a retailer, then steal the truck when the driver leaves the truck to refuel, eat or go to the restroom. In an article on its website, LPM’s John Tabor noted that the average value of a shipment in transit in 2013 was $300,000 (sometimes much more), making it a lucrative crime. And since most retailers depend on trucks for at least part of their supply chain, it affects nearly all retail sectors.

Tabor noted the most effective responses to such crimes include increased security measures for trucks on the road, thorough vetting of personnel involved in the shipments and innovative programs working with law enforcement that use technology (such as embedded GPS devices). Most industry experts call for more stringent laws and regulations to address the growth of organized retail crime, which ultimately affects all of us.

“Organized retail crime continues to impact retailers at a larger scale now more than ever before,” said Jonathan Gold, NRF vice president for supply chain and custom policy who heads the organization’s lobbying efforts on organized retail crime. “ORC also poses a threat to unwitting consumers who may purchase stolen merchandise that is not stored properly or may have expired. It is critical for our industry to continue pushing for strong federal legislation that would properly define ORC and make it a federal crime. Until there is a federal ORC law to counter this increasing criminal activity and the ability to transport stolen products across state lines, it will be nearly impossible to put a dent in this $30 billion-a-year problem that threatens retailers, the economy and consumers across the country.”

Credit card skimmers targeting Mississippi

via Credit card skimmers targeting Mississippi

PDF: the_clarion-ledger_state_20161010_a003_1

ATM skimmers have been around for decades. Security experts have long warned us about these devices, which use technology attached to an Automated Teller Machine or a Point-of-Sale terminal to steal information from consumers as they enter data.

The technology has usually been crude — one tactic has been to stick a device to the outside of an ATM located in a casino or convenience store, with crooks often putting an “Out of order” sign on nearby ATMs to direct victims to use a single machine. Thieves would collect data for a few days, then move the device somewhere else and start all over again. Often, cameras would be mounted nearby, recording the keystrokes when consumers entered their Personal Identification Numbers.

But the technological arms race between crooks and security-minded companies has yielded new technologies, and with it more brazen activities to get your money. One piece of technology uses a device installed inside the machine, making it undetectable unless the machine is opened. The tech website Gizmodo.com wrote last month about how these devices are starting to proliferate in the U.S. Skimming activities reap billions each year for thieves, U.S. Secret Service notes.

RELATED: Moak: Millennials are card smart

And for us here in the Magnolia State, it has hit home with a vengeance recently.Several skimming devices have been found inside ATMs and gas pumps at metro-area gas stations, putting law enforcement on alert. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood issued a news release last week to warn Mississippians about the danger.

“These devices may go undetected for weeks, all the while gathering sensitive account information from unsuspecting consumers,” Hood said. “Consumers need to call their financial institutions immediately if they see any unauthorized activity on their accounts, and watch closely for signs of tampering when using gas pumps or ATMs. In the meantime, our office will continue working with other law enforcement agencies in Mississippi to shut down this type of crime.”

Although ATM operators and financial institutions are taking action to protect the ATMs from tampering, Hood suggested some actions you and I can take to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Use pumps closer to the entrance to the service station or convenience store. Skimmers generally target pumps that are most isolated from security.
  • Avoid paying at the pump. Go into the store and pay the attendant directly.
  • If you’re using a debit card, select the “Credit” option, rather than the “Debit” option. This will avoid the possibility of thieves getting your Personal Identification Number.
  • Check with your gas station management as to how they’re checking for devices.

The online security website Krebs.com also recommends that you cover your hand if entering your PIN, to avoid your PIN being recorded by a nearby camera. Always use a wall-mounted bank ATM, rather than a stand-alone device, and never use an ATM located in a secluded spot, especially at night.

And as always, keep a close eye on your bank account balances and activities. The sooner you identify and report suspicious activity, the better.