Attorney General's News Release
March 5, 2012
Attorney General focuses on Missouri consumers during National Consumer Protection Week
Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today kicked off the 12th annual National Consumer Protection Week (March 5 - 9) with plans to prosecute and raise consumer awareness about some of the most common scams aimed at Missourians.
The week will focus on five areas in which Missourians are most commonly targeted: identity theft, tax preparation scams, telephone cramming, telemarketing fraud, and unscrupulous mortgage practices. Koster will release information each day this week on how to protect against these and other types of unlawful merchandizing practices. His office also plans to file legal actions against scammers throughout the week.
The week’s first topic is identity theft. Koster is alerting consumers to the ways identities can be stolen, and what consumers can do to protect their identities:
How Identities are Misused:
- Identity Theft: Opening store or bank credit is just one way that thieves can misuse your identity to reap financial reward. Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, more and more debit cards are being cloned with “skimmers,” which are small, electronic devices that can steal and store information.
- Loan Fraud/Payday Loan Fraud: With payday loans, thieves use your confidential information to obtain advances on your paychecks. Thieves can open these types of loans in multiple states, racking up a huge debt before you become aware of it.
- Bank Fraud: Thieves can pilfer your bank account information and clean out your savings in an instant.
- Tax Fraud: Enterprising thieves will try anything for profit, even forging tax returns in your name to get your refund.
- Government Documents Fraud: From Social Security cards to birth certificates and drivers licenses, illegally obtaining and selling government documents is big business for thieves.
How to Protect Yourself:
- Watch your credit score: How do you know if a thief has gotten hold of your personal information? One way is to keep a close eye on your credit report and watch for changes in your score. You can check your credit report for free at: www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Don’t share your personal information: Before providing any personal information, especially at doctors’ offices and other places of business, ask why the information is needed. Accidental disclosures on the business end can put you at risk for identity theft.
- Shred and destroy your documents: Dumpster diving is a proven method for thieves to gain access to your personal information.
- Protect your children’s information: You are not the only person in your family at risk. More and more youth identities are being stolen so that thieves can commit employment or benefits-related fraud. They may get away with it for years before you even realize it.
What You Can Do Once You Know Your Identity Has Been Stolen
Follow these steps immediately if you discover you’ve been a victim of identity theft:
- File a police report with your local police or sheriff’s department.
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened without your consent.
- Call the three credit reporting bureaus and place a fraud alert or security freeze on your credit file.
- Review your credit report for accounts you didn’t open, debts you didn’t know about, inquiries from companies you don’t know and other inaccurate information.
- Dispute any fraudulent charges or accounts.
- Block any fraudulent information from your credit report.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General’s Office.
- Use new account numbers and change all your passwords.
- Keep track of your actions and save copies of all your correspondence.
Go online to the Consumer Protection page at ago.mo.gov for sample letters and more information.
Types of Identity Theft Scams:
- P2P File Sharing: Music sharing sites and other peer-to-peer networks have helped high-tech thieves get all kinds of personal information via accidental disclosure – tax returns, password files, birth dates, and account numbers. Anything stored by the same hard drive as the shared library can inadvertently go public when you connect.
- Dumpster Diving: This method of identity theft is one of the most traditional—and most effective. Thieves search your trash for documents that contain your personal information and gain access to important numbers that help them commit identity theft.
- Phishing: That email from your bank in your inbox could be real—or a phishing attempt. Today’s thieves are busy impersonating legitimate businesses via email and websites in order to acquire your personal information like PINs, credit card or bank account numbers, or Social Security number information.
- SMSishing: Thieves are employing a sneaky new trend to get your personal info—sending text messages to your mobile device that impersonate a reputable contact and then direct you to a dangerous website with the goal of stealing your identity.
- Change of Address: This is a classic identity theft technique—thieves change the address where you receive mail and divert your personal information into the wrong hands.
- ATM Skimmers/Handheld Skimmers: Today’s thieves are innovating the way they steal your personal information, by swiping it–literally–when you are in the midst of a legitimate transaction such as paying for dinner bill at a restaurant, pumping gas, or using an ATM.
- Mail Theft: “Old school” thieves scout for unlocked mailboxes and steal your mail—and your identity—right from your front door.
- Malware, Malicious Software, Viruses, Worms, Trojan Horses, Spyware, and Rootkits: Cyber thieves can install malicious software to exploit weaknesses in features of many popular software titles. Once installed, malware can run executable programs on your computer without your consent, including transmitting personal information via the Internet to remote computers, where it is stored and sold at a later date to counterfeiters.