These days, savvy criminals can get your personal information in many ways, including stealing your mail, hacking into your computer, stealing your credit cards, and even going through your trash. The risk of becoming a victim of identity theft is everywhere.
“ID theft prevention should always be on an individual’’s mind,” said Matthew Fehling, president/CEO of the BBB. “When it comes to protecting your identity, an ounce of prevention is worth far more than the amount of money, energy and agony that goes into getting your life back to normal after your financial and personal information has been stolen.”
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have had their identities stolen this year. Victims may not be aware of the theft until they open and review their credit card or bank statements, check their credit reports or are contacted by a debt collector for a debt they didn’t create.
According to the Better Business Bureau, there were five top identity theft scams in 2010.
• Social networking scam: Identity thieves hijack social networking site accounts and post status updates stating that the person they’re pretending to be is in trouble. Frequently, these posts indicate that the person is stranded overseas after being robbed, and asks for money to be wired. If you see such a post, contact the person on whose profile it was posted to determine if the message is legitimate. Chances are, it isn’t.
• Telephone denial of service attack scam: Criminals will tie up a phone line with hundreds of calls, while they loot bank accounts. As a result, the banks can’t contact consumers to verify the transactions being made. Never give your personal information to an unsolicited caller or via e-mail, and change your online banking and automated telephone system passwords frequently. Check your account balances often, and protect your computer with the latest virus protection and security software. If you are victimized in this way, contact your bank and telephone provider, and file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
• Renter’s scam: Criminals pose as homeowners listing the personal information of the real homeowner, asking potential tenants to fill out applications that require personal and financial information, as well as money that is to be sent to an overseas address. The criminal then disappears, leaving the victim homeless and broke. Be sure you research any property owner thoroughly before providing your information or money. Never wire money overseas.
• Charity scam: Criminals pose as representatives for a legitimate-sounding charity, and ask for money. Many set up fake Web sites and send e-mails requesting sensitive information like Social Security numbers and passwords, allowing them to steal a victim’s identity. Before making any donation, check with the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance at www.bbb.org/charity.
• Job scam: Work at home scams allow criminals to recruit victims to engage in illegal activities such as money laundering. These scams often let victims know they’ve been hired, and then forms are forwarded to the new hire to be filled out, providing personal information. Victims are often asked to deposit checks, which are fake, and then asked to wire funds. To avoid this scam, be sure you have legitimate contact information from any potential employer. Contact the company directly to verify the request for your personal information, and never wire any funds.
If you are victimized by any of these scams, contact your local Better Business Bureau and file a report. You should also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police or sheriff’s department.