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Common Identity Theft Scams

These are some of the most common ways crooks and con artists will try to steal your personal financial information:

Phishing. This occurs when online scammers send you e-mails disguised as legitimate organizations in hopes that you will provide your personal information. The e-mail may warn you that access to your account will be terminated if you don't confirm your bank account number. Other scam e-mails offer you big riches if you provide your account information, while others will ask you to reconfirm your payment details for an order you may (or may not have) placed. Be very suspicious of these e-mails, as phishing crooks are clever and will often use the exact logos of big-name companies with which you may do business, such as a major retailer or financial institution. Never click through a link on any e-mail unless you personally know the sender.

IRS refund. Another popular phishing scheme has to do with the IRS. You receive an e-mail telling you that the IRS has a refund for you. All you have to do is click through the e-mail and provide your bank account information. The IRS reminds taxpayers that the only way it will contact you is by a letter sent to your home address.

Foreign lottery scam. You may receive an e-mail, letter or check telling you that you've won a foreign lottery-even if you didn't buy a ticket. All you have to do to collect the money is to provide your bank account number or deposit the check, so that the funds can be deposited. Of course, this is a scam, and by providing information or depositing the check, you are giving access to sensitive financial information.

Hot tips from cold calls. While phony telemarketing offers have become less of a threat with the government's Do Not Call list, you may still get cold-called. If someone calls you with a hot investing tip and you don't know who it is, it's likely a scam.

Calls to "confirm" your personal information. Remember, your bank will never call and ask you for your full account numbers. And you should be wary of anyone calling to ask you to confirm your PIN number or the three- or four-digit security code on the front or back of your credit card, unless you're sure it's a trusted source.

Medical identity theft. Be careful about the people with whom you share your medical history. When you go to the doctor, keep an eye out that records are kept in a secure area. Don't provide your Social Security number unless there is a good reason to do so. Ask your insurance company to give you a new card that doesn't have your Social Security number on it.

Fake jury duty. Someone calls to tell you that you missed jury duty and he or she needs to confirm your personal information. Because you think it is the court calling, you may be more likely to confirm your information and provide additional information.

Child identity theft. One of the fastest growing segments of identity theft is the stealing of a child's Social Security number, name and other identifying information. Often, it is a relative or a close friend of the child's parents who steals the information to set up new credit or bank accounts. You may not know there is a problem until you try to get your child a driver's license, open up a checking account for him or her, or apply for a student loan. You can pull a child's credit history once he or she turns 13, and you should do that annually once your kids are teenagers.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Avoid Getting Ripped Off

The best way to avoid getting ripped off is to make sure you're always in control of your money and personal financial information. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Ask for a call-back number. If someone calls and says he or she is from your bank, credit card company, doctor's office or another place with which you do business, tell the person you're too busy to talk and ask for a phone number to call him or her back. If the individual says, "I'll call you back at a more convenient time," then hangs up, you can then call the doctor's office, bank or credit card company and ask if they are trying to reach you for any reason.
  • Report the scam to the company in question. If it turns out that no one at the bank, credit card company or doctor's office called you, you'll know someone tried to pull a fast one. Ask for the department that monitors fraud and tell them what happened.
  • Report the scam to the FTC. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) won't investigate individual complaints, it does catalog them and look for trends and large-scale fraud. You can file a complaint at ftc.gov. If the fraud involves the IRS (such as someone pretending to be from the IRS or if it involves children), you can call the Treasury Department directly to file a complaint.
  • Hang up. If you don't want to get ripped off, the easiest thing to do is to decline to give any personal information over the telephone to anyone. If someone hits you up for a contribution to a charity, ask them to mail you information instead.
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