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The easiest way for a thief to steal your identity is to simply call you on the phone and ask you for it. Think you're not vulnerable to such a blatant ploy? Think again. How many times do you agree to participate in a survey? How much information do you willingly give over the phone to your insurance company, your doctor's office or your bank? All it takes is a believable story about needing to update your records or verify your account information and – voila – a friendly, helpful sounding thief thanks you for your assistance and reminds you to “have a nice day” before hanging up the phone. And so begins his/her scheme to use that information to steal your assets or sell it to someone else who will.
This practice is called pretexting and while the most visible cases are purported to happen to the unsuspecting elderly, the truth is that thieves are nondiscriminatory. It happens to anyone willing to part with information.
Educate yourself by seeking out information on identity theft and be particularly mindful of pretexting schemes. Refuse to give out personal information over the phone, in person, by mail or through the Internet unless you are certain you know the person you're giving the information to, or unless you made the initial contact. If you are not certain about the person asking for information, ask for his/her name, the name of the company being represented, and a phone number. Then call the customer service department for that company using the telephone number provided on your statements – not the number provided by the caller – and tell the customer service representative about the call. If it is a legitimate request you will be transferred to the correct department. If not, ask to be transferred to the fraud department to report the incident.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|