NEW Twists on Scams and Identity Theft

Recently I heard an excellent presentation by Ella York, an attorney from the Illinois Attorney General's office. Identity theft is the #1 issue that is reported by consumers to the Illinois Attorney General's office. I appreciated Ms. York's well-thought out presentation and came away with several tips regarding protecting yourself from identity theft, and I thought you'd like to know them too!

1) If someone asks you for personal information on the phone, hang up on them! Simple as that. If you think they may be a legitimate business that you want to do business with then hang up, look up their phone number and call them back.

And, here's an interesting new technology I didn't know about: a simple phone app that a scam artist can use to make the number you see on your caller ID be anything they want. So, it might look like your bank calling but it's not!

2) Think about what you're carrying around with you in your wallet or purse, and do NOT carry your Social Security card. This is a challenge because currently Medicare cards include your Social Security number, and people want this number in case they need to go to a hospital in an emergency.

Make a copy of your Medicare card, black out the last four digits and memorize these, then carry this copy with you. Now, you can provide your Medicare number in an emergency and keep your Social Security number secure.

Good news – new legislation will require Medicare cards in the future to not include these key last four numbers; but until this is enacted, we need to protect ourselves.

3) Ms. York said, while we can't eliminate all threats against our identity, we can minimize our risk by making a few simple things habits. I wrote a blog post about this in June; review Minimize the Risk of Someone Using Your Identity to see if you need to build new habits.

The presentation topic shifted from identity theft to other kinds of fraud. Here's an update on some of the new versions of fraud currently being seen in Illinois.

1) A common practice of con artists is to ask people to wire them money. In workshops I teach, I always warn people that being asked to wire money is a red flag. But, the con artists are always fine-tuning their methods! The latest tweak, according to York, is to ask people to buy gift cards such as a Walmart prepaid card, and then call the con artist with the number on the back of the card. Voila! Money received – it's not traceable and even faster than wiring money. Remember, no matter the reason, if someone asks you to do this – STOP – and get a second opinion. It's very likely a thief on the other end of the phone line.

2) One way cons try to get someone's personal information is to call an older adult and say that a family member has signed them up for a medical alert system. All the caller needs is the older adult's name and Medicare number. Oh no, with this information the caller now has the person's Social Security number and name and is ready to move forward with identity theft!

It's excellent to be forewarned and avoid fraud when possible, but what if identity theft or another type of fraud happens to you. Your first step should be to call the Attorney General's Office and they will help you. A person in their office will help you decide what to do, step-by-step, depending on the situation. This help is free; it's great to know this personal help is available. Call the toll-free Identity Theft Hotline at: 1-866-999-5630 or 1-877-844-5461 (TTY).

For more information about identity theft, and a wealth of other consumer topics, visit the Illinois Attorney General's Consumer Publication website.