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Watchdog: Never offer personal information to strangers on phone, e-mail

By Jessica Priest
March 7, 2013 at 10:05 p.m.
Updated March 7, 2013 at 9:08 p.m.


identity theft

• Texas ranks fifth in the nation for identity theft complaints.

• There were 24,162 identity theft complaints in 2011.

• Top three identity theft types - government documents or benefits fraud, employment-related fraud, phone or utilities fraud.

• Call area law enforcement or the Federal Trade Commission's Dallas office to report identity theft in Texas. Their Dallas office covers all of Texas.

Federal Trade Commission100 N. Central Expressway, Suite 500, Dallas, TX 75201

877-438-4338

www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

Sources: LifeLock; Texas Attorney General's Office

Tips to protect your identity

• Check your credit history and bank records frequently and look for signs of inaccurate or suspicious activity.

• Purchase a home shredder to completely destroy documents that contain information, such as address, date of birth, Social Security number and driver's license number.

• When you order new checks, consider removing extra information, such as your middle name or telephone number.

Do not carry extra credit cards, your Social Security card, birth certificate or passport in your wallet or purse, except when needed.

• You can also get on the Texas do-not-call list at texasnocall.com and the federal do-not-call list at donotcall.gov.

Source: Texas Department of Public Safety

For those who have grown up in the digital age, refraining from giving out your personal information to a telemarketer may seem like a no brainer.

But law enforcement officials say everyone needs a regular refresher course, especially because identity thieves get more and more cunning.

Retired Victoria County residents Marjorie and Paul Bower got that same lesson Monday afternoon when they received a suspicious call on their cellphone from an 877 area code. The person on the other end of the line tried to convince Paul Bower, 76, in a thick Middle Eastern accent to give up his account information to redeem "$250 Wal-Mart points."

"He was going to do it, but he said, 'Hold on. My wife is throwing a fit. I have to go,'" Marjorie Bower, 80, said, adding the couple only visits the retail outlet once a month and doesn't have so much as a gift card from there.

Kayla Whaling, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said they weren't affiliated with the call nor does the company have a point system.

"From time to time, we do see people use our good name to defraud customers," Whaling said, noting that cashiers will only ask for someone's telephone number to enroll them in a program that sends them text messages about promotions, which they can later stop.

Sgt. Eline Moya, meanwhile, suspected this was a scam after her call to that same telephone number about 3:30 p.m. Thursday was met with elevator style-waiting music. After five minutes of being put on hold, an automated voice told her, "There are no available agents to speak with you. Please call back between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m."

Alan Bligh, regional director of the Better Business Bureau, said it's not altogether surprising the individuals who contacted the Bowers would be hard to get a hold of later because they probably have caller ID or are simply too busy.

"Normally, when they're calling people, they don't even know who they are calling. They do it in such mass, they'll call several hundred people before someone actually falls for it," Bligh said.

He said most of the calls originate in countries such as Canada, South Korea or Nigeria.

Capt. Herb Tucker, of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, said that distance makes it hard for investigators to track down suspects.

"And, even if we did, the amount of money that it would take to get an extradition negates the benefit that it would obtain," Tucker said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Identity theft is a felony, the severity of which depends on how many items were stolen or transferred by the defendant. If the number is fewer than five, it is a state jail felony, which could carry a sentence between 180 days to two years in state prison with a more than $10,000 fine, according to the Texas Penal Code.

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