Beware of Online Job Classifieds Used to Steal Your Identity

In another variation of the identity theft tale, stock traders posing as employees of a made-up Latvian brokerage firm appear to have stolen personal information from individuals who thought they were applying for a job through the popular classifieds website, Craigslist (www.craigslist.org).

According to a complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, these traders allegedly used the job applicants' Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other information to open up online brokerage accounts. Applicants were told that the firm would need this information to conduct company "background checks"—because the firm would be entrusting them with the firm's money. The traders appear to have communicated only by email or fax.

After "hiring" several individuals, the firm allegedly sent funds to those individuals' personal bank accounts using wire transfers from Russian bank accounts and a Western Union money order. The individuals were instructed to wire those funds from their bank accounts to specific account numbers—which corresponded to the brokerage accounts opened with their personal information, without their knowledge.

In addition, the traders allegedly used stolen user IDs and passwords to gain unauthorized Internet access into existing brokerage accounts of unsuspecting victims. Using the new and existing brokerage accounts, the traders used sophisticated strategies to trade and manipulate the prices of a number of thinly traded stocks—at a handsome profit.

FINRA urges investors, when conducting any activity on the Internet, always to be on guard and to check out anyone who is asking for your personal information before you give it out. Not every request for your Social Security number is an effort to steal your identity—but not every request is mandatory. With some healthy skepticism and caution, you can take steps to protect your identity, so that the Internet remains a source of convenience—not heartache.

How Can I Protect Myself?

 

  1. Be suspicious of anyone asking for your personal information. According to Craigslist, many identity theft scams that have appeared on their website involve one or more of the following:
    • An inquiry from someone far away, often in another country;
    • Use of a Western Union, Money Gram, cashier's check, money order, shipping, escrow service, or a "guarantee"; and
    • The other party's inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating a transaction.
       
  2. Know who you are doing business with. Make sure you independently verify whether a potential employer in the securities industry is legitimate before handing over any personal information. The following resources can help:

    • For a broker, brokerage firm, investment advisory firm or representative in the U.S, search FINRA BrokerCheck. If you don't find a match for an investment advisory firm or representative, be sure to check with your state securities regulator. You can find that number in the government section of your local phone book or by contacting the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).
    • For a U.S. insurance agent or insurance company, check with your state insurance department.
    • For a non-U.S. financial institution, check with the banking, insurance or securities regulator of the relevant country. For a list of foreign financial regulators and their contact information, check out the University of Toledo Law School's website.
       
    If you get a match, be sure to carefully compare the phone number and address you receive from the potential employer with the information provided by the regulator. If you contact the firm, use the phone number the regulator gives you to verify whether the person listed in the ad actually works for the firm they claim to work for, and then ask to be transferred accordingly. When using FINRA BrokerCheck, for example, you will find a brokerage firm's phone number in the "Firm Profile" section of the "Full PDF Report."

    If you're dealing with a recruiting firm or recruiter who claims to be working on behalf of a potential employer, be sure to separately confirm that the recruiter is legitimate by checking with an objective source, such as the Better Business Bureau. It is worth taking the time to protect your identity, and legitimate recruiters and employers should respect your need to take precautions.
     
  3. Don't Respond to Emails Requesting Personal Information. Legitimate companies will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through email. If your financial institution actually needs personal information from you or your statement, call the company yourself — using the number in your files or on your statement, not the one the email provides! Also, never click on links imbedded in emails, no matter who the sender claims to be or if the address in the email looks right. These links may actually take you to a spoofed or fake website. You should always type in a Web address yourself, directly in the Web browser address bar.
     
  4. Ask questions. When an individual or entity asks for your SSN, be sure to ask the following questions to help you decide whether to reveal it:
    • Why do you need my SSN?
    • Will you accept a different form of identification (such as a telephone number, driver's license or passport)? If "no", why not?
    • How will you use my SSN?
    • How do you protect my SSN and other information from being stolen or misused?
    • What will happen if I don't provide my SSN?
       
  5. Order a copy of your credit report. It's a good idea to check your credit report every year. Look for accounts you did not open and any unexplained transactions. You can obtain one free credit report annually from each of the three following credit reporting agencies:

    You can also obtain credit reports from these three credit reporting agencies at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.
     
  6. Review your account statements. This is your last line of defense. If you are victimized, the sooner you catch it, the better. Regularly review your online account information for unauthorized trades, cash withdrawals, or any other unrecognized activity. Do the same as soon as you receive each monthly or quarterly statement. If you have moved, make sure to update your postal address with all of the firms where you have accounts. If you receive your statements by email and change your Internet service provider or otherwise change your preferred email address, make sure to update your email address with all of the firms where you have accounts. Immediately report any suspicious activity to your brokerage firm.
     
  7. Act quickly if you believe you've been scammed. If you believe that you're a victim of identity theft, you need to act quickly.

  8. Take the steps in our Identity Theft Checklist. Check out our Web page for more tips.

 

Additional Resources
 

 

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Last Updated: 5/12/2008