There is no shortage of scams circulating right now designed to separate you from your money.
This is done in a variety of ways. In one, a caller claims to be a family member detained in Canada (or some African country) who needs money wired to a certain location to facilitate the release. Some seniors who may be hard of hearing don’t recognize the voice but are afraid of letting the family member down.
Then there is the check-cashing scheme where you are asked to send account numbers so large sums of money can be deposited into your account. You are asked to send the money back while keeping a percentage for your trouble.
Sounds good, but it’s not. Once you send your account numbers, you can be victimized.
Some thieves obtain your personal information by rummaging through the trash looking for receipts, so do shred important papers before discarding them. Other thieves steal mail such as credit card offers and fill them out in your name, then run up high bills before you are even aware of it.
Or they may pose as a legitimate businessperson or government official on the phone. Remember, neither your bank nor Social Security will ever call you and ask for your personal information. If they are legitimate, they already will have it.
Once a crook has your personal information in hand and new credit cards have been issued, the bills for which have been routed to a different address so you never see them, the shopping and cash withdrawals begin.
There are several ways to tell whether you are a victim of identity theft, including being denied credit unexpectedly, receiving calls from debt collectors and companies with whom you do not do business, or seeing a reduction in mail received, which could indicate that someone has filed a change of address on you.
There are steps you can take to protect yourself.
Contact your creditors if your bill does not arrive in your mailbox on time. It could signal that someone has hijacked your account and changed the billing address. Of course, the perpetrator is not going to actually pay the bill.
Conceal personal information in your home, especially if you have lots of company or workers. You just never know for whom the temptation would be too much.
Memorize passwords and PINs. Use your debit card as a credit card. The money still comes directly out of your account, but you won’t need to enter your PIN into the swipe machine. Also, get creative with passwords and don’t rely on maiden names and birthdays.
Get a copy of your credit report from one of the three credit bureaus and check it for errors. If you’d like a list of the bureaus and their phone numbers, call your bank and ask that they send you one.
In Maine, people can receive one free credit report per year, so be careful of companies that attempt to charge you for your report. For more information, go to the Consumer Credit Protection page on the Maine.gov website. There is also a six-page booklet titled “Consumer Guide to Credit Reports” that is available for download.
If you find inaccuracies in your credit report, act immediately. Contact the credit bureau. As always, do not give out personal information over the phone or Internet unless you are certain how it will be used.
Beat these thieves at their own game by staying informed on the latest scams; by being careful and diligent; and by notifying the authorities immediately if you think you have been defrauded.
Even if you are unsure, call the police anyway. It is better to alert them early than to wait and have an even bigger mess on your hands.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email email@example.com or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.