Identity theft, common scams, & how to protect yourself
Fraudsters use many means to find their targets including: USPS mail, social media sites, telephone books, and online chat rooms. First and foremost, use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are some common ways fraudsters gather information or commit fraud.
Identity theft is a growing national epidemic, claiming nearly 15 million victims in the United States in 2017. There are many forms of identity theft, some of the most common uses of stolen identity include:
- Gathering enough personal information to gain access to the victim's actual accounts.
- Leveraging the good credit score of the victim by using personal information (such as a social security number and employer information) to obtain a loan or credit card in the victim's name.
- Using personal information to obtain or access other services of value such as insurance, citizenship status, or even health care services.
Never give your financial information (or access to your computer) to anyone who contacts you out of the blue, whether by telephone, email, or other means before you research it. You can ask for a call-back number and then verify its authenticity by looking at the company's website, the back of the credit card, statements, or the phonebook.
Example: You get a call claiming to be from a well known tech company. They say your computer has been infected with a malware virus but they can fix it for you if you just go to this website and click here ... STOP, it’s a scam! Never give anyone who calls you out of the blue remote access to your computer. Get repairs done locally when possible.
Many scammers use legitimate job posting sites to entice victims with "work at home" or "secret shopper" scams. Typically you are paid a false commission to facilitate money transfers through your account or you are a asked to open a new bank account.
Example: You get a check in the mail with a job offer as a secret shopper (first alert - real employers don’t just send you money). But you deposit the check and the funds actually show up in your account. Next you follow the instructions to test the in-store money transfer service using some of the money you deposited. Fast forward to the unhappy ending. The bank finds out the check you deposited is a fake, which means you’re on the hook for all that money. How does that happen? Well, banks are required to make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks.
If anyone asks you to deposit a check, and then wire or send them money or gift cards, you can bet it’s a scam.
Lottery or sweepstakes scams
As a "winner" of a lottery, you can claim your prize only after paying a fee or the taxes. SCAM!
A person that you meet through a dating service asks for money for many reasons including health care costs or travel expenses to visit you. Don't fall for it!
Internet purchases or sales scams
When you buy or sell an item over the internet, there are several ways that you could be the victim of fraud:
- The amount you receive is larger than the agreed upon price and you are asked to immediately wire back the difference
- The check is from a business or person other than the one who purchased the item.
- You are asked to transfer money or receive a money transfer as soon as possible-often through a wire transfer
Potential and current homeowners are often the targets of fraud. Be very cautious of agencies that offer to help you obtain "incredible" or "limited time" rates or terms. Fraudsters also target homeowners who are struggling with false claims of short-sales, forceclosure rescue or loan modifications. Although, there are some legitimate companies that provide these services, you mortgage lender or other reputable institution is in the best position to help you.
There are many basic things you can do to help prevent ID theft and other scams
- Protect your sensitive information. You social security number, driver's license number, and account numbers are very important information. Use care when you share them.
- Monitor your financial statements and immediately report any discrepancies. At times, thieves will make small initial transactions to "test" the account. Receiving eStatements is actually more secure than paper statements. They arrive faster and are less likely to be stolen than their paper counterparts. Shred old statements and bills before recycling or disposing of them.
- Review your credit report every 3-6 months. If someone has stolen your identity and is attempting or has obtained a loan in your name, it will appear on the credit report. For additional peace of mind, subscribe to a credit monitoring service or consider purchasing ID Theft protection. You can get a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com. You can obtain a copy at any time directly from:
- Sign up for e-Statements & e-Bills. Fraud often occurs when thieves are able to gather information from your unsecure mailbox, collect your mail as soon as possible (or receive estatements and ebills). Do not leave outgoing payments in an unsecure mailbox, instead drop payment envelopes in a secure box or use electronic billpayment. When you travel, have the post office hold your mail until your return.
- Limit the amount of information on checks. Don't print your driver's license number or Social Security number on your checks. Store new and cancelled checks in a safe and secure location, Use tamper-resistant checks and carry your checkbook only when necessary. Report any lost or stolen check immediately.
- Carry only necessary information with you. Leave your Social Security card and unused credits cards at home in a safe and secure location. Keep copies of important information you carry regularly and store them in a safe deposit box.
Learn more here about what to do if you have general questions or believe your identity may have been stolen. You may also call us at 1-800-288-3425.