The forum’s theme was “Identity Theft and Scams: How to Avoid Them and What to Do If You’re A Victim.”
Wayne Carter, assistant district attorney in the 10th Judicial District, explained identity thieves need very little initial information.
“I did a seminar last December and was amazed at the very little bit of information needed by the bad guy in order to get your identity,” Carter said. “They can take your date of birth and they can get information based off your date of birth.”
Carter spoke alongside Jack Tapper, a Cleveland attorney and forum moderator, and Gary Cordell, Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs director. All three men approached identity theft from different angles.
Tapper gave a list of simple actions to protect against identity theft.
- Unlike the National Do Not Call list, there is not a National Do Not Email registry.
“There is no such thing,” Tapper said. “When you put your email [on the list], that is the beginning for an identity theft.”
- Clean out wallets with old cards or personal information like bank account numbers. Take all of the cards left in the wallet and make front and back photo copies.
“If your wallet is stolen, you have a readily identifiable set of all your cards. You can begin to start calling all the companies involved to cancel the cards,” Tapper said. “Otherwise, you have to start thinking, ‘Was it a Shell credit card? Did I have a Belk’s Department card?’ This way you will have all of that in safe keeping.”
- Rental car agreements should be shredded or kept in a safe place following the contract’s completion. Tapper impressed upon the audience not to leave the agreement in the car. He said rental agreements have personal information identity thieves can use.
- Be alert to personal identity kept where guests — babysitters, dinner guests, relatives — can easily observe the information. The same goes for business owners.
- Do not throw away credit card solicitations. Tapper said all a thief needs is the address, name and the mail to open a card. Instead, he suggested shredding the solicitations.
- Clicking “Do not send” on spam emails verifies the account is live.
- Tapper told audience members never to give credit card numbers over the phone unless they initiated the calls. He also told them only to give their Social Security number to companies which already have the information.
Cordell listed several scams he sees on a regular basis.
“How many of you have been approached by someone from say, Nigeria, who has several million dollars and for some reason has your name and number?” Cordell asked. “How many of you have won Publisher’s Clearing House and you can’t even remember entering the sweepstakes?”
The third scam he listed usually targets the elderly.
“How many of you have received a call in the middle of the night from a young person stating they are a friend of your grandson or granddaughter — or they are even saying they are your grandson or granddaughter and saying the reason you can’t understand them is because they were in a car accident and broke their nose? So they are mumbling and they can barely talk, and yet, they are calling you by your pet name, whether it is Memaw or Papaw or Boppy.”
The caller usually tells a story of how they have recently left the country or gone on a trip to a wedding.
“They’ve gotten in trouble, they’ve gotten in a wreck or they’ve been arrested, and they don’t want to call Mom and Dad. They want you to ... wire $500, $1,000 or even $5,000 to get out of jail and come home,” Cordell said. “Any of you fallen for that?”
Cordell said a lot of scams prey on seniors. The reasoning is a lot of people have been successful in life. Identity thieves want to find the older person’s nest egg, money set aside to live comfortably.
According to Cordell, identity thieves do not care whether a person has $50 or $5 million in the bank.
He repeatedly reiterated anyone who is a victim of fraud or identity theft should contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.
Victims may also file an identity theft affidavit online at ftc.gov with the Federal Trade Commission. The same information can also be printed out and sent through the postal system.
Tapper suggested anyone who becomes a victim should file a fraud alert on all credit agencies.
“That fraud alert will stop anybody from taking any kind of credit on your behalf, unless they verify your identity,” Tapper said. “The fraud alert should stay for up to seven years.”
Audience members were also warned against making other common mistakes.
- Placing a person’s date of birth in an obituary could make them a victim of identity theft. Tapper said placing the person’s age is fine, but the date of birth could cause issues.
As a side note, Tapper mentioned some home thefts occur when a family is at a funeral. Burglars look up the time of the funeral and any relatives in town. They know the homes will most likely be empty. Tapper suggested asking a friend or neighbor to watch over the house during the funeral.
- Terms and Conditions on many websites include what can be done with personal information. When “Agree” is chosen then the website has the power to use the person’s information as it was listed in the conditions.
- Passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) should not be: birthdates, string of numbers, a Social Security number, a personal telephone number or birthdate of a child. All passwords should include a mix of letters, numbers and characters. The more digits and characters, the harder it is for thieves to crack with an algorithm.
- Tapper says he personally has LifeLock.
“What I like about the service is if you get a hit on any of the three [credit reporting] agencies, then you get an alert either by email or telephone,” Tapper said. “It says, ‘We have detected some change on your credit report. Please contact us ...”
Cordell urged audience members to share their newfound knowledge.
“If we can educate the public on how to avoid being scammed, or how to take action, that is half the battle,” Cordell said. “There are some of these folks we will never be able to put into jail ... but there is a way to educate folks to prevent it from happening in the first place.”