In this age of electronic communications, thieves can easily rob an unsuspecting person of not just money but his or her good name.
“The internet highway and your telephone have become dangerous places,” Rosalie Shaffer, president of the League of Women Voters of Manatee County, said during a League-sponsored forum on Monday about cybercrime.
“We’ve got to be proactive about protecting our information,” whether on the phone or online, Lt. Robert Andrews of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office told the more than 40 people in attendance. ”…There’s a lot of malicious stuff out there.”
If a stranger who is contacting you is “asking you for money or your information, more than likely it’s a scam,” Bradenton Police Officer Kimberly Camacho advised.
Here are a few of the tips Camacho and Andrews shared:
Banking online has its advantages, such as enabling you to check your account daily rather than wait for a monthly statement in the mail. Yet if you are checking your account using a public wifi, you are potentially exposing your account information.
Shred documents with information such as Social Security numbers before discarding them.
Use strong passwords for online accounts that include a combination of numbers, symbols and upper-case and lower-case letters.
Take advantage of the law that entitles you to a free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com or 877-322-8228.
Consider putting a “freeze” on your credit file to prevent any identity thieves from opening accounts in your name. Contact the three credit bureaus for information: Equifax, 800-525-6285; Experian, 888-397-3742; and TransUnion, 800-680-7289.
Scammers often pretend to be someone they are not, such as a person calling on behalf of a grandchild who needs money for bail or a medical bill. Verify through someone you know that the friend or relative is really in trouble.
The same goes for callers who claim to be with a charity.
“We all want to help. We want to give,” Camacho said. However, “do your own research” and verify that the charity is legitimate before you make contact with it.
Rule out anyone who asks you to send cash or wire money for any purpose.
If you actually owe back taxes, the IRS will not call you on the phone, ask for a credit card or ask you to pay with prepaid debit cards or wire transfers. If you have tax questions, go to irs.gov or call 800-829-1040.
Do not believe you have won a trip, money or prize for a lottery, sweepstakes or contest you did not enter. Do not believe a caller who insists that, before you receive your prize money, you have to pay the taxes. If you actually won money from Publishers Clearinghouse, Andrews said, “they’ll take it out of your winnings.”
Be wary of callers who claim to be from the government and say they need your Medicare number to issue you a new card. Contact Medicare at 1-800-Medicare.
Be wary of someone you have met through a dating website if, after supposedly getting to know each other, the person asks for money for a plane ticket to come see you or a medical emergency.
Many scams originate overseas, even if the phone number or website does not appear to be foreign. Be suspicious if the caller has a foreign accent or if the grammar on the website indicates the person who created it was not fluent in English.
If you are concerned about using your credit card at the gas pump because a thief may have placed a scanner on it, pay the cashier inside the store.
If you receive an email from a questionable source that includes a link, do not click on the link and delete the email.