Photo by ToastyKen
It seems that every week I get a spam email or two asking me for some account information or to accept a wire transfer from some foreign country that I have never done business with – all in the name of trying to scam me. Since I know about these kind of things it is easy to avoid the scam trap, but some people (especially older and less-experienced internet users) fall prey to these thieves and get taken for quite a bit of money. From Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, here are some tips on evading these scammers:
Check your bank and credit cards often. I know that some people don’t check their accounts too often, but I check mine several times a week. Because I use Bank of America and I have all my accounts listed there, I can log into one place and see any activity on my credit cards, checking, savings, investments, etc.. I figure that if I log in often, it gives me a better chance of seeing a fraudulent charge earlier and having it investigated while it is still fresh.
Check your credit report. I check mine a minimum of three times a year, using the free reports that we have all been granted. You can get yours at Annual Credit Report, which is the site that was set up by the three credit agencies. Any other site you go to will charge you money – and by law, you can get your reports free each year, so there is no need to pay for them. (one free from each agency) So I get one in April, one in August, and one in December, just to spread them out.
Use a pen with chemical-resistant ink to fill out checks. This one I have only recently started thinking about after reading a story about check washing. So I think I will get myself one of these pens for the 2 checks that I write every month.
Don’t ever give out bank account or Social Security information by email. As in, never ever. If you get an email that looks legit but is asking for account #’s, go to that company’s website directly (do not click on the link in the email) and find the Contact Us button and either send a question or call them on the phone to find out if the email in question is legit. Too many people fall for these fake emails, my mom included, so do not ever give out information like this in an email.
If you suspect fraud, issue a fraud alert. You can contact any of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, Experian) to have a fraud alert put on your account. That way, if anyone tries to open an account with your information, you get notified first – and thus you can stop them. Also, do not forget to notify your bank and credit cards as well.
Put your credit on freeze. You can also put a freeze on your credit file, so no accounts can be opened without you removing the freeze. It does cost $30 to file the freeze and $12 to remove it, but it does provide piece of mind if you are not planning on opening any accounts in the near future.
Do not return part of a check’s proceeds before it clears. This should go without saying, but that is how these check cashing scams work. The scammer says that they have a check they need cashed but they cannot do it; so they ask you to do it, allowing you to keep some of the proceeds. You send the balance back to them, only to find out a few days later that the check was no good – leaving you holding the bag. Never fall for this from someone you do not know personally and very well.
All in all, if you take the necessary precautions and you are alert about what could happen to you, you should be able to avoid falling for the typical scams that are perpetrated on people around the world. Just by paying attention, you are doing better than most other people – so for 2008, be sure to watch out for any new scams! And if you have an older internet user in your house, you might want to share your knowledge with them, as sometimes these scams look very real and people do fall for them quite often.