Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Be alert to stop scams from taking money
By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 20, 2013 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated March 19, 2013 at 10:20 p.m.
In the past, Americans could be fairly certain their money would be safe if it was kept in a bank. But in today's digital world, identity theft has intruded into every financial realm. What was once a secure location for a life's savings can now be emptied by a stranger thousands of miles away with a few key numbers and an Internet connection.
The story of Victoria County residents Marjorie and Paul Bower reminds us of how important it is to be aware of potential identity theft scams and know how to avoid giving your information to potential thieves.
The Bowers received a suspicious call on their cellphone. The caller, who spoke with a thick Middle Eastern accent, tried to convince Paul Bower that he could redeem "$250 Wal-Mart points" by giving the caller his account information. Fortunately, his wife Marjorie recognized the danger and stopped him before any important information was exchanged.
This is just one example of a possible identity-theft scam, and we are glad the Bowers were able to avoid compromising their personal financial information. More than 15 million U.S. residents are the victims of identity theft, causing losses of up to $50 billion every year, according to identitytheft.info. The frightening thing is, there is no fool-proof way to prevent identity theft in today's world. We are forced to give out our personal information daily by using debit and credit cards, going to the doctor, getting a job and more. However, there are steps residents can take to make it harder for identity thieves to get their information.
The Federal Trade Commission offers four important steps to keeping one's identity secure. First, keep your personal information secure offline by keeping important documents in a safe, secure location. Limit what you carry and always keep your purse or wallet locked away when at work. If schools, doctor's offices or businesses ask for personal information, ask questions to ensure the information is necessary and to understand how it is safeguarded. Shred receipts and bills with account information on them and destroy labels on prescription bottles before throwing them away.
Second, secure your online personal information by being aware of impersonators. Do not give out your personal information over the phone, Internet or through the mail unless you initiated the contact. Do not click on links in emails from companies claiming to have an account from you unless it is an email you are expecting. Contact customer service before using the link. Safely dispose of personal information on mobile devises before disposing of them. Keep your passwords private and complex and do not share too much information on social media, such as your phone numbers, Social Security number or personal address.
Third, secure your Social Security number. Always ask why it is necessary, how it will be used and how it will be protected before giving it to a company or person. Fourth, keep your devises secure, either through anti-virus software, avoiding suspicious emails, restricting Wi-Fi access, setting up password protection on your laptop and reading and understanding privacy policies.
With these precautions, residents can reduce the likelihood of identity theft and keep their personal information secure. We encourage all of our readers to keep track of their financial information and always be aware of possible scams. A little extra effort now could prevent thousands of dollars worth of damage in the future.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.