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Secure yourself: internet fraud

Date: May 19, 2006
Source: chicoer.com
By: PAULA M. FELIPE

This is the first of a two-part series on how to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud. Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey and D.A. Investigator Jos Van Hout provided a free public presentation on these topics during a symposium in the conference room at Gold Country Casino Thursday. The D.A.'s office and County of Butte Indian Gaming Local Benefit Committee sponsored the event, and NBC's Today Show will air a segment of this special event on May 27.

Identity theft, fake check manufacturing, credit card fraud, telemarketing and lottery frauds, Internet fraud and general fraud are on the rise, and the public needs to be informed on how to protect against these economic crimes.

District Attorney Mike Ramsey and Investigator Jos Van Hout spent two hours educating the public on the latest fraud schemes and ways to combat these crimes during a free public presentation Thursday.

Ramsey began with a demonstration of the D.A.'s updated website at: www.buttecounty.net/da, which includes a link for reporting crimes, including economics crimes, such as identity theft and fraud. People can also call: 1-866-DA-Fraud (1-866-323-7283) to report such crimes.

The main focus of the symposium was to raise awareness, so people know not to fall victim to scam artists. "Education and training equals awareness and prevention," Ramsey said.

Many scammers target the elderly, Ramsey said. "Our elder citizens are from a generation where it was rude to hang up on someone and people tended to trust others more. It was a different time then and things have changed. Now they need to learn to hang up the phone if someone is trying to obtain their personal information."

Major points on protecting identity were discussed.

"You need to take your social security card out of your purse or wallet and put it in a secure place," Ramsey said. "That way, if your purse or wallet is stolen, they don't also have your social security number which is key to stealing your identity."

"If your doctor needs your social security number and you cannot remember it, just provide a Xerox copy to the doctor," Ramsey continued. "And, then watch as they shred it for security purposes. But never carry your social security card around with you, and don't give your number out over the telephone."

Investigator Van Hout declared the word "fraud" means "Financial Reward Acquired Under Deception." "Are you protecting your identity?" he asked.

For example, on the Internet when you have to create your own password, do you use a favorite author or pet's name? "That's not good," Van Hout said. "You should use a combination of letters and numbers for enhanced security."

Some scammers will rummage through garbage cans and dumpsters looking for personal information. "You should shred all financial and legal documents before throwing them away. And, if you don't have a shredder, burn the documents instead," Van Hout said.

Securing one's mail and newspapers are very important. "If you go out of town, it's best to have the post office hold your mail or very good neighbors you can trust," Ramsey said.

Also, a "locking" mailbox was recommended. "Most newspaper carriers are very nice, hardworking people," Ramsey said. "But, we did have a few not so nice a few years ago who were arrested for burglaries because they were informed when their customers would be out of town. So, if you plan to travel out of town, you should be careful about who you tell because fraud can start with an 'inside' person."

When receiving phone calls, be careful and don't give out personal information. "And, don't take their phone number and call them back. They could be lying to you," Ramsey said. "You need to take the initiative and look up the business or bank's phone number and then you call that number. Don't trust people over the phone."

How do criminals get information?

Stealing a wallet or purse. "If you carry your social security card, driver's license, credit cards, and they steal them, they have what they need for identity theft."

Stealing your mail. "Don't receive your new checks in the mail," Ramsey said. "Have the checks mailed to the bank and then you can pick them up there. Also, never leave paid bills in your mailbox."

Rummage through garbage or dumpsters.

Burglarize your home and steal information.

Over the Internet. "Do not respond to e-mails that have links. Scammers send out fake announcements and create fake websites to try to get your personal and business information," Van Hout said.

Telemarketers over the phone.

Misuse of credit card. If using a credit card at a restaurant, for example, do not allow the waiter to walk away with it and bring it back. Go to the register yourself and pay and witness how they use the card. It only takes a few seconds to swipe it on a "skimmer" machine which then can allow the scammer to upload your personal information on the computer. "One way to help protect yourself from credit card fraud is to get a "low-limit" credit card that has a $500 limit to use for regular purchases, Van Hout said.

Public records. These include business licenses, legal documents, court records, bankruptcy records, conviction records, county tax records, warrants, which are some examples of accessible documents that contain your personal information.

"There were 8.9 million victims of identity theft last year, and 73 percent of those were untrained and careless victims," Van Hout said.

"The emotional impact of identity theft can be devastating," Ramsey said. "And, merchants are victims too."

To report fraud, call the District Attorney investigators at: 1-866-DA-FRAUD (1-866-323-7283).

Part Two of this series will feature more on the topics of credit card, check, telemarketing, and Internet fraud, including how to protect children from sexual predators over the Internet.

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