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
- Keep your financial records in order. Look at bank statements and bills as soon as they arrive, and report any discrepancies or suspicious activity like an unauthorized withdrawal or charge.
- 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 card, 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.
- Use unusual passwords and keep them in a secure place.
- Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers (www.optoutprescreen.com) and sign up for Do Not Call Lists (www.donotcall.gov or call 1-800-382-1222).
- Check your credit report for accuracy at least once a year. Check out our Control Credit and Debt page for details on how to access your report for free and correct negative information.
IDENTITY THEFT: The FTC created a special clearinghouse to help you report and recover from identity theft. You can file a report, get a recovery plan and resources to put your plan into action. Examples of identity theft include:
- Someone opened an account or filed taxes in your name
- Bogus charges on your accounts
- Notice of data breach involving your personal information
- Someone stole the identity of your child
- Used your information to get medical services
Visit www.identitytheft.gov/Steps or call 1-877-ID-THEFT to learn more, receive a booklet and start the process. They will assist you to file a report, receive an affidavit to share with creditors, put fraud alerts and/or security freezes on your credit report, stop debt collectors from trying to collect debts you don’t owe, contact account holders and more.
Telephone and E-Mail Solicitations
- Be wary of requests to “update” or “confirm” personal information, especially your Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers, date of birth or mother’s maiden name.
- 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.
- The U.S Government, your bank or financial institution and credit card companies will NEVER ask you to verify your information over the phone or in an email. Even when it looks legitimate, it is not!
- It’s not impolite to say “no” –it’s smart!
Protect Your Home and Property
- Foreclosure prevention companies offer to solve all of your problems for a fee, but HELP IS FREE! Local, professional agencies are available to help you take steps to prevent foreclosure at no charge. See our Buying & Keeping A Home page for details.
- Before you hire a contractor, ask family and friends for recommendations. Ask the contractor for references from their customers. Contact the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List, and always be sure to obtain more than one estimate. Read everything carefully before you sign, and don’t be rushed.
Easy Money, Easy Credit & Every Day a New Scam
- Assume that any offer that “sounds too good to be true” – especially one from a stranger or an unfamiliar company – is probably a fraud.
- Work at home business offers don’t pay off – be very careful. Get everything in writing (total costs to you, who you will pay, etc.). Verify the company with the Better Business Bureau and the State Office of Consumer Protection.
- If you receive an investment offer, get all information in writing and make sure the agent is registered with the SEC, FINRA and/or the WI Department of Financial Institutions. See the Building Personal Wealth page for a list of resources.
- Offers to erase your debt OR give you a new credit identity may be tempting, but correcting negative credit information can be done by you. See the Control Credit and Debt page for information on how to do this and reputable agencies that can provide advice and support to repair your credit.
- Any stranger who needs your help and “just needs your account information” is NOT going to give you any money. This scam seeks to access your personal identity and accounts.
- 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 scholarship. 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 the Better Business Bureau.
SCROLL DOWN for a list of resources that can assist if you think you may be the victim of a scam or fraud.