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Staying One Step Ahead of Identity Thieves

Frank Abagnale, the new AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador, travels the country to advise people about how to protect themselves from identity theft. Credit: Abagnale and Associates.
Frank Abagnale, the new AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador, travels the country to advise people about how to protect themselves from identity theft. Credit: Abagnale and Associates.
October 1, 2015

SEATTLE – Major security breaches are all too common in the retail and corporate world, but individuals can still do their part to minimize the damage to their own lives and bank accounts.

That's the message from Frank Abagnale, the new AARP Fraud Watch Network ambassador. He says people are learning the hard way that banks, companies and even law enforcement can't always protect their personal information from slipping into the wrong hands.

With the 2016 elections coming up, Abagnale predicts the next big trend will be bogus requests for political donations.

"You didn't solicit them, someone called you," he says. "If you're a supporter of that individual, then you need to hang up and call the campaign and say 'I received this call. Is that legitimate?' If you want to donate money, donate it when you know you can donate legitimately to that campaign."

Abagnale is in Seattle on a national tour for the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He is best known as the identity thief and impersonator whose escapades in the 1960s were the basis for the 2002 movie "Catch Me If You Can."

He has now worked for more than 40 years for the FBI and other law enforcement agencies tracking modern-day thieves and hackers.

The scammer calling nowadays is often from another country, which makes them hard to catch and even harder to prosecute – so Abagnale says it's up to individuals to prevent the tech-support con.

Patti Chrzan, senior director of strategic programs with the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, says more than three million people a year are falling for the tech-support scam, in which a caller informs a victim of a problem with their home computer and offers to remotely "fix" it, for a fee.

"Their end game is charging you for services you don't need," she says. "Sometimes they're injecting malware on your device designed to take advantage of stealing your identity and selling it, or banking information so they can drain your bank account."

Just this year, she says, the estimated losses from tech-support scams total more than $1.5 billion.

The AARP Fraud Watch Network has information about the latest scams and tips on how to avoid them.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA