10 Actions to avoid scams and fraud

Avoid being one of the millions of people every year defrauded by crooks and scam artists who now have more ways to interact with people including email, social media and of course, the telephone. Fraud and identity theft can also result from printed copies of accounts or receipts in your home, office, mail or even your trash.

Here are some practical actions you can take to protect yourself and your information:

1. If a debt collector calls about a debt – and before you agree to pay anything – ask for a written proof that says how much money you owe, to whom and what to do if you don’t think you owe the money. By law, debt collectors must send you a written document, called a validation notice, within five days after they first contact you. If they don’t, that’s a warning sign they may not be legitimate.

2. If someone calls and claims to be the IRS, chances are they are not. Get information on tax scams and reporting them.

The IRS will never:

  • Call you without first mailing you a bill. They currently do not use unsolicited email, text messages or any social media to discuss your personal tax issues.
  • Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other law-enforcement to have you arrested for not paying.

3. Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up right away. Don’t ever press “1” to speak to a person or to be taken off their list, that could actually lead to more calls.

4. Be alert to impersonators. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity or a company you do business with. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site and contact them through customer service. Or call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.

5. Don’t pay up front for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for something like debt relief, credit or loan offers, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize but need to pay taxes and fees first. This is not how legitimate services work.

6. Don’t open files, click on links or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.

7. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer. Don’t just throw them in the trash. Crooks and identity thieves go through trash looking to steal personal financial information.

8. Don’t give your credit card account number to anyone on the phone unless you have made the call and know for sure to whom you are talking. I had a person call me a couple of weeks ago asking if I wanted a zero percent rate on my existing credit cards. He claimed to be from “Card Member Services.” I said, “Sure,” and then he asked me for my card number. I told him if he was legit, he would already have the number, and that I’m not stupid enough to give him the number. I then hung up but should have done it sooner.

9. If you have a call from a number you don’t recognize, do a reverse lookup to see who it is from. If you aren’t sure how to do this, we can help, call 785-380-4400, email ask@tscpl.org or text us at 785-322-4099. Many of the phone numbers will have already been reported, and we often find a discussion online reporting the number as either legitimate or as a scam.

10. Be skeptical of free trial offers. If you’re tempted, do some research first, and read the terms and conditions of the offer very closely. If you use your credit card for a low-cost trial offer, be sure to check your credit card statement closely. Many times they will sign you up for expensive monthly orders. If you see charges you didn’t authorize, contact the company and your credit card provider immediately.

If you think you are a victim of a scam, contact the FTC.

Terry was the business librarian.