Be Careful Out There: Scams, Fraud and Identity Theft
Do you think the phrases “Easy money,” “Guaranteed Income,” or “Free, just pay shipping and handling” sound too good to be true? That’s because they probably are! Most scams, fraud and identity theft schemes promise easy money, prizes or a debt free life in exchange for upfront money or personal information. Fraudsters are masters of persuasion and try to get you to buy on impulse so that you don’t think the offer through. Don’t be rushed into any decisions or give away your money and information until you have gotten the facts about who they are and what you are getting into. Spend time and save your money.
Protect Your Personal Information and Identity
- Don’t provide your credit card, bank account or Social Security numbers to any unknown caller.
- Only carry essentials in your wallet – leave your social security number, credit cards you won’t be using and other personal account information at home in a safe place. Don’t carry your PIN number in your wallet.
- Shred documents with account numbers and personal information on them.
- Opt out! Sign up for Do Not Call lists (www.donotcall.gov) or call (800) 382-1222. For the Wisconsin Do Not Call Registry: https://nocall.wisconsin.gov/web/registration.asp
- Check your credit report for accuracy once a year. Go to the Credit & Debt page for more details.
- If you suspect that your personal information has been stolen, file a police report and contact the Wisconsin Consumer Information Hotline at (800) 422-7128.
Telephone and E-Mail Solicitations
- DO NOT provide personal information unless you made the call yourself. Ask for all company information in writing, including address and phone number. Check out the company first with the Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org or (800) 273-1002.
- The US Government, your bank or financial institution and credit card companies will NEVER ask you to verify your information over the phone or in an e-mail. Even if it looks like a legitimate request, it’s not!
- Use virus and spyware protection software and firewalls on your computer. Be sure to update them! Use unusual passwords and keep them in a secure place.
- It’s not impolite to say “no” – it’s smart!
Easy Money, Easy Credit
- Work at home business scams usually don’t pay off. If you are tempted, be very careful. Get everything in writing – total costs to you, who will pay you, etc. Verify the company with the Better Business Bureau and the State Office of Consumer Protection.
- Investment schemes guarantee great returns with no risk. All investing involves risk. Get all of the information in writing and make sure the investment and agent are registered with the SEC, FINRA and/or the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
- Offers to erase your debt OR give you a new credit identity may be tempting, but no one can erase your bad credit or legitimately remove any correct negative information. Anything that should be done can be done by you. See below for reputable agencies that will provide you with advice and support to repair your credit.
Protect Your Home and Property
- Foreclosure prevention companies offer to solve all of your problems for a fee. HELP IS FREE! Reputable agencies are available to help you take steps to prevent foreclosure at no charge. See below for local agencies that can help.
- Before you hire a contractor, ask family and friends for recommendations and ask the contractor for references from their customers. Contact the Better Business Bureau and always be sure to obtain more than one estimate. Read everything carefully before you sign and don’t be rushed.
Everyday a New Scam…
- Any stranger who needs your help and just needs your account information is NOT going to give you any money. This scam seeks access to your bank account information, your personal identity and your money.
- Lottery prize notifications are not given over the phone, in the mail, or in an e-mail. You should never pay a fee to receive any prize or award – especially for a contest you never entered. If you have to pay, it’s not a prize.
- “Free except for shipping and handling” is a method for getting your bank account information.
- Fake checks look legitimate, but if you deposit them and start using the money you will be liable when the check bounces.
- Giving someone money won’t guarantee that they will find you a job or a scholarship that will bring you money and improve your life. Check out all offers with the Better Business Bureau.
- Travel opportunities generally have hidden costs that are more than the trip is worth.
- Bogus charities often use names that sound familiar. Ask for written information and check the charity at www.guidestar.org and with the Better Business Bureau.
Resources: Protect Yourself from Scams, Fraud and Identity Theft
- If you have been the victim of a scam, contact your local police department, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Consumers League Fraud Center. Contact your credit card company and bank if your account information has been stolen.
- The Better Business Bureau provides information on companies and scams. Contact them before you give anyone your money at (800) 273-1002 or visit www.bbb.org.
- The State of Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions provides information on investment advisors and securities at www.wdfi.org or by calling (608) 261-9555.
- The SEC (www.sec.gov) and FINRA (www.finra.org) provide safe and reliable investment information.
- The Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection can give you information on identity theft. Visit them at
http://datcp.wi.gov/Consumer/Office_of_Privacy_Protection/index.aspx. or call (800) 422-7128.
- Foreclosure Assistance is available through non-profit counseling agencies that provide FREE, professional help.
Visit www.findaforeclosurecounselor.org for the name of an authorized agency near you.
- For help with your credit, visit www.creditcounselingwi.org or call (414)482-8801.
- Not sure who to call? Call the Milwaukee Public Library Ready Reference at (414) 286-3011 for referrals and information.