Beware: Common Identity Scams

March 1, 2007

U.S. citizens lost $680 million to identity theft scams in 2005, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel database.

  • Tax audit scare. With an audit hanging over your head, would you say no to the Internal Revenue Service? That’s what scammers are counting on when they call and ask you to verify information on your tax return or complete a questionnaire requesting personal info. Lesson: Never give out critical info, such as your Social Security number, over the phone. If you do get a call, call back to verify the request, then ask for any inquiry in writing. The IRS generally notifies taxpayers by mail, not phone or email.
  • The cost of civic duty. One of the new identity theft scams reported by the FBI involves a call from a “court employee” informing you that you’ve been called for jury duty and asking you to call a certain number and verify your Social Security number. According to the FBI, those who refuse are threatened with a fine. Lesson: If you do get a request for personal info, never call back to a number provided. It could be a front. Instead, look up the appropriate number in this case your local court clerk then call and ask whether such a request has been made.
  • Yet another bank merger. A favorite phishing scam is an email informing you that your account has been transferred to a new branch of your actual bank, and that the bank needs you to complete a little paperwork on a click through form. Lesson: With a little programming knowledge, a scammer can create a Web site that looks and feels like your bank’s. Call your bank to verify. And it’s best to go in person to fill out any confidential forms.
  • Someone stole my credit card. Be suspicious if you get a call from a customer service person questioning unusual spending on your card and asking to verify your account number. Although credit card companies do provide this service, they should have your card number. Lesson: In scams like this, you must guard not only your account number but also the security code number on the back of your card. That number, which is intended as a preventive against fraudulent chargers by phone, will give scammers access to your credit.
  • Charity begins at home. Many legitimate nonprofit organizations solicit donations over the phone, and many prefer to get a credit card number so that donors don’t back out on pledges. Lesson: Giving out your credit card number gives hackers instant access to your account and may be a leverage for getting other critical information. Make donations by check. That will give you an easy record for tax purposes.
  • I’m just trying to pay and get out of here. In a retail store, a scam artist using a cell phone will often call a store employee while your sale is being completed and, pretending to be store security, ask the clerk to read your credit card or driver’s license number over the phone. Lesson: Ask to get your ID and credit card back immediately and call store security.
  • Getting too chatty on MySpace. As you’re talking to a contact on a social networking site, a seemingly casual question could come up about such personal information as your birthday, your mother’s maiden name, or your pet’s name. Lesson: Asking what astrological sign you are is one thing, but asking about dates or names that too often are used as computer passwords should be a red flag.
  • Free credit report. An email encourages you to take advantage of your legal rights to receive a free credit report annually. You do have such rights, but initiate the request yourself through one of the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian, or Transunion. Lesson: Many of the free offers on the Web are scams of one type or another. As grandma said, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

Source:Identity Theft Research Center ( )