Scams are designed to either steal your money now, or steal your identity in order to steal your money later. Scammers have all kinds of techniques to collect personally identifiable information.
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 bank accounts, obtain services and sell 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 report and recover from 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. 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: 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.
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.
Secure personal documents at 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.
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 supposedly a tech support call, an offer for a free cruise or a charity plea, they may really be after your personal information.
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.
BBB’s Scam Tracker provides information on scams and tips to protect yourself and your business online at BBB.org.
Marybeth Stevens has been the president of BBB Paso del Norte since December 2016. She is a graduate of Leadership Texas 2015.