When you think of your own personal assets, chances are your home, car, and savings and investments come to mind. But what about your Social Security number (SSN), telephone records and your bank and credit card account numbers? To people known as “pretexters,” that information is a personal asset, too.
Pretexting is the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters sell your information to people who may use it to get credit in your name, steal your assets, or to investigate or sue you. Pretexting is against the law.
How Pretexting Works
Pretexters use a variety of tactics to get your personal information. For example, a pretexter may call, claim he’s from a survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution. He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your account. He might claim that he’s forgotten his checkbook and needs information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be able to obtain personal information about you such as your SSN, bank and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report, and the existence and size of your savings and investment portfolios.
Keep in mind that some information about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this kind of information.
There Ought to Be a Law — There is
Under federal law — the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act — it’s illegal for anyone to:
- Use false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.
- Use forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents to get customer information from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a financial institution.
- Ask another person to get someone else’s customer information using false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or using false, fictitious or fraudulent documents or forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents.
The Federal Trade Commission Act also generally prohibits pretexting for sensitive consumer information.
The Link to Identity Theft
Pretexting can lead to identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone hijacks your personal identifying information to open new charge accounts, order merchandise, or borrow money. Consumers targeted by identity thieves often don’t know they’ve been victimized until the hijackers fail to pay the bills or repay the loans, and collection agencies begin dunning the consumers for payment of accounts they didn’t even know they had.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the most common forms of identity theft are:
- Credit Card Fraud — a credit card account is opened in a consumer’s name or an existing credit card account is “taken over”
- Communications Services Fraud — the identity thief opens telephone, cellular, or other utility service in the consumer’s name;
- Bank Fraud — a checking or savings account is opened in the consumer’s name, and/or fraudulent checks are written
- Fraudulent Loans — the identity thief gets a loan, such as a car loan, in the consumer’s name.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes it a federal crime when someone: “knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”
Under the Identity Theft Act, a name or SSN is considered a “means of identification.” So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.