of our consumer and financial lives has moved to the on-line realm in
the past several years. Scammers have followed us there and are
using increasingly sophisticated techniques to steal our confidential
information, our money, or, ultimately, our identities in order to
impersonate us for even greater financial gain. In this Legal Moment
I will address different scams to watch out for, ways to protect
yourself, and your legal remedies if you are a victim of identity theft
or another type of scam.
The Scams and Avoiding Them
One of the most frequent scams is an attempt to get you to
reveal personal information about yourself such as your social security
number or account numbers. You may receive emails that ask you to
provide or confirm account numbers, ask you to click on links that give
the scammer access to information stored on your computer, or allow the
scammer to log your key strokes. These requests are often
disguised to look like they come from a trusted source such as your
To avoid falling victim to these scams, do not provide the
requested information or click on suspicious links. You can
scrutinize the email for various red flags that indicate it is likely
- Does the email address match the apparent source?
- When you hover over a hyperlink, is the web address different than the institution that sent the email or blank or misspelled?
- Did the email arrive at an unusual date and time such as 3:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning?
- Does the email have bad grammar or spelling errors?
- Does the subject line of the email not match the email content?
The best defense to these types of emails is to verify the
email with its apparent source before taking any action. For
example, if you receive an email from your bank alerting you to possible
credit card fraud, which may be an actual communication you would
receive, before taking any action within the email, call your bank on a
known customer service number from another source than the suspicious
email to ask if the email is legitimate. You should also not
engage in financial transactions while connected to a public Wi-Fi
hotspot. There are many resources related to protecting yourself
online available at knowbe4.com
. Although this company is business oriented, it has good suggestions for consumers as well.
You may also receive requests for your personal information
by telephone in telemarketing scams. Often, the number that shows
up on caller identification is spoofed to look like a different caller,
such as your bank. Your best defense here is again not to give
out any information requested, especially if the caller tells you the
information is needed immediately to avoid a negative consequence.
Although its effectiveness has been questioned recently, there is still
a Do Not Call Registry you can use to cut down on unwanted calls.
You may call 1-800-382-1222 or go to the National Do Not Call Registry
to register your phone numbers.
The second primary form of scam is to entice you to send
money immediately directly to the scammer. There are many types:
- Promised sweepstakes prizes asking you to send money in order to receive a prize, loan, or credit card.
- Investments that sound too good to be true using phrases such as
“special opportunity that you must keep secret,” “act now,” “limited
offer,” or “tax-free offshore.”
- Requests to donate to fake charities that often come in the form of asking you to fulfill a pledge you do not recall making.
To avoid direct payment scams, the best solution is to slow
down and act thoughtfully. For sweepstakes forms, throw them
away, or if you do enter, do not put any personal information on the
entry form such as your social security number or an account
number. For investments, take the information and consult with
your lawyer, accountant, or investment advisor before investing.
For charitable donations, ask the caller to disclose if the charity is
registered in the state, and whether the caller is a professional
fundraiser. Your best defense is not to act if something does not
If, despite your precautions, you do fall victim to
identify theft, there are legal protections available for you.
First, you can check your credit report. You can get free copies
at Annual Credit Report.com.
This is the only site that is guaranteed legitimate. There are
many other sites claiming to offer free credit reports, and many may be
valid, but once again, you need to be wary about providing personal
information to unknown entities. You may also call 1-877-322-8228
to request your report. If you suspect you are a victim of
identity theft, you may choose to place a security freeze on your credit
reports. A security freeze prevents the credit bureaus from
releasing any information about you without your authorization.
There are a host of federal and state laws for combating
and prosecuting identify theft; examples include: Identify Theft
and Assumption Deterrence Act (18 USC § 1028 et seq.
), Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq.
), N.C. Identify Theft/Identify Theft Protection Act (N.C.G.S. § 14-113.20 et seq.
), and Computer Trespass (N.C.G.S. § 14-458).
The primary source of your rights and enforcement comes
from the Federal Trade Commission. The first requirement will
actually lie with you to fill out an identify theft report
. The report
may begin with a police report, but you will have to supplement that with more detail to produce an identify theft report
. An identity theft report
has enough detail for the credit bureaus and businesses involved
to verify that you are a victim and know which of your accounts
are affected. An identity theft report
is also a
prerequisite to trigger many of your rights as an identity theft
victim. You may get information about this process at Identity Theft.gov.
Once you have completed your report , you have a right to:
- Place a 90-day fraud alert to notify users of your credit reports
to take reasonable steps to verify the identity of an applicant for
credit in your name.
- Place a seven-year fraud alert in your credit file. The
credit bureaus will maintain a valid phone number for you in their files
and refer any creditors directly to you.
- Get one free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau.
- Require the credit bureaus to block fraudulent information from
appearing on your credit report. Creditors who have issued credit
in your name based on fraudulent information cannot turn these debts
over to collection.
- Dispute any information in your credit report.
- Place a security freeze on your credit reports.
Your creditors are not allowed to report fraudulent
accounts to the credit bureaus after you give them a copy of your identity theft report
Your creditors must also give you copies of any documents related to
fraudulent accounts opened in your name when you submit a police report
to them. You can also instruct the creditors to deliver the
documents to any law enforcement agency working on your case.
Finally, creditors are not allowed to pursue collections against you for
In addition to the rights summarized here, you have many
other rights if you are a victim of identity theft. The process is
not easy, and you will have to be persistent and your own best advocate
if you are unfortunate enough to be a victim of identify theft.
Fraud and identity theft are part of our world now, and we must all be
vigilant to protect ourselves..
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