Posts Tagged ‘Identity theft’

Reliable information offers best scam prevention

Have health insurance questions?
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We are getting alerts from various agencies about telemarketing calls targeting seniors and other under the guise of assistance with the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Most recently a caller insisted that a consumer provide not only name, address, Social Security number but also bank tracking numbers to receive her new Medicare Card. THERE IS NO NEED FOR A NEW MEDICARE CARD.
Enrollment begins October 1, 2013 and coverage begins January 1, 2014.
We will continue to add resources.

Don’t take the bait: Avoid phishing scams


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 18, 2013, at 1 p.m.

There’s a kind of social engineering designed to part consumers from their hard-earned money.

It’s called phishing, and it’s become one of the most common scams. It was the fourth most common scam reported to the National Consumers League fraud center last year, and — when lumped in with all “imposter scams” — it ranked No. 8 in the top 10 frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Phishing involves a number of ways that con artists gain people’s trust and thereby gain access to their personal and/or financial information. Once that’s done, it’s a short step to stealing someone’s identity, cleaning out their bank account or otherwise wreaking havoc on their financial lives.

The director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America says new phishing schemes are popping up every day.

“We want people to realize that it should be no different when someone approaches you online or by phone asking for that information,” Susan Grant said in a news release last week.

For whatever reason, some of us are more trusting of nameless, faceless people who hit us up by email or over the phone. Most of us would not think twice about refusing a request for personal information from someone who rang our doorbell; when that person makes an electronic approach, we might think twice.

That’s what the con artists want. They pretend to be someone they’re not: an employee of your bank, a government official or an officer of the company where you work. They call or email you with what sounds like a legitimate request for information; instead, it is a (sometimes) cleverly disguised way to get you to reveal your Social Security number, bank account number or other personal data that they can use.

The approach by telephone might be the easiest phishing attempt to ward off. You can simply say, “Sorry, I don’t do any business over the phone,” and hang up. It may be a little tougher when the come-on appears in your email.

It might say that you’ve left something off your income tax return: “Don’t delay your return — click here.” Or you may be asked for an account number “to pay the administrative fee on this prize you’ve won.” The variations are endless … and so is the phishing.

A common theme among phishing attempts: They are not what they seem to be. If you’re asked to click on a link, picture or anything from a source you don’t know, DON’T DO IT. You might be downloading malicious spyware onto your computer. You also could be redirected to another, unknown website where trouble awaits. A request to “join my social network” might really be a hook that someone is using to try to reel you in.

The Consumer Federation has a new video summarizing these and other helpful hints at If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, visit to find out what to do. There’s more information about scams and protecting your identity at the FTC website,

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

Thieves target children as easy victims of identity theft – Bangor Daily News


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 12, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Here’s a quick quiz: Which of the following scenarios means your child has become a victim of identity theft?

• You receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that your child did not pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another person’s income tax return.

• You or your child are turned down for government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account bearing the child’s SSN.

• You get bills or collection calls for goods or services that you did not order.

The correct answer is: “All of the above.” Each scenario could be an example of a child’s identity being stolen.

A study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab in November 2011 found that 10.2 percent of more than 40,000 juveniles who were studied experienced some kind of identity theft or fraud. The comparable rate among adults was 0.2 percent.

Why the big difference? Children are routinely issued SSNs as infants; if a child’s number is stolen, the theft may not become apparent for months or even years. Those numbers are prime targets for thieves, who look for SSNs with clean histories. With them, thieves can commit financial fraud, do an end-around bad credit ratings and get around constraints placed on illegal immigrants.

Theft can also occur within families. A driver whose license is suspended or revoked might “borrow” the child’s SSN to establish a new identity and regain a license. A person might assume the identity of another family member to repair credit, apply for a job or to avoid arrest.

When a parent discovers that the child’s ID has been stolen, he or she bears the burden of proving that the child is in fact a child, and that the child did not run up the bills that someone else is trying to collect. The parent becomes lead investigator, trying to figure out how the child’s personal information got into the wrong hands while setting the record straight.

When a person turns 18 and applies for financial aid for college or tries to rent an apartment, only then might he or she discover that his or her identity was stolen years before. The investigation becomes a cold case, with a fraudulently obtained credit history in shambles and no way to find out exactly what happened. The thief often uses the identity until the credit history is destroyed and the thief can no longer get credit using that identity.

Parents are urged to check their child’s credit history when the child is no older than 16, to make sure that history is clear (access the three major reporting agencies for a free annual report at

The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center ( says sometimes parents who get in financial trouble use the SSN of their own child in an effort to rebuild their financial lives. They may think they will pay off their bills in time, so that their child’s credit history won’t be damaged; that may or may not be the case.

Identity theft was the Federal Trade Commission’s leading complaint last year (the 13th straight year the crime ranked number one), with over 369,000 complaints. The FTC has step-by-step help at its website: The Maine Attorney General’s website ( has a checklist of action steps as well. Victims may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

National Consumer Protection Week – March 3-9, 2013

Consumer Topics

 Every day, we make important decisions about finances, health, privacy, technology and more. offers consumers a wealth of tips and information from federal and state government and non-profit partner organizations. You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you’re planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

Stay on top of your credit history


By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact

Posted Feb. 24, 2013, at 6:41 p.m.

A consumer from Penobscot County reached out to us recently, saying she was afraid she might have let herself become a victim of identity theft.

Last year, the woman cashed in an annuity. Knowing she would have to report the transaction on this year’s income tax filing, she tried to email the pertinent information to her accountant. However, by missing one keystroke, she sent the message somewhere other than to the accountant. She worried about who might have received her personal and financial information and how it might be used.

A check with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection reaffirmed our initial reaction: get a credit report from one of the three major reporting agencies, and do it FAST (at — this is the truly free one). You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every year, and rotating your requests every four months keeps you abreast of your credit history and any errors or misdeeds that might affect that history.

The state credit protection folks also strongly encourage visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website ( Info there can help repair your damaged credit. But guess what: It’s not just the big three reporting agencies that keep track of your credit history.

There are at least several dozen companies that keep track of other things. Some collect information about medical conditions and data that consumers provide on insurance applications. Others track rental performance, including lease violations, damages, skips and unauthorized pets. Still others compile information on check writing, employment histories, criminal backgrounds and other personal information. A firm called The Work Number provides employment and income verification, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which says the company compiles data from large private sector payroll processors.

The CFPB is just beginning to get a handle on such operations, which comprise part of what’s known as alternative credit. For consumers without a traditional credit history, alternative credit can be a way to establish a good credit history, for example, by repeatedly paying multiple utility bills on time.

For people concerned about their info in a growing number of trackers’ hands, the CFPB offers some reassurance. The bureau requires companies that collect information about you to make that information available to you. Some offer a free report every year; others will give you a free report only if the information in the report has had some adverse effect on you. If you have to pay for a report, it can’t cost more than $11.50.

The CFPB says you may want to check with one or more of these specialty bureaus:

  1. If you think your identity has been stolen or someone has fraudulently cashed a check using your bank account.
  2. Before you apply for insurance.
  3. Before you apply for a lease.
  4. If, when applying for a job, your potential employer asks for your written okay to get a report.

For more information, visit and search “you have a right to see specialty consumer reports, too.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

To prevent identity theft, guard your Social Security number


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 17, 2013, at 3:12 p.m.

Almost everything you read about preventing identity theft advises that you guard your Social Security number, or SSN, like gold. Why, then, do some agencies insist that you carry certain documents containing your SSN everywhere you go? And as one local consumer asked us, why when you call some companies does everyone who answers the phone need to know your SSN?

We know that identity thieves try all sorts of tricks to access our SSNs. With the numbers and some other personal information, they can open accounts or apply for jobs posing as you. They can also try to get a refund from the Internal Revenue Service; alert the IRS immediately if you receive a letter saying:

• The IRS has information you’ve been paid by an employer that you don’t know.

• It has received more than one tax return with your name on it.

The IRS will work with you to straighten things out. Of course, it’s simpler if you can avoid the hassle in the first place by keeping your SSN out of the hands of thieves.

That can be a problem if you carry it everywhere. Thieves are not shy about picking your pocket or handbag and helping themselves to your SSN, as well as whatever cash you might be carrying. For that reason, experts in preventing identity theft advise you to leave your Social Security card and other documents that contain your number at home, unless it’s mandatory that you have it.

That’s where the San Diego-based Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, or PRC, has a problem with some companies and government agencies. PRC notes that in 2006, the U.S. Government Accounting Office found that 42 million Medicare cards, eight million Department of Defense ID cards and seven million Veterans Affairs ID cards carried SSNs. It took until the middle of 2011 for the numbers to begin disappearing from the military IDs.

The Social Security Number Protection Act became law in December 2010, but will take three years to fully implement. Many consumers are unhappy that their SSNs appear on their Medicare cards, which they may feel obligated to carry. The PRC suggests you photocopy your Medicare (or other) insurance card and either blacken or cut out the last four numbers of your SSN. Cut the photocopy to wallet size and carry that, instead of your card with the full number on it. Once you’re in a database, that should be sufficient for identification or authentication purposes.

The “last four numbers of your Social” has become a theme song for entities that still use SSNs as identifiers. We’re asked to believe that revealing a partial number is not risky. Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, disagreed in a September 2007 letter to the Federal Trade Commission, saying “use of even a partial SSN may be an ineffective authenticator given the widespread availability of these numbers.”

During this tax season, identity thieves are sending out bogus emails by the millions, trying to trick us. Don’t give personal or financial information to a caller or email purporting to be from the IRS — the agency does not do business in those ways. And don’t click on anything in any unsolicited email.

For more on the subject, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at and search “tax related identity theft.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

A (Potentially) Taxing Situation | Consumer Information from FTC

February 12, 2013


Carol Kando-Pineda
Attorney, FTC

Tax season is here. It’s time to get your files and forms in order. You may be well-versed in W-2s and 1099’s, but do you know that an identity thief can mess up your tax files or even get to your tax refund before you can file for it?

Tax-related ID theft can happen in a few ways; all of them involve your Social Security Number (SSN). If someone uses your SSN to get a job, the employer reports that person’s income to the IRS using your SSN. When you file your tax return, you don’t include those earnings. The IRS doesn’t know those wages were reported by an employer you don’t know, so the agency would send you a notice or letter saying you didn’t report that income.

Sometimes an identity thief uses your SSN to file for — and get — your tax refund before you file. Then, when you file your return, IRS records show the first filing and the refund. You’ll get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for you.

If this happens to you — or if the IRS sends you any notice or letter indicating a problem — contact them immediately. Visit the IRS  online or call 1-800-908-4490. Specialists will help you get your tax return filed, get you any refund you may be due, and protect your IRS account from identity thieves in the future.

One additional point: the IRS never starts contact with a taxpayer using email, text, or social media that asks for personal or financial information. If you get an email that claims to be from the IRS, do yourself a favor: don’t reply or click on any links.  Instead, forward it to

On February 20 and 21, 2013, the FTC, federal and state enforcement agencies, and consumer advocacy groups will hold a series of Town Halls in South Florida to discuss how to combat tax-related ID theft.

If you suspect identity theft, learn more about how to repair the damage.

As tax time approaches, be wary of tax scams


By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted Feb. 10, 2013, at 6:20 p.m.

With February upon us, many Mainers are thinking about income taxes and wondering, can the filing deadline really be just a couple of months away?

It is, and the income tax fraud perpetrators are hard at work. Don’t let them catch you in one of their scams, like the fake email claiming it has information that you must deal with right now. They might say they have ways you can get extra deductions; they might even claim to have a refund check for you.

Or, instead of the carrot, they may wield a stick. The scary subject line might read, “FY 2010 and 2011 tax documents; accountant’s letter.” Uh-oh, an audit must be just around the corner … or it’s the scammers, acting tough and hoping we’ll open that attachment and turn loose the Trojan that will give them access to our computers and everything in them.

There are so many scams out there that the Internal Revenue Service has a website ( devoted to keeping scammers at bay. Before reviewing some pointers, let’s look at some of the IRS’s top 10 scams from last year.

Identity theft tops the list. If the IRS notifies you that you’ve filed two tax returns or that you appear to have received wages from an unknown employer, you may have had your identity stolen. Thieves may have filed a tax return in your name and claimed a refund.

Last winter the IRS went after more than 100 people in 23 states suspected of being identity thieves. In 2011, the agency reported more than 900,000 fraudulent returns relating to identity theft. The IRS has been training thousands of employees to help deter such crimes.

Also on the IRS top 10 list is the phishing scam. It’s really the same old ploy to get you to click on an attachment, which starts a program that wreaks havoc on your computer. Resist the urge. DON’T click on attachments in unsolicited emails. DON’T click on attachments in email from people you know if something looks suspicious. And DON’T click on attachments in email from companies you do business with; it may be a look-alike that crooks have created to fool you. Call the company, or do a manual download rather than clicking.

Watch out for fraudulent tax preparers. Some of them charge big fees with promises of a big refund. They may prompt you to “get all you can” by cutting corners or giving the IRS false information, all of which can land you in jail.

Some scammers claim they can help you move money offshore; if you don’t follow the law exactly, you could be looking at a tax evasion charge. Or, the scammer might give you an account number with instructions to wire your money to it; you may find out too late that it’s the scammer’s account and your money is gone.

Another red flag is a promise of “free money” from the IRS. The scammer will promise a few simple tricks making tax return preparation simpler and prompting larger refunds. The “tips” may be weak or just plain wrong, and the “free” money goes to the crook.

Remember, the IRS does not use email, text messaging or social media to get personal or financial information from filers. If you get a fax claiming to be from the IRS, contact the agency to make sure it’s real. To do that, or for a tax-related question, you can reach the IRS through this website:

One bit of friendly advice: If you file electronically, keep a hard copy for your files. And for low- and moderate-income households, there’s free tax preparation help available through the United Way of Eastern Maine ( and Volunteers of America (

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

Get a check from the federal government? Watch out for scams

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact
Posted Jan. 13, 2013, at 5:41 p.m.

Ever since the federal government said it would stop sending paper checks in favor of using direct deposit, scam artists have been hard at work. With a March 1 deadline for the switch coming, expect crooks to ramp up their illegal efforts.

Scammers call, write or email to phish for personally identifiable information, such as Social Security numbers. Once they have enough information, the crooks can claim a false identity and set up an account to receive federal payments.

The U.S. Treasury Department is getting the word out that the switch to direct deposit will be complete as of March 1. Everyone who receives Social Security, veterans’ or other federal benefits should be aware that many such payments will no longer be made by paper checks.

There are two basic reasons for the change, which has been under way for a number of months. Right now, about 93 percent of all federal payments are directly deposited. The Eastern Area Agency on Aging, or EAAA, estimates 3,200 recipients in Hancock, Washington, Penobscot and Piscataquis counties are still receiving paper checks. Fully implementing direct deposit is expected to save the government $4.6 million a month, or a billion dollars over the next decade.

It’s also intended to make those federal payments more secure. Federal statistics show that more than 440,000 Social Security checks were stolen in 2011, and $70 million in checks were fraudulently endorsed. Direct deposit is expected to cut those figures dramatically.

Dyan Walsh, EAAA’s director of community services, says about 300,000 Mainers use direct deposit. “It’s a safety issue,” Walsh says, “to reduce the chance of anything happening to those payments.”

However, there are still risks. Those scammers are already on the phones, claiming to be government officials and asking people for the information that will help the crooks steal their money. Be aware: Governments don’t call or email and ask personal questions; if someone calls you claiming to be a federal official and wants personal information, just hang up.

Instead, you should take the initiative to make sure your payments are secure. The Treasury Department has launched the Go Direct campaign, explaining and promoting the change at Information is also available through a toll-free call to 800-333-1795, from 8 a.m to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday-Friday.

You can arrange for direct deposit to your bank or credit union account, either by phone or online. Christopher Pinkham, president of the Maine Bankers Association, says people in the industry are ready to answer customers’ concerns, especially about safety.

“It’s remarkable how well [direct deposit] works,” he told me.

Visit your bank or credit union and ask questions directly, if using the phone or email makes you uneasy.

You may opt to receive your payments by way of what’s called Direct Express Debit Mastercard. There’s no charge to sign up for the prepaid debit card, and most services are free. Those who have not arranged direct deposit by March 1 will receive their payments this way.

When making the switch you’ll need your Social Security number or claim number; 12-digit federal benefit check number; amount of most recent federal benefit check; financial institution’s routing transit number, and your account number and type — checking or savings. Work with a trusted friend or relative if you need help.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email

Beware the 911 scam


By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director of Northeast CONTACT
Posted Oct. 27, 2012, at 1:41 p.m.

As soon as he spoke with the woman last Tuesday, Bangor Police Officer Chris Blanchard knew she had been the victim of an attempted hoax.

The woman reported receiving a call that sounded suspicious. Her caller ID had read “Emergency 911,” and the man who called said he had a warrant for her arrest. He told the woman she should call Officer Richard Johnson at a phone number in Texas and arrange a payment to have the warrants voided.

Officer Blanchard called the number the woman had been given, and an extended song and dance began. Blanchard asked the man who answered if he could speak with the man’s supervisor; after waiting on hold for a few minutes, the same man came back on the line and tried to disguise his voice. Asked for his supervisor, the con artist tried the same ploy again.

Finally, Blanchard told the crook to stop his scam attempts and was told, in essence, “Just try and stop me.” With that, the crook hung up.

Blanchard called the Texas Attorney General’s office and learned people there were well aware of the scam. It’s been repeated across the country, and some people — unlike the woman who reported the incident to Bangor police — have been scammed for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

The crooks play on some of our most basic emotions: fear of both public humiliation and legal trouble, even when we know we are innocent. They “spoof” the number of the phone they’re using to make it appear that the call is coming from a police agency. They threaten that failure to pay will have dire consequences.

In fact, they’re just blowing smoke. They’re hoping that you’ll wire them money (not recoverable) rather than telling police. They make hundreds of calls at random, hoping the people who answer will suspend their common sense.

“No one is ever going to do that,” said Bangor Police Sergeant Paul Edwards, when asked about the scam. Edwards said no legitimate law enforcement agency notifies targets of warrants by phone, let alone solicits bribes to erase the “crime.”

Variations of the scam are scary. Some crooks are on the way to becoming identity thieves, correctly stating a would-be victim’s Social Security Number or other personal information. Under duress, a victim might surrender enough additional data to allow the thief to steal his or her identity.

Other crooks pose as process servers, arriving at a potential victim’s workplace or home. Many scammers cite delinquency on loans, saying if the victim provides a debit card number, the payment will be made and the process server will go away. In fact, all that goes away is the victim’s money.

If you’re contacted by someone trying to collect a debt you don’t owe:

  1. Contact your local law enforcement agencies if you feel you are in immediate danger;
  2. Contact your banks and credit card companies;
  3. Notify the three major credit bureaus and request an alert be put on your file;
  4. If you have received a legitimate loan and want to verify that you do not have any outstanding obligation, contact the loan company directly.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit or email


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