Shoulder surfing: The new way con artists are stealing identities

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PITTSBURGH — It’s called shoulder surfing – a new way for con-artists to steal your personal information.


Surveillance footage shows Robert and Jennifer MacVittie using their smartphones to capture social security numbers. It’s a tactic called, shoulder surfing.

A husband and wife were caught shoulder surfing at Walmart stores.

“They traveled the country really exploiting Walmart’s check cashing procedures,” explained U.S. Postal Inspector David Anderchak.

Robert and Jennifer MacVittie stole more than $400,000 from the retail giant.

“To cash a check at Walmart, it is all based on your social security number. You sign up with Wal-Mart to get the check cashing privileges,” Anderchak said.

Once you sign up, all you have to do to cash a check is enter your social security number.

“That Social Security number really tells the system that there’s been no negative hits with this account and you are in good standing with Walmart,”  Anderchak said.

The MacVittie’s would travel to Walmarts in city after city and wait for people to approach the customer service desk to cash a check.

Shoulder2“Typically, Jennifer would stand a short distance behind the victim, on an angle, and use her smart phone to zoom in and video tape the entry of the social security number,” Anderchak said.

This is called shoulder surfing.

“Jennifer MacVittie really did a great job of shoulder surfing using a smart phone,” Anderchak said.

In a 12 to 15 month span, the team stole more than 900 social security numbers.

“They would move to the next Walmart where Robert would then approach the Customer Service and he would enter the victim’s Social Security number.  He would cash a counterfeit check,” Anderchak explained.

Walmart investigators worked with postal inspectors to track down the MacVitties. They were caught in Las Vegas where they had gambled away most of the money they’d taken.

Postal inspectors have some simple advice for all consumers. Shoulder4

“Create a barrier, whether that’s with your hand or that’s with your body and be aware of your surroundings whether you are at an ATM or retail establishment and you are putting in any kind of sensitive information,” advised Anderchak.

Fortunately, the victims in this case did not lose any money, Walmart incurred $400,00 in losses. The MacVitties now face wire fraud and ID theft charges.


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