Don’t Become a Victim of Fraud and Identity Theft

John Merchant, CPA, CFE

Fraud and identity theft have become a serious and ever-increasing problem.  No one wants to become a victim and there are certain basics rules to follow to avoid being victimized.  Here are eleven simple ways you can protect yourself:

  1. Never give your personal information over the telephone.  Fraudsters often call you posing as representatives of banks, investment companies, credit card companies or even the Internal Revenue Service and ask you to verify confidential information so that they can update their records.  The IRS and legitimate organizations do not make such calls.
  2. Never give personal information in response to an e-mail.  Although a request for information may look legitimate, it is not particularly difficult to create a false appearance in an e-mail.  You may respond and be sorry for it later.
  3. Beware of charitable solicitations by telephone.  Be particularly wary of individuals claiming to represent charities that are unfamiliar to you.  If you receive such a call, and you are interested in contributing, ask the caller to send you a brochure or other printed materials.  If they decline, simply hang up.
  4. Be especially wary of telephone solicitors who offer to send someone to your home to pick up your contribution.  It may seem that they are making things easy for you, but they are probably trying to get your money and disappear without leaving a way to trace them.
  5. Beware of offers that you receive by mail or e-mail that give you a once-in-a-lifetime chance to purchase something at a steep discount or win a prize such as money or a paid vacation trip.  When you respond, the sender often asks for personal information and may even ask you to make a good faith deposit of cash to secure your chance.
  6. Obtain your bank statements, investment statements and credit card statements online and avoid paper statements through the mail.  It may be easy for a thief to steal mail from your mailbox and obtain information such as account numbers and credit limits.
  7. Invest in a paper shredder.  When you have paper documents that are ready for the trash, if they contain personal information run them through a shredder first.  This may be your best chance to thwart dumpster divers – thieves who dig through trash cans looking for information.
  8. Keep your ATM receipts.  Never drop ATM receipts in the trash can next to the ATM machine.  Take the receipts home with you and run them through the paper shredder.
  9. Invest in computer security software that will search your computer for malware and block your access to known malicious websites.
  10. Choose passwords and PINs that are not obvious to others.  Bad choices include your birth date, your street address, your child’s name, your nickname and your zip code.  Also, never share passwords and PINs with others and change them periodically, especially if you think your secrecy may have been compromised.
  11. Finally, never leave credit cards and documents lying around your home where a burglar can easily pick them up.  Keep them locked in a secure place.

As identity theft continues to rise, it is essential to take these and other precautions to ensure the safety of your personal information and protect yourself and your loved ones.

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