It’s not always easy to spot con artists. They invade your home through the telephone, computer, and mail; advertise in well-known newspapers and magazines; and come through your door. Most people think they’re too smart to fall for a scam, but the opposite is true.
The National Consumer League’s National Fraud Information Center reported that from January to September 2005, online auctions accounted for 42 percent of all complaints received. Far worse, the average loss was an astounding $1,129. The loss to consumers from identity theft was $5 billion in 2004, with an average loss of $400, $1,440 if the crime was committed online.
One particularly insidious type of crime preys on the goodwill of the American public: charity fraud, which increases at times of national tragedies and natural disasters. (According to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, Americans gave $200 billion to charity in 2000.) Anyone can fall victim to these crooks: Almost without fail, they’re well-mannered, friendly, and helpful—at least at first.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, there were almost ten million incidents of identity theft in the United States in 2004 at a cost of $5 billion to consumers.
Victims report spending 30 hours, on average, cleaning up after an identity crime at an average cost of $500.
It’s in the newspapers every day and on the news every night. People worry that someone will run up charges on their credit card or fleece their bank account while their back is turned. There is reason to worry. All a thief needs is your Social Security number to commit identity theft. This crime is relatively easy to commit, but investigating and prosecuting it is complex and time-consuming. But once you know the facts and some preventive measures you can take, you can win the fight against identity theft!
Identity thieves commit their crime in several ways:
They steal credit card payments and other outgoing mail from private, curbside mailboxes.
They dig through garbage cans or communal dumpsters in search of cancelled checks, credit card and bank statements, and preapproved credit card offers.
They hack into computers that contain personal records and steal the data.
They file a change of address form in the victim’s name to divert mail and gather personal and financial data.
To guard against identity theft, never give out your Social Security number. Treat it as confidential information.
Commit all passwords to memory. Never write them down or carry them with you.
When using an ATM machine, make sure no one is hovering over you and can see you enter your password.
When participating in an online auction, try to pay the seller directly with a credit card so you can dispute the charges if the merchandise does not arrive or was misrepresented. If possible, avoid paying by check or money order.
Adopt an attitude of healthy skepticism toward websites that offer prizes or giveaways. Chances are, all that’s been “won” is the opportunity to buy something you didn’t want in the first place.
Choose a commercial online service that offers parental control features.
Tell your children never to give out their address telephone number password school name or any other personal information.
Make sure your children know to never agree to meet face-to-face with someone they’ve met online without discussing it with you. Only if you decide that it’s okay to meet their “cyber-friend” should they arrange to meet this person, and then the meeting should be in a familiar public place in the presence of a trusted adult.
Tell your children never to respond to messages that have bad words, are scary, or just seem weird.
Tell your children never to enter an area that charges for services without asking you first.
Tell children never send a picture of themselves to anyone without your permission.
Make sure that access to the Internet at your children’s school is monitored by adults.
National Crime Prevention Council