How to protect yourself from fraud

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Better Business Bureau said consumers and businesses can protect themselves from most criminal attempts to obtain money and personal information.

There have always been con artists, thieves, burglars and snake oil salesmen. Technology has made criminals’ jobs easier – something they can do from the comfort of their homes. For the most part, when personal computers made the scene in the 90s, criminals devised new ways to get hold of our money and phish for personal information.

“Local and international criminal enterprises subvert technology designed to make our lives easier,” said Connecticut Better Business Bureau spokesman Howard Schwartz in a statement. “Unfortunately, there is considerable fraud committed over the telephone and at the front door.”

Criminals then began committing telephone fraud with clever pitches. Swindlers learned how to disguise their phone numbers on caller ID and came up with a variety of ways to lure or frighten us into sending money through untraceable methods such as cashier’s checks and wire transfers. The most common telephone schemes involves impostor scams, in which the caller claims to be from law enforcement, a government agency, utility, medical office or charity.

“The most important takeaway message is to never “verify” personal information in an unsolicited telephone call or an authentic-looking email.”

Being a smart consumer involves fending off criminal fraud, as well as being careful where you buy, how you pay, and monitor bank and utility statements.

Connecticut BBB offers these smart consumer resolutions, none of which will cost you anything:

  • Do your research – It can take less than a minute to look up a business, professional or charity with Better Business Bureau to see whether a company is legitimate, and if so, what other consumers’ experiences have been like.
  • Check your credit reports for free – AnnualCreditReport.com is a government-sanctioned, free way to obtain your credit reports from each of the three credit reporting companies. Credit report mistakes can lower your credit score. Your credit reports will also indicate whether you are the victim of identity theft.
  • Ignore phantom phone calls – Your caller ID can be spoofed so you never really know who is calling you. If you get a robocall or live marketing call, just hang up, don’t press any buttons on your phone. Another way to avoid illegal marketing calls is to allow calls to go to voicemail.
  • Ignore threatening calls – No legitimate institution or business will contact you by telephone or email, and certainly not threaten you. You can register with the Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov) and file a complaint against a fraud attempt by telephone.
  • Be careful with your documents – When you’re finished with them, either lock up or shred financial statements, utility bills, out of date income tax returns and anything with your signature. If you throw out these documents without first shredding them, they may fall into the hands of dumpster divers.
  • Beware of “special offers” by text, email or social media – Clicking on links or opening attachments in emails and texts can cause tremendous problems, including theft of your personal information and contacts, or turning your computer into a spam generator.
  • One password per account – If you use the same password for multiple accounts and there’s a data breach, that password can fall into the hands of criminals who will try it on different sites until they succeed in hacking their way into your personal life.

You will find additional safe consumer information here.