Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Identity Theft and Other Nightmares

My husband brought me the credit card bill and asked “What did you DO on your last trip to New York?” He was hurt and stunned, “This charges are to a tattoo shop, an liquor store and a series of bars. Please tell me this is some mistake!”
It was a classic case of identity theft. I may have been guilty of buying one too many lattes and pastries at Dean and Delucas in New York, but I had no new tattoos! I tried to respond to my hubby but couldn’t speak . . .
And then I woke up. Yes, I know. I’m a strange breed because my “nightmares” consist of dreams about identity theft. Unfortunately, those nightmares are other people’s reality.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, it takes 12 months, on average, for a victim of identity theft to notice the crime. So how do you keep yourself safe from the ever growing threat of identity theft? Learn to identify the latest scams:

Phishing Scams – Never give your social security number, account numbers, date of birth or other personal information via email or on the phone unless you initiated the contact. Most major internet sites and financial institutions have been targeted including Citibank, PayPal, eBay, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and America Online (AOL). These scams usually show up in your email inbox with a message from the "System Administrator" telling you to perform some urgent maintenance on your account.

Checks – When you pay your credit card by check, never put the full account number on the check, just write the last four digits. This will prevent someone in transit from harvesting your account number.

• Auction Fraud – This was the second most reported consumer fraud complaint to the FTC, totaling 51,000 auction complaints. The fraud is simple - put up a fake ad on eBay, let someone "win" the bid and send in their money, but never send out the merchandise. Make sure the seller has an established history before you click “buy.”

• Identity Theft or Credit Repair Scams -- The Federal Trade Commission has warned that some companies that claim to be identity theft prevention companies are scam artists trying to get your driver’s license number, mother’s maiden name, Social Security number and credit and bank account numbers. If you are unsure about a firm, check it out with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org .

Prize Scams – If someone calls you on the telephone and offers you the chance to receive a major prize but insists on gathering personal data first, ask them to send a written application in the mail. If they refuse, then hang up.

Credit Card Applications – Consider getting a secure mailbox (key access) as many identity thieves like to take your mail directly from the box (or from the trash), fill out your credit card applications and put their address in the information box. Always shred all credit card applications and contact your credit card companies to never release this information to other companies.

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

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