Everyone should know how to avoid identity theft and fraud. Every day, con artists and scammers try to victimize millions of American consumers. And when they succeed, these crimes can seriously affect the lives of their victims, their families, and really all of us.
Fortunately, many fraudulent offers can be spotted and avoided before they mess up your life. Having an identity theft and fraud protection strategy in place will give you peace of mind, and help you avoid becoming a victim. I thought that since today is Cyber Monday and lots of people will be shopping online and getting an inbox full of offers, it was a great day to talk about this.
Here are some important points to remember:
- It sounds too good to be true.
- Pressure to act “right away”
- Guarantees success
- Promises unusually high returns
- Requires an up-front investment – even for a “free” prize
- Buyers want you to over-pay you for something you’re selling, and then send them the difference (or send it to someone else)
- Doesn’t have the look of a real business (emails will have misspellings or poor grammar)
- Something just doesn’t feel right
Here are some facts and tips about fraud that you should know:
- Your bank will never e-mail or call you to ask for your account number (or ask you to log into your account online).
- Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. You can’t win no matter what they may say.
- You should never wire money to someone you don’t know.
- Be cautious of work-at-home job offers.
- Never click on a link inside an e-mail to visit a website. Type the address into your browser. (Clicking on the link could download a virus onto your computer, or take you to a different “clone” type site).
- It’s easy for a business to look legitimate online. If you have doubts, check them out on the Better Business Bureau.
- Only 2% of reported identity theft occurs via the mail. You can report online fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint
- Retain you receipts, statements, and packing slips. Review them for accuracy.
- Check your monthly bank statements for charges you don’t recognize.
- Order a copy of your credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com once a year.
- Shred confidential documents instead of throwing them into the trash. This should include health insurance information (a popular identity theft category).
Helping others around you
It’s never too early to start learning about identity theft and fraud. If you have kids or grandkids, point out “too good to be true” offers to them and teach them how to watch out for these types of offers. Also, you should take an active interest in the financial activities of your aging parents or grandparents. Older adults are often the target of fraudulent scams, so it’s important to help them watch out for these things. Also, if you ever find out about a scam that’s going around, share this information with friends and family. Social networks like www.facebook.com are a great way to get the word out and help protect others.