Call For Action: When Giving Back Could Lead to Identity Theft

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Northeast Ohio has a reputation for giving when the rest of the world is in trouble.

"I always want to be sensitive to human need wherever it shows up, however it shows up and respond accordingly," said Mike Perry, who oversees fundraising for the City Mission in Cleveland, where 91 cents of every dollar goes to helping someone in need.  Perry does his share of giving too.

"I try never to turn my heart off," he told FOX 8 Call For Action Reporter Lorrie Taylor.

Perry’s concern for others is as noble as it is potentially risky; according to experts in online security, his caring nature makes him a prime target for identity thieves.

"Often times hackers will send emails that talk about, "Here, click here to donate to this big cause to these victims of these terrible tragedies,” said Tom Eston from Secure State in Bedford.

Eston’s specialties include preventing internet crimes against his company's clients. He told Taylor "social engineering" or the practice of playing on people's emotions while conning them out of information, or money, is a popular ploy of online criminals.

"A simple thing like clicking a link, that could install a piece of malware or ask you for personal information, could lead to possibly, to identity theft, or something worse," Eston said.

Recognizing the tricks of the "social engineering" trade is the first step to "Bullet Proofing Your Identity" and it's not easy. Eston said the bad guys are so good at what they do, they can fool a seasoned professional like himself.

"They copy, for example, all the logos, the websites; everything looks like a normal email that you might get from a bank or some organization that you trust," said Eston.

Eston recommended deleting emails that make a play for personal information or money. He said charitable donors should instead go to the website of the organization they want to support so they can feel confident they know with whom they are dealing.

He said "social engineering" also plays on the trust people have in their family and friends, who are easily identifiable from Facebook pages and other social media accounts.

"They'll say, hey I'm stuck in Europe, I need you to wire me money; please help me," said Eston.

The confidence consumers have in certain companies can also put them at risk.

"There's people that call you up and say, here, I need you to type this URL into your web browser while they're on the phone, and actually install malware onto your computer. They'll say, hey, we've detected a virus. This is your bank, some organization you trust"

Perry said he knows there are thieves online and on the phone, ready to prey on the unsuspecting; he’s hoping others realize it too.

"It saddens me when I see people's emotions being exploited by someone fraudulently to just trick them out of their money."

CLICK HERE to see Lorrie's other Call For Action stories to protect you from identity theft.