by Katy Kappele
Several students at Whatcom Community College tell a story of a phone call and a bank card. The story goes like this: someone called them on the phone claiming to be from a bank, needing information to keep a credit card open. The students, frightened and naive, gave out the information and found themselves embroiled in a mess they found difficult to escape. They found charges for magazines they did not want and did not sign up for in their next credit card statements. One student changed credit cards to avoid the fraudulent charges and the caller tracked her down and asked for more information. This time she said no.
“Approximately 85 percent of identity theft victims did not know the thief’s identity and approximately 56 percent did not know their identity was stolen,” said JT Taylor, head of Whatcom’s criminal justice program.
Scams have taken on many forms over the years, including those used on the phone and the Internet. Many include identity theft. Taylor advises students not to throw away any old checks or credit cards, because thieves will dig through the garbage before it is picked up in order to find financial information.
Fraudsters have become tech-savvy; they are now installing card readers at gas stations and stores. These readers can steal PIN numbers and credit card information so the fraudster is able to steal your financial identity, warns the Vancouver Police Department. They also warn people never to enter a PIN when someone is watching, and not to lend your credit and debit cards to anyone.
Anyone who asks for money over the phone or the Internet is suspect. These people will frequently have a sob story like their mother is dying and they need to fly to France to see her but don’t have any money. They will ask for money via a money transfer service such as Paypal or Western Union. If they ask for credit card information, never give it to them!
Whatcom criminal justice student Katie Ramsey, 20, says that she is very careful to avoid scams, using only reputable sites when shopping online, and never giving out information.
Ramsey’s grandmother was scammed online. “They told her that this group she was a part of now required credit card numbers to prove you were over 18,” Ramsay said. “She fell for it. They got all her credit card info, and a bunch of her personal information. They had to go through that whole identity recovery process.”
Ramsey added that people should be very careful of e-mail scams. “If you haven’t entered the Spanish lottery, you can’t win it,” she said.
E-mail scams are particularly nasty because often they install viruses that can gather information from daily online activities. These usually get sorted out by spam folders, but spammers stay in business because there is always someone gullible enough to fall for their tricks.
Another one to be wary about is the Craigslist or Ebay scam. This is where a vender places a product such as a bicycle for sale, accepts bids, and then charges the buyer without ever sending the bike. Frequently the bike is for sale again the next day.
A variation of this scam is where a buyer, not a vender, asks for the product to make sure it works before she sends money. The vender will probably never get the money if he sends her the product.
Sam Lynn, 21, warns other students about Money Tree which she describes as “legal fraud.” Money Tree is a short-term lending institution. “You take out a loan of $400 and you are forced to pay it all out in 45 days, plus interest, and you end up paying a thousand plus dollars,” Lynn said.
“Sometimes you pay more like $4,000,” she added. “And if you can’t pay back all the interest it destroys your credit. The fraud part is even though you can pay it the next day easily you’re still forced to pay it out all the 45 days and all the interest that comes with it.”
Gennette Cordova, 21, disagrees. She said she once had a $5,000 check that her bank would take 10 days to clear. “They took like $650 out of it but they saved my life. It was for tuition.”
The FBI has an excellent webpage detailing the most common scams, new and old. The website can be found at http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud.
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