According to a January 2006 Federal Trade Commission report, there were 686,863 reported cases of fraud and identity theft in the U.S. last year, which cost consumers and businesses over $682 million. Perpetrators used whatever private information they could to access victims' credit cards, bank accounts, telephone service and other personal funds or services. Two common methods used to acquire such private information are "courtesy" phone calls and "notice" e-mails. The following simple tips should help you avoid falling prey to these devious tactics:
"Courtesy" Calls. If someone calls purporting to be from a governmental agency, a credit card company or any other business, and asks for personal information, turn the tables on them ask them to recite your information. If they are legitimate, they should have all of your information in front of them. If that causes a "stand-off", then give in, but initially provide inaccurate information. If they accept the false information as true and continue on, then you know that they are acquiring information, not verifying it. Hang up immediately.
E-Mail "Requests for Information" or "Notices Regarding Your Account". If you use e-mail, you've probably received an e-mail purporting to be from Amazon.com, e-bay or Paypal telling you that your account has been placed on "hold" and requesting that you "immediately" confirm or update your information to avoid account closure or some other penalty. While these e-mails look very authentic, never click on any links or enter any personal information. Instead, close the e-mail. If you think the e-mail may be legitimate, go to the website itself, log-in, and look for any notices posted to your account. It's a good bet you won't find any. You can always contact the company directly as well.
General Rules. As a general rule, do not give personal identifying information over the telephone or the Internet unless you initiated the contact. Finally, one of the best ways to avoid becoming the victim of identity theft is to periodically review your credit report (see the next article).