As the age-old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Yet each year, millions of Americans get lured by promises of prizes and unbeatable bargains only to get swindled into some of the county’s top identity-theft scams.
Annually, more than 16.6 million individuals are tricked into identity-theft scams, according to the Bureau of Justice. Don’t fall victim to these statistics; you can easily take precautions to protect yourself by being aware of America’s top identity-theft scams.
Identity-Theft Scam 1: Prize-Winning Text Messages
If you’re like most Americans, you’ve likely received a text message announcing you won a prize at least once in your life. From free gifts to special product deals, these supposedly claimable prizes can be all yours, provided you respond to the text with your personal information and bank account details. The catch: identity thieves now have everything from your financial account information to your Social Security number and you’re left with nothing but a surprise of unwanted charges and a compromised identity.
Protect yourself by deleting any text message that requests personal information or asks you to confirm personal details like an account number or password. Never click on links contained in the message, as they can contain malware that steals your information. Lastly, place your cell number on the National Do Not Call Registry and keep an eye on your bill for any unauthorized charges and fees.
Identity-Theft Scam 2: Cell Phone “Credit Mules”
It’s a fairly recent concept, yet its convenient, minimal-effort appeal has roped in countless cash-strapped individuals willing to act as cell phone “credit mules.” This scam is a joint effort between scammers and these “credit mules” who receive the promise of a payout upon purchasing wireless devices, unsuspectingly in exchange for their identity, credit and personal information. Mules are paid after purchasing various contracts on devices, which the scammer than asks to cancel within an allotted time period before selling them for profit.
The problem, however, is that mules are unable to cancel these contracts without also returning the phones or devices, leaving them victims of identity theft and costing hundreds of dollars in monthly service fees/contracts and even more in negative credit ratings, all while the scammers make thousands while selling these phones in the U.S. and even overseas. Protect yourself by never agreeing to sign a wireless contract outside of a legitimate retail store or company. If you think you may be getting duped into working as a “credit mule,” contacting the FTC can help protect others and prevent them from becoming an identity theft victim.
Identity Theft Scam 3: Phony Landlords
If you spot a deal on a home or vacation rental that seems hard to believe, that’s because it probably is. Phony landlords are setting up classifieds on dream properties in an effort to scam you into sharing your most sensitive information, like your bank account and personal details.
Perhaps this landlord only asks for a lump sum deposit, but in reality, you just lost this money as well as your identity. Be wary of Craigslist ads and online postings for fake homes, apartments and timeshares. If you do decide to pursue an online housing deal, never agree to a background or credit check before meeting in-person with your potential landlord.
Meghan Ross is a freelance writer covering all things home and living. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
For more information, visit CBS San Francisco’s Identity Theft section