U.S. Markets closed

Banking group steals man’s identity to prove a point

If bank fees weren’t scary enough, a group of Belgian financial institutions have commissioned an anti-identify theft campaign that’s enough to make anyone unplug, cut up their plastic and carry only cash.

The 4 minute and 16 second ad, titled “See how easily freaks can take over your life,” is the diabolical work of febelfin, an umbrella organization for the country’s banks, and the award-winning ad agency Duval Guillaume Modem.

“Would you panic while internet crooks took over your life?” they ask. “We put one real victim through the test. We scared the hell out of him by gradually taking over his life.”

So pity Tom Degroote, a purportedly real guy, whose Facebook account is used as the target for various acts of fraud. I sent him a message to determine if he’s really real or in on the joke. He did post this yesterday, “got punk'd. And how...” which dozens of his friends seem to “like.” But no matter, even if this is a really elaborate Truman Show-style hoax, the warning is stark.

A supposed bank official monitors Degroote’s life and prompts him to fall for a phishing scam. The miscreant then brags that he can now empty Degroote’s bank account. But not satisfied with that misdeed, he begins renting hotel rooms, orders a pricey harp for delivery from eBay – and even dons a Mission Impossible inspired mask to impersonate the poor sap and yes, successfully freaks Degroote out, but with more expletives.
Uploaded to YouTube this week, the spot has already attracted more than 82,000 viewers, and can also be viewed – with accompanying safety tips – on www.safeinternetbanking.be.
Those in Belgium, of course, aren’t alone in being victimized online.
In 2009, 11,095 victims reported identity thefts to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre with an overall loss of more than $10-million, up from the year before. But that doesn’t include all the cases that go unreported, often from people too embarrassed to admit they’d been duped, according to police.

By 2011, the RCMP pegged fraud offences – many of those linked to identity thefts – as valued at between $10- and $30-billion a year and as profitable as drug crimes.
The tips are fairly basic, but probably are worth repeating since people continue in increasing numbers to be scammed. Don’t share personal information – especially your social insurance number – online, on the phone or when a friendly stranger with a clipboard comes knocking at your door.

Shred documents, guard your mail and don’t make your passwords things thieves can guess, such as your birthday or your phone number. And maybe, forgo the annual deluge of well wishes and delete your birthday from your Facebook account. Another idea, close it to strangers such as, well me, your bank and the bad guys.