When someone says robbery, we typically imagine a thief wielding a gun. Credit thieves are non-violent, but can be equally effective at their game. Their weapons of choice are the phone, the Internet and the automatic teller machine (ATM).
According to Javelin Strategy & Research, victims of credit theft report an average of $7,260 in fraudulent charges. These criminals don’t just rob victims of money; they can make off with their good names and damage their credit records.
An estimated 8.4 million Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. Protecting your identity is just as important as protecting your home. You would never go away for a day and leave your home unlocked. Pay equal attention to safeguarding your credit information.
If you are vigilant, you can stomp out credit frauds before they start. Use your wits, trust your instincts and bone up on how credit thieves operate. Contact Clearpoint for expert advice on preventing identity theft and tips on keeping your budget in order.
According to the Alliance Against Fraud in Telemarketing, Americans lose nearly $40 billion a year due to telemarketing fraud. Top phone scams involve the following:
- “Free” prize offers. If you have to pay anything (be it taxes, customs fees, shipping, etc.), it is not a free prize! Whenever something sounds too good to be true, it is definitely questionable. Decline the offer and end the call.
- Check out charities. Never make a donation over the telephone. You may be providing your credit card information to a crook who is pretending to work for a charity. When a charity calls you for a donation, ask them to send their request by mail. Legitimate charities are happy to do so. If you decide to donate, mail them a check.
- Investigate investments. Never discuss investment opportunities with a “cold caller” solicitor. You should only conduct this type of business with a company that you have selected and trust, based on your independent research. Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable, listen to your gut and hang up the phone!
Be proactive against telemarketing fraud. Join the “Do Not Call” List. You can eliminate most telemarketing calls to your home phone by signing up with the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry.
Phishing and Vishing Scams
Phishing occurs when scam artists send emails that appear to be from a bank or e-commerce organization. Typically, the message falsely claims that the consumer’s account has been compromised. The sender urges immediate action be taken to fix the problem. The consumer is told to click on a link within the email to start the process. Vishing occurs in the same manner; however, the recipient is directed to call a phone number to correct the problem. When they dial the number, they are prompted to give their bank account or credit card information over the phone.
You can help avoid these types of scams if you:
- Ignore hyperlinks. Never click on a link in an email that arrives, uninvited and unexpectedly. Doing so confirms your email address for the stranger or crook who sent the message. It will also send you to a fraudulent, “copycat” site, which may appear to very legitimate, but is designed to capture your account number. Never follow prompts to enter your personal information online.
- Exercise caution. Trust your instincts. People who end up being victimized typically admit that things “didn’t seem right” at the time. Be extra cautious if you see an email from your bank, asking for your account information, your password, your mother’s maiden name, or any other private information. Your bank already has your account numbers on file and private information should never be sent in an email! Delete the email.
Be proactive when you smell a “phish.” If an email message claims to be from your bank or credit card company, call your bank directly. Use the telephone number that appears on your monthly account statement, not the phone number listed in the email. Report phishing or spoofed emails to the Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center and to the company that is being spoofed.
The vast majority of ATM transactions are conducted safely, without a hitch. There are crooks, however, who use ATMs as a means to defraud consumers.
A particularly ingenious method involves the scam artist inserting a plastic sleeve into the ATM card slot. He then waits for a customer to use the ATM. When the customer inserts his or her card into the machine and enters the PIN, the machine is unable to read the card and does not recognize the number. The card is caught inside the plastic sleeve. When the card isn’t returned, the customer assumes it was “eaten” by the machine and walks away. The scam artist retrieves the plastic sleeve out of the ATM, along with the person’s debit or credit card.
To avoid being taken advantage of while using an ATM:
- Be aware of your surroundings. As you approach the ATM, glance around for any suspicious people lurking nearby. If you see someone who doesn’t appear to belong there, find another ATM. Only use ATMs that are in well-lit areas. If the area does not feel safe, look for another ATM.
- Inspect the ATM. Before inserting your card, check the ATM to see if anything looks out of place or appears to be broken. If the machine looks tampered with, visit another ATM or go inside the bank to withdraw your funds.
Be proactive if your ATM transaction goes awry. If your card is stuck inside the machine, immediately notify the bank or your credit card company and ask them to cancel the card. If it is during business hours, go inside the bank and ask a bank representative to access the machine to retrieve your card.
Remember, be protective of your personal information and be proactive when you suspect something suspicious. That is the only way to stomp out credit frauds and avoid becoming a victim.
For additional tips on preventing identity theft or learning ways to get your credit report back in order if you have become a victim, contact our consumer credit counseling experts at Clearpoint.