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Identity Theft

Today's scammers don't have to go dumpster-diving to get your personal information, as they have found a more sophisticated way to lure unsuspecting victims - they go 'phishing.' Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive unsuspecting consumers into disclosing their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, and other sensitive information. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), phishers send an e-mail or pop-up message that claims to be from a legitimate business or organization, and the message usually asks that the recipient "update" or "validate" his/her account information.
The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, suggests these tips to help consumers avoid being hooked by a phishing scam:

  • Don't respond to e-mail or pop-up messages that asks for personal or financial information, as legitimate companies don't ask for this information via e-mail.
  • Never e-mail personal or financial information because e-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization's Web site, look for indicators that the site is secure.
  • Be sure to review credit card and account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges.
  • Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date.
  • Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from e-mails you receive, regardless of who sent them.

Consumers should immediately report suspicious activity to the FTC. If a consumer receives a spam that is phishing for information, they should forward it to spam@uce.gov. Consumers who suspect they've been scammed, should file a complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC's Identity Theft Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ to learn how to minimize the risk of damage from ID theft.
More information on how to prevent Identity Theft...

  • Order a copy of your credit report from each of three major credit reporting agencies every year.
  • Use a shredder to dispose of all important financial paperwork.
  • Do not carry unneeded identification cards in your wallet such as Social Security card.
  • Examine your checkbook periodically to make sure no one has stolen any checks.
  • Put all important identification papers, including Social Security cards, passbooks, old bank statements, mortgage papers, and copies of old tax returns, in a safe box.
  • Guard your Social Security number, driver's license number and other personal information carefully and find out how it will be used before revealing it to anyone.

What to do if you're a victim...

  • Contact the fraud departments of each one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742), and TransUnion (800-680-7289). Ask that a 'fraud alert' be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
  • Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been accessed or opened fraudulently. Close these accounts.
  • File a report with your local police or the police where the identify theft took place. Get a copy of the report in case the credit union, credit card company or others need proof of the crime.

ID Theft Hot Lines...

  • Federal Trade Commission: (877) 438-4338
  • Social Security Administration: (800) 269-0271
  • Reduce the number credit card offers you receive: (888) 5OPT OUT (they will ask for your Social Security number)

Source: 'ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name,' Federal Trade Commission

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