Another way criminals take advantage of people is by using their personal information (such as phone, credit card, and social security numbers) to commit fraud. While advances such as automated teller machines (ATMs), credit cards, email, the Internet, and online banking and shopping make lives more efficient, they also make life easier for criminals. Keeping private information confidential becomes more difficult, but following a few simple tips can help.
Protect your Personal Identification Number (PIN). Don't write it down, give it out to others, or let people see you enter it when using an ATM. Be careful when using ATMs and make sure that they are in well-lit, highly trafficked areas. Protect all your banking cards (ATM, check, and credit) by not letting others use them and only giving out information for purchases (and then, only the required information.) Be sure to review your monthly statements closely. If there is a charge you do not remember making, call your credit card company or bank immediately. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the credit card company, bank, and police immediately.
Web sites, banks, credit card companies, and even some insurance companies nowadays require people to create personal passwords to protect their information. Pick a password that you can remember without writing down but would not be easy to guess (avoid using the names of relatives, pets, and street addresses.) The best passwords mix numbers with upper and lowercase letters. The fewer people who have access to your codes and passwords the better, so avoid giving them out or 'saving' them on your computer or online.
Buying things online can save time, hassle, and money, but it also requires you to give out personal information that others can use for fraud. Try to do business with large companies that you have heard of and trust. If you haven't heard of the company before, research it or ask for a paper catalog before you order anything electronically. Look carefully at the products or services the company is offering and be sure you understand what is being sold, the total price, the delivery date, and the return and cancellation policy. If the company does not use special software to protect your information, order your product by phone or fax. Never give out information that isn't necessary to make a purchase (for example your social security number or date of birth.)
Anyone can be a victim of fraud. Con artists may approach you online (by email or by setting up false Web sites), by telephone, through the mail, in person, or even by advertising in well-known newspapers and magazines or on TV. It's very easy nowadays for criminals to make their offers look legitimate and even the savviest of people can fall victim to their claims. A good rule of thumb is that if the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Some things to look out for and remember:
If it were that easy to make money, everyone would be rich! The same applies to miracle cures and any other sort of quick fix.
Many con artists (and even some legitimate companies) try to pressure you into spending money immediately. That's often because if you learn more about the product or offer, you will no longer be interested. Most legitimate offers are available for a longer period of time or will be offered again in a few months. It's your money; you should decide when and how you want to spend it.
Once cash leaves your hand or a check is cashed, it's hard to get the money back. Credit card companies can act as a second line of defense against fraud. If you pay for something you never receive, are charged illegally for things, or if someone tries to charge you too much, your credit card company will often help investigate the company and return your money. But remember, it's your job to make wise decisions about your purchases, protect your credit card information from fraud, and contact your credit card company about fraud immediately.
Ask as many questions as you can about what is being offered. If it is being offered online or via mail, read all the clauses and exceptions included in the flier. If it is being offered by phone, ask the company to send you the offer in writing. (This is often an easy way to get rid of pesky telemarketers too!)
Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if a company is legal and if any claims have been filed against them for fraud or unfair practices. You may also want to check with the local police. Ask telemarketers or people who approach you in person to show you identification and printed materials about their company and offer. (But remember, even these can be faked, so it's still wise to check with authorities.)
Contact your local police, your credit card company (if you paid by credit card), your city or state consumer protection office, and the Better Business Bureau. If you suspect fraud, call the National Fraud Information Center at 800-876-7060 or visit their Web site: www.fraud.org
Don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you want about a product, offer, or company. It's your right to be as informed as possible before spending your money and you should feel comfortable about your decisions. If you feel you have been taken advantage of, don't be afraid to speak up. You'll be saving hundreds of other people from falling victim to the same scam.
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