Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Beware of Scams

 


Complaints regarding telephone scams and identity theft have risen exponentially over the past few years. The Sheriff’s Office receives calls from citizens three to four times a week regarding these offenses.

The most common complaint the Sheriff’s Office receives is in reference to telephone scams also known as “phishing”. These scams usually involve one or more perpetrators calling a victim and acting as representatives for a major corporation such as a bank or telecommunications company. The perpetrator typically advises the victim that there is a problem with their account and they must immediately verify personal information in order to prevent financial loss or closure of an account. The basic scheme has been the same but the presentation of the scam evolves over time. With each new presentation victims are taken until that scam has been widely reported and then it will evolve into a new presentation. No bank or private corporation will ever ask you for your date of birth, social security number or bank account information over the telephone.

Phishing is just one of many ways perpetrators obtain personal information to commit crimes such as identity theft. Most victims do not know they are a victim of identity theft until weeks, months or even years after the offense took place. Many people are also unaware that the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows them to request a free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, once every 12 months. In addition those agencies along with several private companies and banks also offer credit monitoring and identity theft support.

Take steps to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. Never give out personal information over the telephone. Limit the information you access while on a publicly accessible wifi connection. Do not use your credit/debit card on unsecured online sites. Change passwords to online accounts routinely and check your credit report often for any unusual activity or accounts.

Another common scam going around both online and over the telephone involves transferring money through the use of wire transactions (Western Union) or prepaid debit cards (Green Dot). These scams often involve winning a prize or money for which the victim is asked to prepay a fee or taxes through a wire transaction or purchase prepaid debit cards and sending pictures of the debit cards before the prize can be released.

A similar scam involves advertisements in periodicals or online sales sites (Craigslist, Facebook) in which the victim initiates the contact in response to the ad. The victim is then told to pay for the purchase through a wire transaction or prepaid debit card. The victim never receives the product they believed they purchased and can’t reach the seller.

Protect yourself from these scams keep in mind the old adage, if an offer seems too good to be true it probably is and you should steer clear. Do not purchase items from individuals online who you do not know and who are not willing to meet in person to make the exchange. Wire transactions can be claimed at any reciprocal transaction site in the world, not just at the destination where it is addressed. Giving out prepaid debit card information over the phone or online is the same as handing it to a person directly.

 

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