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Senior scene

June 23, 2012

From the office: Scammers are creative, so take steps to protect your identity

We've all been hearing about identity theft and other scams for a number of years, and my guess is many of us think we have done things to secure our information and that we're savvy enough to not fall victim to scams.

The unfortunate truth is that those who wish to take advantage of others are continually coming up with new schemes. Everyone is vulnerable to potential identity theft.

Identity theft has been the No. 1 consumer complaint nationwide to the Federal Trade Commission, and New York state has the sixth highest per capita rate in the nation. Nationally in 2011 consumers reported $1.5 billion in loses from ID theft and fraud. Identity theft deserves or attention and action.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is the theft or misuse of personal identifying information to gain something of value or facilitate other criminal activity.

How do ID thieves get information?

We have all heard about credit card information being stolen from trash left out for pick up, but thieves also get information by stealing mail from mail boxes, as well as stealing, wallets, purses, cellphones and other personal devices _ anything that would contain identifying information.

They also use the phone and computer to get information from unsuspecting victims, will "shoulder surf" to get personal identification numbers and may have electronic means to copy credit card information.

What are the different types of Identity Theft?

Financial identity theft is the most common.

It usually takes the form of either using existing credit cards and bank or other accounts or opening new accounts in the victim's name.

There is also non-financial ID theft.

Criminal ID theft is when someone stopped by law enforcement supplies another person's ID in place of his or her own.

Medical ID theft is when the thief uses someone's name and information including insurance information to obtain medical services or goods resulting in false medical records, insurance billing, potential health-care errors and debt.

Employment ID theft can result in IRS and Social Security fraud.

Governmental fraud is when someone uses another person's ID to apply for benefits or services.

How does someone know when his identity has been stolen?

People usually find out when they receive a bill for something they didn't purchase, get denied for new credit, stop getting credit card or bank statements, get contacted by creditors, debt collection agencies and or law enforcement or a child starts to receive offers for credit cards.

Check your credit report regularly. You can get a free annual credit report at annualcreditreport.com.

What can be done to prevent ID theft?

Cross-shred all financial documents including credit card bills and applications.

Consider opting out of new credit card offers by calling (888) 5OPTOUT (888 567-8688).

Ask why someone needs your Social Security number, and never give it to someone who calls or emails you.

Make sure you originate the call to a number that you have verified independently before you give any personal information.

Take outgoing mail to an official mail box or, better yet, the post office.

Carry only what you need. Leave your Social Security and Medicare cards at home in a safe place. Only take them with you when needed for medical providers or to apply for benefits.

Get on the Do Not Call list by calling (888) 382-1222.

Only give personal information on secure Internet sites. Don't open email attachments from someone you do not know. Even if you know the person watch for suspicious links. I've recently received emails with links and no messages that were the result of someone's address book being taken over by another entity.

You absolutely never know what the scammers will come up with next. When I just did a search to include the phone number for the Do Not Call registry, I found the following information on their website:

"Scammers have been making phone calls claiming to represent the National Do Not Call Registry. The calls claim to provide an opportunity to sign up for the registry. These calls are not coming from the Registry or the Federal Trade Commission, and you should not respond to these calls. Your registration will not expire. Telephone numbers placed on the National Do Not Call Registry will remain on it permanently."

What do I do if I'm a victim of identity theft?

Order your credit report and place a fraud alert or freeze. Close accounts that have been tampered with or opened by an imposter.

Report the theft to law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission.

What does all this mean and how do I go about it?

The Federal Trade Commission has information on all the steps necessary to report and stop identity theft on its website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft you can also call (877) 438-4338. Filing a complaint with the FTC does not substitute for filing a report with a criminal law enforcement agency. Make sure you do things in writing and save copies.

First and foremost protect your information, and if you experience ID theft, take action quickly.

Otsego County residents 60 and older who would like help accessing information from the FTC website or assistance with other matters are welcome to contact the Office for the Aging at 547-4232 or 432-9041.

Frances Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/ seniorscene.

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