The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has only been compiling complaints for about 8 years. Debt collectors are the top consumer complaint category. Identity theft (credit card fraud and tax fraud) was the second biggest category.
The third most common consumer complaint is an imposter scam, which involves someone pretending to be a government official, tech support representative, or a loved one in trouble to trick consumers into giving them personal information.
There are any number of scams out there—here are some ways to avoid them.
Secure passwords are a vital way to protect yourself. The most often used passwords are Password or 00000 or 12345. Protect your personal information by creating secure passwords.
Think of a sentence, such as “I was born on September 13, 2000 in Abilene, Texas.” Then take the first letter of each word or number: iwbosttiat. Once you have that, create a password by making some of the letters caps and replacing some letters with symbols or numbers that are similar to the letters being replaced. Using that logic, your password would be: Iw6o$13ti@T.
The new password is not a real word, it can’t be found in the dictionary, it is a mixture of letters, numbers, and symbols, it is meaningful to you and it is not something people can easily discover (like your phone number or birthdate.)
A second way to protect yourself is to be careful with emails. Even if you recognize the name of the sender on the email, if it’s suspicious, check out the email address in case that person’s email has been spoofed. If you are trying to see if a website mentioned in the email is legitimate, type the email address in your browser, do not click on the links
You can also protect yourself by being cautious about answering phone calls. Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. Don’t answer any calls from numbers you don’t recognize. If it is important, and if the call is personal, the caller will leave a voice mail.
Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls, since they were able to get a live person to interact with them.
You can also use the website whitepages.com to do a reverse phone look-up. Type in the phone number which called you and see if the phone number is a high potential for scam. On your cell phone, block the calls you know are from scammers.
If you are suspicious about a specific call, take time to check it out. If someone says they are from a credit card company or a government agency and they are asking you for personal info like a credit card number or your social security number, call them back on a number you have verified. Don’t use the phone number the potential scammer gave you.
If someone calls and says there is a potential for fraud on your credit card and they want you to give them your credit card number to verify, don’t do it. Use the phone number of the back of your credit card and call the company back to verify if the potential fraud is real.
Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you pay, they will probably take the money and disappear.
In all situations, be cautious about how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back in case of fraud. That’s also true for reloadable cards (like MoneyPak or Reloadit) and gift cards (like iTunes or Google Play).
Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank, even if you already spent the money you deposited.
Before you give up your money or personal information, slow down and think. Scammers want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you, or say the police are on their way to arrest you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert, or talk to a friend.
Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products then bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
Freeze your credit through Equifax, Experian or Transunion to avoid identity theft. Unless you are applying for a mortgage, car loan, a credit card or some other type of loan, there is no reason to allow inquiries against your credit. When you restrict access to your credit information, it becomes more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your report, they may not extend the credit.
Sign up for free scam alerts from the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/scams to get the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox. If you spot a scam, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.
Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by strategy war is waged, and victory depends on many counselors.” Wage war on the people or organizations out there who are trying to take advantage of you.
We hope these ideas will help you keep your information safe and protect you from scammers. The Compass Catholic podcast has more ways to protect yourself.