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Scams are designed to either steal your money now, or steal your identity now in order to steal your money later. Scammers have all kinds of techniques to collect personally identifiable information (PII). Once they have it, they can effectively become you, using your identity to open accounts, file taxes, or obtain medical coverage.
How Identity Theft Scams Work:
With enough information about you, a scammer can take over your identity and commit a wide range of crimes. Scammers can make false applications for loans and credit cards, withdraw money from your bank account, or obtain services. They can also sell your information to others.
Identity theft may take a long time to detect. Scammers typically ensure that bills and statements for new accounts are not sent to your address. You may not notice what is happening until the scammer has already inflicted substantial damage on your assets, credit, and reputation.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, it is very important to act quickly. In the U.S., visit www.identitytheft.gov for information on how to stop and recover from identity theft. In Canada, the Anti-Fraud Centre has information on identity theft.
Tips to Spot This Scam:
Look for unexplained withdrawals, charges, and accounts. Review your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Look for unfamiliar charges, accounts, or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; one tip-off for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Debt collectors may call you about debts that aren’t yours. You can also set up automatic alerts on your accounts so you are notified every time a transaction is made.
Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only free crediting reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know fairly quickly if something is wrong. In Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides information on requesting a free credit report.
Protect Yourself Against This Scam:
Be careful with your personal information. Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity it is. Make sure you shred any documents that have your bank account information, Social Security/Social Insurance number, or other personal information. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms and billing statements from utilities and phone service. Cut up expired credit and debit cards, making sure to cut through the numbers, before you dispose of them.
Secure personal documents at home. If you have roommates, employ outside help or have contractors in your home, make sure personal documents are in a safe place – preferably under lock and key – and not lying out in plain sight. Minimize personal information on checks. You don’t need to include your Social Security number, drivers license or phone number.
Be alert to phishing attempts. Scammers are sophisticated and their phishing attempts may come via email, text, social media message, even phone calls. Be suspicious of any unsolicited communication asking you for personal information. Whether it’s a supposed tech support call, an offer for a free cruise, or a charity plea, they may really be after your personal information. Click here for BBB’s tips on Phishing and on Tech Support Scams .
Protect Yourself Against Hackers:
- Use strong passwords. Avoid using your birth date, child’s name or birth date, mother’s maiden name, the last four digits of your Social Security number, or really obvious ones like “123456” or “password.”
- Change your passwords frequently
- Use different passwords for each online account or website
- Be careful about the types of information you share online, especially if it is information that could be used to get past security questions on your accounts (things like your first car, first pet’s name, city where you were born)
- Shred outdated documents with personal information. While you should keep your tax returns forever, you should shred supporting documents for your tax returns after seven years. After one year, shred bank statements, pay stubs, and medical bills (unless you have an unresolved insurance dispute). Shred utility bills a month after they have been paid.
If a company you do business with has experienced a data breach, BBB has tips on what to do if your personal data is compromised and what to do if your credit or debit card is compromised.
To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker
To learn more about how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams”
BBB St. Louis contributed to this tip.
Last Reviewed: March 28, 2018