Rob D’Ovidio, associate professor of criminal justice and director of Drexel’s program in computer crime and digital forensics, has worked with the New York City Police Department and the Philadelphia Police Department on research projects involving computer crime and regularly trains investigators on techniques to seize electronic evidence and trace Internet communications. He provides regular commentary for media outlets on news stories pertaining to computer crime, Internet safety, identity theft and surveillance.
Recently, DrexelNow Editor Katie Clark was a victim of identity theft. In the days after the crime, she chatted with D’Ovidio about how and why identify theft happens, and what can be done to prevent it.
I recently noticed a charge on my credit card that was not made by me. I was in another state at the time and had my credit card with me. The charge was made at a restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia. What happened?
There are a number of scenarios for how people can get your credit information. Your information could be obtained from your trash if you’re not shredding your materials. And nowadays, criminals are even installing skimming devices and cameras at gas stations "pumps" and ATM machines, usually affixed to the factory-installed card scanner on the gas pump or ATM machine and in the light fixture. So, someone could be sitting in the parking lot and when they see you go up to the ATM machine, they activate the video feed on the camera to grab your PIN number, while the skimming device grabs the data on the magnetic strip on the card. But, it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly how this happened.
What are the first steps you should take if you are a victim of identity theft?
The first thing you should do is call your bank and cancel the card that’s been used. Then immediately file a police report so you have it on record. This way, you have a report to refer back to if someone opens false accounts in your name. Keep an eye on your credit report over the next few months. You could use freecreditreport.com or Experion.com.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft?
Yes, someone used our debit card at Sears in Deptford, NJ. I filed a police report and went to my bank. They investigated, and we found out my credit card number was typed in at the jewelry counter, which was the one location in the store that doesn’t have a security camera trained on it. So, it could have been an inside job. I did get my money back, but I felt very violated.
What precautions should we take to avoid this type of crime?
Always shred your paperwork. And if you pay bills online, make sure your computer’s antivirus software is up to date. Also, know your bank’s email policies. Find out if your personal information is included in emails from your bank because criminals can obtain your information that way. If you’re still using physical mail, just know if you’re going on vacation to stop your mail while you’re away.