There is no foolproof way to protect ourselves from all attempts to get hold of our personal information and money, but if we look at scam statistics from 2015, we see a pattern of activity that we can avoid for the most part.
Consumer fraud is perpetrated through email, websites, over the telephone and at your front door. Many of these schemes involve impostors pretending to be with a government agency, collection company, public utility, police department, court system or financial institution. In all of these schemes, the criminals use fear effectively to get us to divulge personal or financial information or send money through an unsecured payment system.
BBB Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens & Northeast Georgia has a Top 10 list of resolutions to prevent ID theft and beyond:
Don’t be pushed into action – Just because someone looks or sounds official doesn’t mean they are. Criminals hope we will be frightened into letting down our guard, and that tactic often works. If you receive an unsolicited call or email that threatens legal action, ignore it. The top scam of 2015 was the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) impostor ruse. The IRS and utilities, for example, will never call to demand payment or personal information by telephone or email. The agencies will contact you by mail, and will never threaten to have you arrested or attempt to shake you down for an immediate payment.
Don’t be greedy – Many swindles are designed to appeal to our desire to get something for free. These include phony sweepstakes, prizes, gifts and “inheritances.” These dupes commonly involve paying in advance to collect the money. This sort of activity also applies to websites with unrealistically low prices for top-shelf merchandise.
Take control of your telephone – A significant portion of criminal consumer activity involves telephone calls. Unfortunately, caller ID can no longer be considered reliable, so unless you recognize the telephone number, the best tactic is to let the call go to voice mail. In some cases, the caller may even have the last four digits of your Social Security Number or some other piece of personal data. That information does not mean the caller is legitimate.
Resolution # 4
Be proactive rather than reactive – Instead of responding to a charitable appeal over the telephone or at the front door, find a charity of your choice and make a donation through its website or by telephone, but only after verifying its contact information. Beware of charities whose names are similar to established organizations, but with a slight variation in spelling. Before making a donation, visit BBB’s charity arm, the BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA) at give.org/.
Don’t do business at your front door – Whether the visitor is selling siding, magazines, yard services, home security, contracting work or any other product or service, ask to see identification and any printed material they can provide. Watch out for signs of high-pressure sales tactics. These include a “One time only” discount or anything else that encourages you to sign a contract or give out payment information on the spot. Don’t allow door-to-door salespeople into your home. Aside from personal risks, the individual might be trying to case your home for a future robbery.
Check with BBB – Start with trust at your Better Business Bureau when you are looking for a goods or services provider. BBB Business Reviews will tell you about other consumers’ experiences with a given business, whether it has a solid marketplace record and the numbers and sorts of complaints submitted by consumers. You also may choose a provider from our Accredited Business Directory. Our website also has all of the tips and information you need to make educated decisions.
Visit BBB Scam Tracker – You will find Scam Tracker in the “Get Consumer Help” section at bbb.org/atlanta. Its interactive map will show you what sort of schemes are being reported across the country and in your neighborhood. You can add to the Scam Tracker database by clicking the “Report a scam” button. No personal information is required.
Resolution # 8
Read the fine print – Whether you are signing-up for an introductory discount offer or hiring a professional, familiarize yourself with all terms and conditions. Those disclosures offer important information on the length of an offer, how to opt-out of having your information shared with third parties and how much you can expect to pay for services when the discounted period is over.
If you don’t know the sender, delete the email – That includes email with authentic-looking logos, attachments and links, any one of which can install dangerous software on your computer without you knowing.
Resolution # 10
Secure your computer – That means applying software updates, most of which are used to close security loopholes. In addition, create strong passwords that contain at least one upper case letter, a number and a symbol. Most important, it is best not to use the same password for multiple sites.
Another worthwhile resolution for the New Year is to share this sort of information with your family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Education is the key to protecting yourself from fraud.