You pay your bills, live within your means and carefully maintain a good credit rating. A lot of people wish they were just like you.
Others, not content with wishing, are out to steal your identity."True name" credit card fraud is emerging as the scam of choice among professional con artists across the United States, according to Desker Campbell of CBI-SEquifax, the Georgia-based nationwide credit reporting service.
Campbell presented seminars here recently, conducted by the Coeur d'Alene Credit Bureau, Aetna Adjustment Co. and the Sandpoint Credit Bureau. He makes his living educating people about credit card fraud.
It's big business. Campbell says it's estimated that $700 million per year is lost to credit card fraud.
"This rapidly increasing phenomenon . . . seems to have begun in the New York City area only a few years ago, at the same time the introduction of holograms greatly complicated the counterfeiting of credit cards," he said.
"Today, while there are still many types of credit card fraud, true name fraud has emerged as the most lucrative technique and certainly the form most often preferred by the professional criminal."
Campbell said the tools of the illicit trade are the names, Social Security numbers and other personal information about people with good credit ratings. That information is used on credit applications.
The more details the better - everything from the employer's name, salary and job title to spouse's name and current credit cards. Your real address, however, is listed as "previous address" on the application.
Under "current address," Campbell said, some type of mail drop is listed, giving the con artist his needed anonymity. Once the shadowy credit is established, the criminal can run up huge tabs.
The victim gets no bills, and often doesn't find out about the scam until he applies for a house or car loan and is turned down for "past bad debts." There are even reports those tactics are employed by some credit "doctors" who promise to restore credit no matter how bad the credit history.
Using access to computerized credit records, they search out someone who has the same name as their client, but a spotless record.
One of the best ways to prevent true name fraud is to protect your personal information. Don't give it to anyone without good reason.
Employers are good targets, and personnel files should remain secure, experts say. Employee lists should be given only to those who can prove they need them, the experts say.
More common are telemarketing scams. Callers promise everything from vitamins to mink coats to travel packages at a fraction of the normal cost. All they need is a credit card number.
"They don't want checks; they don't want cash; they want your card number," Campbell said. "Once they get it, they can order anything they want. You get the bill."
False or misleading advertising also can be a way to obtain someone's credit card number, he said. The $500 boat you buy may be a rubber raft worth a fraction of that amount. Some reptile lovers who thought they were buying a "baby rattler" wound up with a child's toy. "They will entice you in any way they can to get your credit card number," said Campbell.
"Someone who is really good at it will convince you that, even though you refuse to buy, he needs the card number to prove to his boss that he made a certain number of sales calls that day."
With your credit card number, the unscrupulous solicitor doesn't need to stop there. He can buy or charge virtually anything. The consumer can usually avoid the bills by notifying the credit card company, but either the merchant or the credit card company is stuck with the loss.
"In the end we all wind up paying through higher prices," said Campbell. Others who get your number will call in a lost or stolen credit card report to the issuing agency, asking for a replacement card.
At the same time, a change of address is listed, routing the new card to an anonymous mail drop. Credit card numbers also are stolen from carbon copies of sales receipts; make sure sales people give you all the carbons.