How to Protect Yourself From Scams
Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA)
In this article, you can learn:
- How to protect yourself from common scams
- What to do if you are a victim of a scam
Tips to Prevent Scams
- Never give personal information to someone over the phone or the internet unless you contacted them first and you trust the business.
- Never give money to someone you don’t know. Even if it’s someone you think you know, follow-up to make sure before you wire any money.
- Get a security freeze on your credit to control who gets to see your credit history and information. You can write each of the three credit bureaus, and a sample request letter can be found at www.dojmt.gov/consumer/consumer.
- Be cautious of offers that require immediate or rushed action: ask around, talk to others, and contact someone you trust before sending money.
- Take your time: Be skeptical, resist high pressure tactics.
- Ignore postcards and advertisements for free products, sweepstakes wins, magazines sales, etc. If you did not enter into the lottery or sweepstakes, you did not win.
- Register with the National Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.
- Review your bank and credit card statements; question any charges you do not recognize, no matter how small.
- Shred documents that contain personal information such as Social Security number, birth dates, personal contact information, bank account, or credit card information.
What are “phishing” scams?
Phishing occurs when scam artists try and get you to give out your personal information, such as Social Security number, account numbers, password, address or other by pretending to be a legitimate company you may already be doing business with. Phishing is most common over the internet but can come through direct mail or over the phone.
Scam artists may get your attention by saying there’s a problem with your account that you have to address immediately. Online, you may receive e-mails that look exactly like the ones from your bank or credit card company. Anytime anyone asks for your personal information, call the company with the phone number you have– not the one in the phishing letter or email – to speak with a live person to verify the request.
- Grandparent scam call: Caller impersonates a relative, claims to be in trouble, and asks you to send money. Caller will ask you not to tell anyone and to send money by wire.
- Government grant scam call: Caller says that you qualify for a government grant and you can do anything with the money. Caller says that to receive the money you have to complete an application. The application asks for personal information, including your credit card numbers. In fact, you have received nothing from the government and the caller wants to steal your identity.
- Fake check scams: You are sent a check or money order for more than the amount that is owed. You are then asked to send back or refund some of the money. The check or money order that you received will then bounce, and you are out the money that you sent back.
- Fraudulent cashier's check scam: Someone pays you for goods or services with a cashier's check. The cashier's check is a fake and bounces. Do not trust a cashier's check unless you know and trust the person paying with that check. You can also wait until the check clears the bank before giving the person the goods or services they bought. Fake chashier's checks are very difficult to spot and the bank is not responsible for the bounced check.
- IRS scam call: Caller says they represent the IRS, you owe taxes, and if you do not wire money you will be arrested. In fact, the caller is not with the IRS. The IRS will never call you on the phone.
- IRS scam mailer: Someone sent you a letter that looks like an official IRS document. It warns that you failed to pay taxes. It says that you have to send money immediately and you must send personal information. In fact, this is a trick to get you to send money and reveal personal information.
- IRS scam email: You receive an e-mail that looks like it’s from the IRS asking you to send money and for your personal information. In fact, the IRS will never ask for your personal information on the internet.
- Lottery/Sweepstakes scam call: Caller says you won a sweepstakes or the lottery. Caller says you have to pay taxes or a processing fee to get the money. In fact, a real lottery winner will never have to send money into a legitimate lottery or sweepstakes.
- “Lower your interest rate” scam call: The caller says that you can reduce your interest rate on all of your credit cards by consolidating with the caller’s company. Caller then says they need your credit card number. In fact, the caller is stealing your credit card information.
- Computer scam call: Caller says they work for a computer company and your computer has a problem. Caller requests computer access and needs your credit card information to fix the problem. In fact, the caller hacks your computer, installs programs that take your financial information, and the caller takes your credit card information.
What is a security freeze?
A security freeze is one of the most effective ways to prevent identity theft. A security freeze allows consumers to proactively “lock up” their credit information so no one can access it without your permission. This prevents a thief from falsely using your information to establish new credit such as to take out a new mortgage, apply for a credit card, or get financing. A security freeze will not lower your credit score or prevent you from getting a copy of your own credit report. A security freeze will protect your credit information from third parties.
How do I request a security freeze?
Write each of the three credit bureaus. A sample request letter can be found at www.dojmt.gov/consumer/consumer. Provide at a minimum your name, address, Social Security number, and the $3 fee unless you are an identity theft victim. If you are a victim, provide a copy of the police report of identity theft. Send separate letters to each of the three credit card bureaus.
Each credit bureau will send you a written notice that the freeze is in place within five days of it going into effect. The confirmation will include a Personal Identification Number (PIN) and instructions on how to lift or remove the freeze.
What is a Fraud Alert?
People who suspect they may be an identity theft victim can have a special message called a fraud alert placed on their credit reports. It tells credit issuers there may be fraudulent activity on the account.
A fraud alert is not the same as a security freeze. While a fraud alert may slow down issuing new credit, it does not stop it. A security freeze will stop someone else from getting new credit in your name.
Check Your Credit Report
The law allows you to check your credit report once a year with each credit bureau. You can visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action to get your credit report for free.
Request a Security Freeze
You can find a sample Security Freeze request letter at www.dojmt.gov/consumer/consumer. You will need to send this letter to each of the three credit bureaus.
You can file a report with:
Make a Recovery Plan
Visit https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to come up with a plan to help you recover
Get Legal Help
Montana Legal Services Association provides civil legal help to eligible clients, at no charge. Learn more about how to apply for free legal help