During its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9, the Louisa Chapter of AARP, Louisa County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Major Donald Lowe discussed how to protect themselves from identity theft and scams.
“I have to say that as I get older, I start paying attention more to these things,” Lowe said.
Lowe told the group there are similarities in scams and if they pay attention to the main things the scammers are looking for, they can protect themselves, their family and friends from becoming victims.
“They always usually have the same kind of [modus operandi or method of operation], but they are disguised as different things,” Lowe said.
Identity theft, according to Lowe, is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and is important for consumers to recognized identity theft is not just a financial crime.
Lowe described how identity theft can include financial identity theft, which would include bank accounts and credit or debit cards.
It can also be criminal identity theft where a person assumes someone’s entire identity, or government and medical identity theft.
The common denominator in identity theft is the person is looking to obtain pieces of personal identification information such as a social security or driver’s license number, in which they can begin to use those items for their own personal gain.
Lowe warned about opening official looking emails where a person is prompted to click a link or go to another website.
“They call that phishing,” Lowe said. “What it does is direct you to another website that basically has a virus in it that takes all your personal information.”
According to Lowe, studies have consistently shown that the elderly are especially a high-risk population of becoming a victim to scams and identity thieves.
“If it’s too good to be true,” Lowe said. “It probably, and most likely, is.”
According to Lowe, do not give any personal or financial information to any unsolicited caller or visitor. He also advises to not respond to offers for an Affordable Care Act or Obamacare card.
“These things do not exist,” Lowe said.
One of the oldest scams, Lowe said is the free/unclaimed money scam.
Lowe said one email will start off stating that there is over $400 million dollars in unclaimed money in North America and some of it belongs to you.
“Well, how do they know that?” Lowe asked. “[They] don’t know me, [they] don’t know what my bank is or anything, so how do they know that?”
According to Lowe, it’s important to ask these questions and not get excited. Then he explains that the pitch is they will help someone find the unclaimed money for free and all one has to do is call the 1-8-0-9 number.
What the email does not say, Lowe said, is that when the number you is called are actually calling the Caribbean and it will cost up to $25 per minute. Their job is to keep a person on the line as long as possible.
The 809 number is the same as the 900. They are pay-per-call numbers and, according to Lowe, no law says that the party has to tell a person they are racking up phone charges on a per-minute basis.
Home improvement scams are big in Louisa County, Lowe said especially in the spring.
Lowe told a story about a resident who did not have enough cash on hand to have her driveway paved and was actually driven to her bank by the pavers. They tried to get the woman to withdraw thousands of dollars.
If it had not been for an alert bank teller, Lowe said, the sheriff’s office might never have known about it.
“We were able to catch them at the bank,” Lowe said. “But the lady had already lost a lot of money and the driveway was messed up.”
Lowe told of another incident in which house painters contracted to paint the exterior of a Mineral home at a cheap rate.
According to Lowe, the men painted the woman’s bushes, her windows and everything else.
Another prevalent scam that has been used in Louisa County, according to Lowe, is when a person comes to the front door with the intention of distracting the resident.
While the resident is distracted, another person enters through the back door stealing jewelry, medicine, money and anything else they can find.
Lowe talked about a number of other types of scams and gave advice on protecting ones self from the scams.
Never send any banking or personal identifying information to anyone you don’t know. Never send money to make money and never pay money to win money.
Also, you never win a lottery or sweepstakes that you never entered. Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Lowe also told the group that the jury duty clerk never calls for a social security number, the IRS is not electronically auditing taxpayers and banks and credit card companies do not email someone to have them verify personal information.
Anyone with doubts should contact the sheriff’s office at (540) 967-1234.
They can look at the situation and determine if it is part of a scam.
For further information on scams and tips to prevent becoming a victim, visit www.idtheftcenter.org.
Are You at Risk for Identity Theft?
• I own a cross-cut shredder and use it regularly. (+8pts)
• My shredder is near the trash can or in the office where most of my mail is sorted. (+5pts)
• I shred all pre-approved credit offers I receive before putting them in the trash. (+5pts)
• I shred all “convenience checks” or “balance forward checks” I receive from credit card companies before putting them in the trash. (+5pts)
• I understand that thieves root around in my trash looking for credit/financial info. (+5pts)
Social security number protection:
• I never carry my social security card in my wallet or purse. (+5pts)
• I make sure that I have no other cards in my wallet or purse with my social security number on it. (+5pts)
• I have a card with my social security number on it in my wallet or purse, but it is a copy and part of the social security number has been cut off. (+6pts)
• I have my social security number or driver’s license number printed on my personal checks. (-7pts)
• My social security number is my driver’s license number – I have made no effort to change that. (-8pts)
• I make sure that my social security number is never publicly displayed or used at work or school, i.e. timecards, test scores, receipts, badges. (+5pts)
• I use a locked, secured mailbox or post office box to receive mail. (+5pts)
• I never leave mail for pickup in an unlocked location at home or at work. (+5pts)
• I always watch my surroundings for people who might be listening when giving out social security number or financial information. (+5pts)
• I keep personal identifying information in a locked or protected area of my home; one that visitors can’t access. (+5pts)
• I have ordered a copy of my free annual credit reports during the last year. (+8pts)
• I keep an eye on my credit cards when they leave my hands to avoid skimming. (+5pts)
• I do not respond to Internet scams and I also hang up on telephone solicitors. (+5pts)
• Whenever I am asked to provide my social security number, I always ask how that information will be safeguarded and why it is necessary for them to have it in the first place. (+6pts)
• I always use firewall(s) and current anti-virus software for any connection to the Internet. (+7pts)
Each one of these questions represents a possible risk factor or protection against identification theft.
Your score: ____________
• Range: -15 to +100.
If you scored 85 – 100 consider yourself savvy about identity theft risks; continue your proactive steps.
• If you scored 45 – 84 you need to consider your identity theft risk factors more closely and take some corrective actions.
• If you scored below 45, you are at high risk of becoming this crime’s next victim! Please make the effort to become more informed about identity theft and the simple steps you can take to minimize your risk.
Information provided by Identity Theft Resource Center.