Identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity or personal information—such as your name, your driver’s license, or your Social Security number—without your permission to commit a crime or fraud.
Typically, the victim is led to believe they are divulging sensitive personal information to a legitimate business, sometimes as a response to an email solicitation to update billing or membership information, or as an application to a fraudulent Internet job posting.
Actions to Take if Scammed
- Check your credit report to ensure no one is trying to open credit using your credentials. The three major credit reporting companies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. This alert makes it harder for someone to open an account in your name because a business must verify your identity before it can issue credit. The alert stays valid for 90 days.
- Check your bank account and credit card statements for any unusual activity.
- Contact a financial institution directly if you think an account there may have been breached.
- Report the crime to your local police and the Federal Trade Commission.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them.
Protect Yourself: Common Scams to Avoid
Fake Check Scam
Fake checks drive many types of scams – like those involving phony prize wins, fake jobs, mystery shoppers, online classified ad sales, and others. In a fake check scam, a person you don’t know asks you to deposit a check – sometimes for several thousand dollars and usually for more than what you are owed – and wire some of the money back to that person. The scammers always have a good story to explain the overpayment – they’re stuck out of the country, they need you to cover taxes or fees, you need to buy supplies, or something else. But by the time your bank discovers you’ve deposited a bad check, the scammer already has the money you sent, and you’re stuck paying the rest of the check back to the bank.
Arrest Warrant Scam
Scammers create a fake Caller ID, which allows them to call you and make it appear that they are calling from a local police, sheriff or other law enforcement agency. They say there is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges. Of course, these scammers don’t take credit cards; only a Western Union MoneyGram, other wire transfer or pre-paid debit card will do.
In these types of scams, the perpetrator often calls a grandparent or other relative pretending to be their grandchild/niece/nephew, etc. The caller sounds upset and typically states there are only a few moments to talk. The caller may say that they have a cold if you don’t quite recognize their voice, or cue-in on feedback from the call to sound even more convincing. Their story generally follows a familiar line: they were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money to be wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release. Should you be targeted in this type of scam, there are actions you can take to protect yourself. Although the supposed grandchild may plead with you not to tell his/her family, you should immediately reach out to parents or other relatives to verify the information you receive. In the vast majority of cases, the real relative is safely where he or she should be: at work, school or home.
In lottery scams, scammers generally send an e-mail, fax, or letter to potential victims announcing that they have won a foreign lottery. The “winner” need only provide personal bank account information and pay a few fees up-front to collect his or her substantial winnings. The prize, of course, does not exist. No genuine lottery asks for money to pay fees or notifies it’s winners via email. Like other “too good to be true” scams, lottery scams offer the victim great wealth in exchange for paying taxes and other processing fees up-front.
Money Transfers, Wire Services, and Green Dot Money Paks
A common tool used by scammers is to convince you over the telephone or e-mail to pay using a wire transfer service such as Western Union or Money Gram. Scammers may also try to tell you to pay them using a Green Dot Money Pak card or similar pre-paid credit card purchased at a store. These legitimate services provide a convenient way to transfer or give money to someone else, but they should be used wisely.
Lower your chances of falling victim to fraud by checking out these eight things you should never do when using a money transfer service:
- Never wire money to people that you don’t know or haven’t met.
- Never wire money to pay for taxes or fees on lottery or prize winnings.
- Never purchase a pre-paid card at a store and give the number to someone over the phone who has called you requesting you do this.
- Never provide your banking information to people or businesses you don’t know.
- Never wire money in advance to obtain a loan or credit card.
- Never wire money for an emergency situation without verifying that it’s a real emergency.
- Never send funds from a check you received in the mail and deposited in your account until it officially clears—which can take weeks.
- Never wire a money transfer for online purchases.
Nigerian Letter or “419”
Named for the violation of Section 419 of the Nigerian Criminal Code, the 419 scam combines the threat of impersonation fraud with a variation of an advance fee scheme in which a letter, email, or fax is received by the potential victim. The communication from individuals representing themselves as Nigerian or foreign government officials offers the recipient the “opportunity” to share in a percentage of millions of dollars, soliciting for help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts. Payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees are often described in great detail with the promise that all expenses will be reimbursed as soon as the funds are out of the country. The perpetrators will often then use the bank account details to empty their victim’s bank account. Often, they convince the victim that money is needed up front, to pay fees or is needed to bribe officials.
Online Dating Scams
Dating and romance scams try to lower your defenses by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details. Scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on legitimate internet dating services. Once you are in contact with a scammer, they will express strong emotions for you in a relatively short period of time and will suggest you move the relationship away from the website, to phone, email and/or instant messaging. They will go to great lengths to gain your interest and trust, such as sharing personal information and even sending you gifts. Scammers may also take months, to build what seems like the romance of a lifetime and may even pretend to book flights to visit you, but never actually come. Once they have gained your trust they will ask you (either subtly or directly) for money, gifts or your banking/credit card details.
- You meet someone on an internet dating website and their profile picture or photograph looks different to their description or like it’s from a magazine.
- After gaining your trust, they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
- They continue to ask you for money.
Phishing and spoofing are somewhat synonymous in that they refer to forged or faked electronic documents. Spoofing generally refers to the dissemination of email which is forged to appear as though it was sent by someone other than the actual source. Phishing, often utilized in conjunction with a spoofed email, is the act of sending an email falsely claiming to be an established legitimate business in an attempt to dupe the unsuspecting recipient into divulging personal, sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account information after directing the user to visit a specified website. The website, however, is not genuine and was set up only as an attempt to steal the user’s information.
The IRS warns of a scam where potential victims are told to pay back taxes or fines or face dire consequences, including arrest, jail time, having their utilities shut off, having their driver’s licenses revoked, or deportation. The callers may be insulting or hostile in their attempts to scare their potential victims. In a twist to this scam, the callers may advise the intended victims they are entitled to a refund, but must give personal information or pay something first in order to get it. The IRS does not initiate taxpayer communications through email.
The Council of Aging (COA) warns of a scam to get personal medical information to falsely bill the government (Medicare). The impersonator uses the name of the COA director in town. They proceed to ask a few questions regarding the name of their doctor, type and list of medications prescribed, and the victim’s Medicare ID number. The Council on Aging reminds elders and their caregivers that no one will call and ask for a Medicare number. The COA suggests that if you receive a phone call of this nature, you simply hang up without revealing any information. If you have any doubts of the legitimacy of a phone call from Medicare, please hang up and contact Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE.
*Credit to the Falmouth Police Department for the information on this page