September 1, 2004
We all know to beware of would-be thieves who rummage through garbage cans, in hopes of finding any bit of info -like a Social Security number -for illegal gain. But it doesn’t stop there. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org), identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the nation. The organization suggests never giving out personal information, such as your credit card number, unless you initiate the call. And even then, make sure that you’re talking to an actual company representative.
The Identity Theft Resource Center provides a list of generic scams to watch out for and suggests that you do not respond to any of them, not even to have your name removed:
Free credit report e-mails. Free means just that. If a company wants you to pay for what it advertises as free, think twice. Usually a person is trying to get your Social Security number or bill you for a service. Check out the company through the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) or the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). Depending on where you live, you can get a report for free by contacting Equifax (www.equifax .com), TransUnion (www.transunion .com), or Experian (www .experian.com).
Nigerian 419 scam. Many of us have received an e-mail from a foreign representative asking us to move money from one account to another. These scams account for about 12% of the scam offers people receive and net $100 million a year. No matter how sorrowful the letter sounds (latest versions include correspondence from a dying woman and a soldier as well as e-mails from other countries such as India and South Africa), don’t fall for it!
Visa/MasterCard scam alert. You might get a call from a Visa or MasterCard “employee,” asking you to confirm unusual spending activity. It might sound legitimate, but don’t ever give out the code on the back of your card. Instead, contact the customer service numbers on the back of your credit card to confirm if the call came from your credit card company.
E-mail chain letters or pyramid schemes. You may get an e-mail stating that Bill Gates is testing a new e-mail tracking system and wants your help. In return, you’ll receive money if you forward the e-mail to friends. For the most part, these e-mails are illegal according to the Identity Theft Resource Center and are simply a variation of postal chain letters.
In-store security scams. If you encounter individuals who identify themselves as in-store security and request your help to catch a “bad” employee, watch out! One scam involves asking customers to fill out a credit application and give it to an employee. The other involves a scam artist watching a customer fill out a form or pay a bill with a credit card. Prior to an employee calling in the approval, the scam artist calls the clerk to say that the application or card is from a thief. If you suspect something is awry, call store security immediately.