The Scoop

Thiele: Be Vigilant Against Scams and Identity Theft

The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a good time to remember to be vigilant against scams and identity theft. Every year, criminals steal billions of dollars and millions of identities from unsuspecting consumers.

It’s important to pick up on the warning signs of a telephone scam, as telemarketers are trained to draw you in. If the offer seems too good to be true, it most likely is. You should be suspicious of a call if:

• the caller claims to be working for a company that has a name intended to sound like a government agency or a well-known company;
• the caller says you must act on the offer the same day;
• the caller is unwilling to send you written information about the offer;
• the caller asks you for a credit card number or your Social Security number; or
• you have to pay a fee before you receive complimentary services.

Telemarketing scams can range from bogus vacation awards to charity appeals. Fraudulent promoters have access to telephone directories, mailing lists and other resources to target potential victims. In New York, you can use the Do Not Call Registry to stop unwanted calls. To be added to the Do Not Call Registry, call 888-382-1222.

Identity theft poses the same financial risk as telemarketing scams. Victims are often left with damaged credit reports and are forced to spend money to repair the damage caused. Identity theft can happen when someone steals a credit or debit card number, or obtains a Social Security number or any piece of personal information. The thief can then use this information to purchase items or open new accounts in your name.

You can prevent identity theft by:

• avoiding carrying your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your purse or wallet and never keeping your ATM pin number on your card;
• never giving out your credit card number over the phone unless you initiated the call and trust the business;
• being careful when disclosing personal information online like passwords and Social Security numbers. Check website links to make sure they are legitimate before typing in your information;
• using passwords on your credit cards, bank and phone accounts. Never use easily available information such as birthdays or the last four digits of your Social Security number for passwords.

If your identity is stolen it’s important to immediately contact the fraud department at each of the three major credit bureaus and freeze your credit reports; this can prevent thieves from taking out new loans in your name. It’s also important to close the fraudulent accounts, file a police report and obtain a copy for your records. And don’t forget, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency once a year. You can order your free report by phone at 877-322-8228 or online at annualcreditreport.com.

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