Fraud & Identity Theft - Protect Yourself from Common Scams
It is hard to ignore the huge impact that fraud and theft have nation wide. Coconino County residents are no exception to being victims to these crimes. In our current technology driven age, residents can be victims where the perpetrator may live in another state or another country. Locally, citizens often find themselves victims of crimes when they forgot to lock their vehicle or leave items of value within the eye and reach of opportunist criminals.
What is Identity Theft?
Identify Theft is one of the most rapidly expanding criminal efforts occurring in our time and is found on the state, national and international levels. Criminals are successful in this arena due to many factors including, current economic crises, the electronic information, the low risk and high dividends it presents, and exceptional knowledge of informational resources that are available. Perpetrators gather their information through advertisements, newspapers and periodicals, mail services, internet information, public records, telephone and cellular phone conversations, and personal and business transactions.
Reducing Your Chances of Identity Theft
Here are some guidelines you should consider to protect yourself.
Telephone, Mail & Internet Solicitors
- Rule of Thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Remove your name and home address from national telemarketing mailing and phone lists using the do not call registry
- Write down names, telephone numbers, complete addresses and company information of the solicitor. If on the Internet, note the IP address.
- Don’t respond to generic advertisements, particularly if they relate to personal finance or credit.
- Never respond back to a solicitor’s contact number as given, rather locate a known authentic number to contact the business. They can often tell you if the solicitor is legitimate or if a fraudulent scheme is suspected.
- Provide little to no personal information to the solicitor.
- Provide no financial information or data to the solicitor. Remember, a scam artist is a professional criminal who makes a living by gaining information and putting it to illegal use.
- Request information is sent to you via the postal service explaining that as a rule you do not do business over the telephone or internet.
- Remember, you can hang up anytime you want and end the conversation.
- Use appropriate steps to protect information stored on your phone and computer.
- Perform an internet search on names, numbers, business information, etc. you have obtained and check results for publicized fraud warnings. Remember though, that not everything published on the internet is legitimate, so follow up with contacting Better Business Bureau and attorney general’s offices.
- Contact local law enforcement to let them know of the incident. If you are a victim, report it and have the matter investigated. Write down the case number and contact information of the investigator.
- File all related documentation. Throw nothing away.
- Always be suspicious of unsolicited advertisement.
- Research the information on the internet.
- Authenticate the contact information before contacting the solicitor.
- Check with local law enforcement and or the state attorney general’s office if you are suspicious.
- Be wary that any check received could be fraudulent, counterfeit, or non negotiable. Have your bank assure legitimacy regardless of the instructions of the solicitor.
- If you are a victim, have the matter investigated and file a report with the U.S. postal inspector’s office. Write down case and investigator contact information.
- File everything, never throw anything away.
Rural Route Delivery Protection
- Lock your mail box allowing a mail slot for deliveries.
- Send mail only from a secured postal box or the post office rather than relying on your rural route box, especially if it is out of sight of your residence.
- Consider renting a post office box from your local post office. This is the most secure method for protecting and receiving mail and can assist in preventing your physical address from becoming public record.
- When possible have financial mail such as bank and credit statements, blank checks and credit cards sent to a secured address rather than to your rural route mail box.
- Shred or burn anything received with your personal or financial information when you are done. Garbage cans and landfills provide opportunities for criminals to get your information.
Beware of Fraudulent Websites!
The FBI has issued a Public Safety Announcement warning consumers about fraudulent websites that criminals develop to look like official government websites but are not. These fraudulent websites are designed by criminals to get consumers to give up their personal information or collect fees. Read more about ways to avoid falling victim to this scheme: FBI PSA about Fraudulent Websites
It is said that anything can be found on the internet if a person is willing to take the time to explore the cyber universe of information. Because the internet is the major media vehicle used by most government, private, and corporate institutions throughout the world to float information with expedience and efficiency, a great deal of information related to your life is probably out there readily available to the general public. Some of the more common public records include:
- Court records
- County assessors records
- Geographic information systems (GIS) / map records
- Telephone directories
- Treasury records
- Newspaper and magazine archives
- Personal data sites such as Facebook and MySpace
Beyond these, there are unlimited research internet sites a person may subscribe to for purchasing specific information on a particular person. Even if limited information is available about you, criminals can gain access to your information based on information available on your friends, family, and associates. Sometimes the perpetrator is able to use this information directly for his/her scheme. Other times, the scam artist may contact the person through another scheme that may actually involve the victim’s unwitting participating.
Be selective in the information you publish on the internet. Protect your social security number; for example, you have the choice to use a Motor Vehicle Division assigned number on your driver’s license instead of your social security number. Select carefully the information you have printed on your checks. Contact agencies that publish public records on the internet and have your information removed where possible.
What are Fraudulent Schemes?
Fraudulent schemes can occur in a variety of forms. Some of the more common are:
- Lottery Scams. In these cases, the victim usually receives unsolicited notice that he/she has won a contest, drawing, or some other prize waiting to be claimed. The victim is instructed to transfer money to claim a prize, often lured by an illegitimate check written to the victim by the scammer in guise of a “no cost, no loss” assurance.
- Sales of Used Vehicles, Properties, Personal effects, etc. In these cases, the victim who is trying to sell something of significant value is scammed by the perpetrator who uses transfer of non-negotiable funds to lure the victim into fronting money for a false shipping or storage arrangement.
- Fraudulent Advertisements / Sales.In this scheme, the scammer offers an item or service for sale, never intending to deliver. These scammers often hide their true identity and develop a trust by not requiring full payment up front. They instruct the victim to deposit the money in a seemingly safe place, often using venues such as eBay, PayPal, or well known banking institutes. The victim loses the money, does not receive the goods, and the perpetrator disappears. Be especially wary of any request asking for transfer of money to a foreign country or foreign bank account.
- Fraudulent Business and Charity Requests. These scams often use phone, mail or internet solicitation to victimize people. The victim’s contribution is not applied to benefit the indicated purpose, or the victim’s personal information is used in an illegal way.
- Fraud Schemes by Covert Attachments to Legitimate Organizations. In this type of fraud, the scammer usually creates a document under the guise and appearance of being a legitimate appendage of a well known business. It is usually presented as an alert in the form of a questionnaire or demand for immediate action or additional information to gain access to your financial resources, accounts, or account codes / logins.
- Impersonation. The method usually used in this situation is a scammer calling the target and introducing himself as a person in authority, such as a security representative with a financial company, a law enforcement officer, a member of management with the corporation, etc. The scammer wants the victim to believe he is working to right a wrong or inquire into newly discovered suspicious activity involving the victim’s account. The goal is to gain specific and vital information through the victim’s cooperation.
- Pleas for Personal Hardship Relief.This usually occurs when you are personally contacted by a subject saying he/she is in need and asking for assistance. Often this is a haphazard contact on the local level and frequently is not against the law, unless there is a prohibitive ordinance against panhandling and gestures of this nature. Even though the money you provide may not be used for the implied purpose, this is not considered fraudulent activity but simply a violation of the understanding between the giver and the receiver.
- Door to Door Schemes. In this method, a person or persons canvasses your neighborhood as salesman or representatives of various organizations or businesses. The businesses implied often times are made up and the scammer may present documents, sample products and identification associated with the fraudulent cause. His primary goal is to gain an invitation into the residence and begin his pitch and to coerce you to either make a purchase or provide personal information.
If You Are a Fraud Victim
The most important message is to first and foremost seek to protect your personal and financial information in every circumstance. Routinely check your credit record. Thoroughly examine bank and credit statements upon receipt for evidence of suspicious activity. You may want to consider a fraud alert notification program which can help you track credit applications and stop those that are not legitimate. If you are the victim of fraud:
- Contact law enforcement and report the activity
- Obtain a copy contact your financial institute immediately
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report
- Close compromised accounts and ones opened without your consent
- Contact a major credit bureau to correct inaccurate information
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
- Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report
- Keep copies of all your paperwork related to the issue