Identity Theft and Fraud
Identity thieves and Fraud can do a lot of damage to your financial wellbeing. They can go on spending sprees using your credit card, using your name and Social Security number, they can open new credit card accounts, they could give your name to the police if they get arrested. Fraud can open the door to identity theft by letting identity thieves know they have an easy target, plus giving them access to information that they need to steal your identity. Fraud and Identity theft is occurring in Kiowa County. While most citizens of Kiowa County seem to be aware about fraud issues in Kiowa County and have an idea about what to be careful about, some may not. The Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office has put this information on the web site to further educate the community about what to do if they fall victim to identity theft, as well as the different types of identity theft that occur more frequently in Kiowa County.
The Sheriff’s Office also has brochures and information regarding Fraud and Identity Theft available at the office.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways identity thieves can steal your identity, from sophisticated computer hacking to low-tech “dumpster diving” into your trash, to old-fashioned stealing your wallet or purse. There are ways you can minimize your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft, and steps you can take if you’ve already become a victim which will be covered below.
While there are no ways to absolutely guarantee you’ll never be a victim of identity theft, there are ways to minimize your risk. By following the “3 D’s” of identity protection, we can all make it more difficult for thieves to walk away with our identities. The “3 D’s” are Deter, Detect, and Defend; below are some specific steps you can take to minimize your risk.
- Shred paperwork with personal information and financial documents before you discard them.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if necessary; you can always ask to use another identifier.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you are sure who you are dealing with.
- Don’t use obvious passwords. Your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number – all are obvious passwords, and someone with a little information about you can usually figure these things out.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
- Credit reports contain information about you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history.
- There are three major nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – the law requires them to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it.
- www.AnnualCreditReport.com is a service created by these three companies: It is the only authorized site where you can order the free credit report you’re entitled to each year.
- When asking for your credit report, you may need to provide certain personal information, including your Social Security number and information about your monthly bills.
CREDIT REPORTS – FRAUD ALERTS
Placing a fraud alert on your credit reports tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make certain changes to your existing accounts. If you think you might be a victim of fraud, you will want to contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus and place a fraud alert.
The 3 consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient. It entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.
- To close your accounts, call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your knowledge. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask for written verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- The Federal Trade Commission or FTC is the federal consumer protection agency that helps law enforcement officials in their investigations.
- The information that can be found in the downloadable brochures above will have all the contact information for the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies and instructions on what to do if you become a victim.
Another type of fraud to be aware of occurs by telephone, mail, or on the internet. Scams! Most scams are variations of other methods of identity theft, so the most important thing is just to be aware of the scams. We’ll address the most common three types of scams that we’ve experienced in Kiowa County.
- Foreign Lottery: Caller calls you and says you’ve won the lottery! Great! Except you need to send money to cover insurance costs. Remember it’s illegal for you to win a foreign lottery, and you can’t win anything you didn’t enter. If you send money, the scammers will know they have a “live one” and you will just open yourself up to more fraud.
- It’s Me! Caller calls saying “It’s me and I’m in trouble” Usually caller is posing as a relative. This scam is usually targeted at Senior Citizens who might not know where their grandchildren are, caller poses as a grandchild or other relative. Sometimes will have partners acting as accomplices in other roles (posing as law enforcement, tow truck drivers, etc.). Verify you’re dealing with an actual family member before sending any money.
- Misrepresentation (Phone or Internet Phishing): Caller calls you and says they are representing a company you may have done business with. Callers might have certain information on you and be asking you to give more information. Unless you know for sure they are a valid company don’t ever give Date of Birth, Social Security Number or Credit Card Information. Usually this is a fishing expedition (which is why it’s called Phishing) for personal information that can be used to steal your identity or fraudulently use your credit cards.
- Foreign Lottery: You receive mail saying you’ve won a lottery, just like a phone scam. Again, it’s illegal for you to win a foreign lottery, and you can’t win anything you didn’t enter. If you send money, the perpetrator will know they have a “live one” and you will just open yourself up to more fraud.
- Things to look for: Foreign Postal Stamps and post marks, Different Addresses on Envelopes (Original Envelope Return Address, and Address on Envelope to send money in). A dead giveaway would be maybe an address in China on the original envelope and an address in Amsterdam on the money return envelope. Printed stamps and signatures to make documents look “more authentic.”
- Try and think about it in terms of a business, real lotteries are run by companies, companies have lawyers, lawyers (like everyone) work and make a living. If you really won the lottery – and lots of money – you would most likely be contacted by a lawyer and would probably receive a letter with a real signature of a real lawyer, or at least a real person, and you would not be charged taxes and fees before being able to claim your winnings.
MONEY ORDER SCAMS
This is the same type of scam that you may find on the internet, posing as work from home jobs, or maybe you’ve advertised an item for sale. Basically, any time you receive a money order or check that’s greater than the amount you asked for and you’re asked to cash it and send a portion back, DON’T.
- Money Orders: You receive a letter with money orders (or checks) in it, and you are asked to go to the bank and cash the money order, keep some as a fee, and send a portion back to the sender. Usually this may be preceded by some letters of introduction, or maybe you posted a for sale ad in the newspaper, or on the internet (eBay, Craigslist).
Usually the check or money order is fraudulent and forged. By the time it takes the bank to find out, money will probably have already changed hands and you will be left holding the bag for the entire amount. If the money orders or checks are not fraudulent, you may be involved in money laundering which is also illegal.
Everyone’s probably heard about the Nigerian E-Mail scam, a lot of Fraud is committed on the internet, some through E-mail, some through auction sites, and advertising sites, and even some through Job Listings. With a little bit of prevention these scams are not too hard to spot and avoid.
- eBay / Craigslist: Any time you’re buying or selling something on the internet you should be cautious. A common scam that you might see on sites like these is where you have an item for sale (usually a car – or other higher priced item), and a potential buyer offers you a check or money order for probably a few thousand more than you’re asking and asks you to send money back. This scam could also result from selling an item in a newspaper.
Like the money order / check scam this operates on basically the same principles. If someone contacts you with this type of offer, you should probably say “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Phishing is when someone makes a fake web site which looks exactly like sites you might do business on. Usually, the phisher sends you an e-mail saying they need to verify your account information, and the links in the email will take you to their fake web page (which looks like a real business page) where they want you to enter personal and financial information.
If you look at your web browser at the top you’ll see an address bar, the address in here is what you’re concerned with. Without clicking on any links in the e-mail, open another browser window or tab and go to the internet site of the company you do business with and write down the address. In most email programs now days you can simply put your cursor/pointer over links, and it will show the address at the bottom of the screen. If the links in the email do not match, don’t click on the links in the email. If you are really concerned that it might be valid, contact the company directly by going to their actual web site (not any links through email) and look for a “contact” or “contact us” button or link and contact the company. Probably the most important thing to remember about phishing is companies that you do business with on the internet are aware of these scams, and they will never ask you for personal information in this manner. If they need account information, they will contact you in another manner. You should still probably contact the company if you have any concerns.
Fortunately, most web browsers have automatic functions which you can set so they will warn if you click on a link going to a potential phishing site. Unfortunately, these are not fool proof and you still need to be cautious. The problem with clicking on a link in an email is it may also take you somewhere where you may get a virus or download a Trojan Horse program which can also be used to access your personal information.
If you get an email or a text message that asks you to click on a link or open an attachment, answer this question:
Do I have an account with the company or know the person who contacted me?
If the answer is “No,” it could be a phishing scam. Go back and review the advice in How to recognize phishing and look for signs of a phishing scam. If you see them, report the message and then delete it.
If the answer is “Yes,” contact the company using a phone number or website you know is real — not the information in the email. Attachments and links might install harmful malware.
If you think a scammer has your information, like your Social Security, credit card, or bank account number, go to IdentityTheft.gov. There you’ll see the specific steps to take based on the information that you lost.
If you think you clicked on a link or opened an attachment that downloaded harmful software, update your computer’s security software. Then run a scan and remove anything it identifies as a problem
- Viruses: Many sites may entice you with a game or some information you might be interested in. Most sites are fairly safe, but if a phisher were to send you an email with links to a site with a virus or a trojan horse they may be able to infect your computer and gain access to your personal information.
- Be aware of sites you go to, make sure you have antivirus software on your computer and that it’s up to date with virus definitions. A Trojan Horse is a virus, but it’s a special kind of virus that gives a hacker the ability to access your computer. Once they get in they may be able to get access to any information you have on your computer. If you have sensitive personal information on there (like most people) they may be able to get birthdates, social security numbers, and credit card information.
- While we’re on the subject of viruses through e-mail, let’s talk about email. A full discussion on e-mail and viruses is well beyond the scope of the information presented on this site, however there are some simple things you should be aware of.
There’s no way that you can ever completely safeguard yourself from viruses and malicious software, but by having a good antivirus program and being careful what web sites you go to you can remain very safe from viruses and malicious software. The Sheriff’s Office cannot recommend any particular software or service, there are several good free options available. A simple internet search should yield some choices of software, both free and that you might pay for.
- E-mail / Spam: If you are on the internet, you are most likely using E-mail in some form. We’re probably all aware of the ads and fake messages that one can receive. The important thing to remember is even by opening the E-mail it may be possible to get a virus.
- Most E-mail programs contain “SPAM filters” which are supposed to stop spam and should also stop viruses, and trojan horses by keeping you from clicking on them. However, spam filters don’t catch everything and some spam or virus emails can still get to your inbox. A good rule of thumb is to delete something without opening it if you don’t know who it’s from.
- Even if you have a good email program with spam filtering, you can still sometimes find yourself looking at a message that appears to be from someone you might know just by luck.
Finally, a quick note about job listings. If you happen to be looking on the internet or in ads for a work from home job, you might find listings about working from home. Some listings are perfectly valid, some are not, you just need to be careful and remember if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably not true. If you find one of these listings that you think you might be interested in, some of the same things to watch out for apply, if the company is in another country, it’s probably not a good idea.
- Job Listings: This can be another route that perpetrators use to gain access to either use you and your money or possibly to get sensitive information.
- Usually this is like the money order or check scams in that you are told you would be processing payments to other employees or something like that. You would get a money order or check and be asked to deposit in your bank, keeping some for yourself as your payment, and send the rest to someone else. Again, the money orders or checks will not be valid and by the time you and the bank find out, you will be out the total amount of money. If they are valid, again, you would be engaging in money laundering. It’s also possible as part of your employment you might be asked for dates of birth, and social security numbers.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Be Smart! Don’t let the horror stories about fraud and identity theft scare you. According to Consumer Reports, the worst-case scenario – where someone opens new credit card accounts or commits other crimes using your name, Social Security Number, or other information – is relatively uncommon. It’s happened to less than 1 percent of all U.S. households in 2005, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Justice. Half of that group resolved the problem, usually in less than a day to two weeks.
- What’s more, in most cases your liability is legally limited, and creditors or banks pay the direct losses not you (on credit card and identity theft).
- As pointed out above you can protect yourself and take all the steps to resolve any issues yourself, but there are companies out there that will help manage any identity theft issues you might be concerned about.
- Remember, you can do all this by yourself for free and you do not need to use any of these services. For example, you might notice that these services almost all list giving you copies of your credit reports at least once per year. As mentioned earlier in this presentation the credit bureaus are required by law to give you a copy of your credit report once per year upon your request.
Remember the Sheriff’s Office is a resource!
We are here to help you If you run into situations that you think might be fraudulent, or attempts to steal your identity. Feel free to contact us before you follow through on any dealings with suspect companies or individuals. Remember the old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t