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Avoiding scams, identity theft

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October is Crime Prevention Month. Taking precautions and being cautious with information can prevent you from becoming a victim of identity theft or a scam.

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These are becoming increasingly common crimes, impacting thousands of people a year, many times goes unreported to authorities. Scammers are constantly changing their methods and ways of scamming our citizens.

It’s impossible to cover every type of scam, but using some basic preventive steps can help you or your family from becoming a victim to the largest and most expensive crimes nationwide. As I read through our daily reports, I am amazed at how many reports of fraud we receive. The most common is phone fraud. 

The average fraud victim may spend up to 200 hours repairing the damage caused by identity theft. Being informed about identity theft and safeguarding your personal information are two of the best ways to protect yourself and your business. 

Many thieves use the telephone to commit fraud. These criminals are looking for unsuspecting individuals who will give them important information, like Social Security numbers, dates of birth, credit card numbers or bank account numbers. Once they have your information, they use it to make fraudulent purchases, obtain credit or to access bank accounts.

Basic ways to avoid being a victim of phone solicitations include hanging up, screening your incoming calls or simply not answering unknown or strange telephone numbers. Also, follow these rules when giving out personal information, especially over the telephone. Never give personal information if:

• You don’t know the person to whom you are talking. 

• You don’t initiate the call.

• An unknown caller asks you for your Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers or date of birth. 

• You receive a call asking you to provide personal information to win a prize. If you didn’t enter a contest, you didn’t win a prize.

• You are called and asked to verify information about your credit cards. If the caller claims to be a bank representative, hang up and call your bank directly using a valid number from a telephone book or the bank’s web site. Most banks and financial institutions will never call you and ask for your personal information over the phone.

Sometimes scammers know personal information about you or other family members’ names. We often receive reports of callers calling elderly people pretending to be a grandson or granddaughter. The scammer states that they are in jail in a foreign country and they need bail money wired or transferred to get them out. Sometimes these callers have just enough information about the relative to make it sound “real.”

These scams and transactations are very difficult, and in most cases impossible, to track, making investigating and prosecution very difficult, if not impossible. Be sure to check the facts before you send any amount of money anywhere. Often, if the unsuspecting victim does wire money, the caller will call back within a day or two days to attempt to get additional money transferred. 

Fraud or scams can be reported to our office. If these crimes occur across several states and countries, state and federal law enforcement agencies need to get involved. In Minnesota, you can also report a scam to the Minnesota Attorney General Office (www.ag.state.mn.us) and the Minnesota Better Business Bureau (minnesota.bbb.org). These websites have resources and forms that you can fill out to report the scam or attempted scam. 

Other basic steps you can take at home to protect yourself and family from fraud:

• Keep track of credit card, debit card and ATM receipts. Never throw them out in the trash, or if you do, shred them.

• Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement for suspicious activity. It usually comes in the mail about three months before your birthday.

• Review your credit card statements carefully for unexplained charges.

• Store personal information in a safe place and shred or tear up documents you don’t need.

• Keep duplicate credit cards in a safe, locked place.

• Never give out personal information, unless you initiate the interaction. 

Our office has put together presentations and resources on Tips for Preventing Scams and Frauds through our Senior Citizens and Law Enforcement Working Together to enhance senior safety initiative. Pauline Fahey and I have made presentations to numerous groups throughout the county. If your group would like us to give a presentation, please contact me. If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, feel free to contact me at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us, (218) 547-1424, (800) 450-2677 or by mail at Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W., P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484.

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Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2010 and works as a online reporter, content editor and staff writer. She is a world traveler, accused idealist and California native now braving the winters of Central Minnesota. She believes in the power of human resolve and hopes to be part of something that makes history by bringing an end to injustice in the world. Sarah has worked as a criminal background researcher, high school civics teacher, grant writer, and contributing writer with Causecast.org — tackling every issue from global poverty to bio-degradable bicycles. Her favorite thing about living in Minnesota is July. Sarah left the Brainerd Dispatch in April 2014.
(218) 855-5879
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