Identity Theft and Fraud
Each year millions of Americans have their identity stolen. While there are no guarantees to avoid identity theft, it’s important for you to have information to protect yourself.
- We will NEVER initiate a phone or online request for sensitive information from you – such as your social security number, personal login ID, password, PIN or account number
- We will NEVER ask you to verify account information via email
- We STRONGLY suggest that you do not share your personal login ID, password, PIN or account number with anyone, under any circumstances
If you suspect that someone has had unauthorized access to your account with us, or access to your personal identifying information, please notify us immediately so we can take steps to protect you. We also suggest that you report this to your local law enforcement agency and to the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”). You may contact the FTC by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) or through the internet at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Steps to Protect Your Identity
- Don’t give any of your personal information in person, over the phone or over the internet to anyone without a good reason to trust them
- Don’t give your personal information to any websites that do not use encryption methods to protect it
- Don’t use PINs or other passwords that are easy to guess and regularly change your passwords
- Report lost or stolen checks, check cards or credit cards immediately
- Shred all documents containing personal information - such as bank statements, credit card statements, pay stubs, unused checks, deposit tickets and medical billings
- Pay bills online or mail bill payments and other items that contain personal information at a U.S. Postal Service drop box rather than in your curb side mailbox
- Make a prompt inquiry if bills or statements are not received in a timely manner – this could mean that they are being diverted by an identity thief
Mystery Shopper Scam
For many years now, thousands of people have been earning a little extra cash by doing Mystery Shopping (aka Secret Shopping). You probably already know what’s involved, but here’s a quick rundown from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
Some retailers hire marketing research companies to evaluate the quality of service in their stores; these companies use mystery shoppers to get the information anonymously. They assign a mystery shopper to make a particular purchase in a store or restaurant, for example, and then report on the experience. Typically, the shopper is reimbursed, and can keep the product or service.
Sounds good. And it is, when it’s genuine. Mystery shoppers get to eat for free, try new products (and keep them) at another company’s expense, and basically get paid for doing what they were going to do anyway.
However, once again the con artists have found another avenue to practice their trade, and it’s costing people a small fortune.
It’s a combination of employment fraud and a wire-transfer scam. Unfortunately, it preys on people who actually need money the most. Mystery shoppers tend to be people who need a little extra income to make ends meet, and the promise of good money for little effort is way too tempting. What’s more, this is a legitimate way to make money. So spotting the real shopping assignments from the fake ones can be tough.
You may answer an ad in the newspaper, or get a piece of mail, but the premise is the same. It involves a cashier’s check (warning sign #1) and a simple assignment. You’ll probably receive the check in a very official-looking employment packet, along with instructions on what to do with it. Usually, you’ll cash the check and then be asked to “shop” the services of Western Union at a local store by using their money transfer service to send most of the money to a given address. You will keep the remaining funds and submit a report on the whole process. Was it good? Did it go smoothly? How was the customer service?
The “shopper” is also put under extreme pressure to do the whole assignment in 2 days or less, for obvious reasons. The cashier's check is returned counterfeit and the mystery shopper is responsible for repaying the money to their bank.You may think "I'd never fall for that!" But hundreds of other people have said the same thing and have also been scammed. These guys look and sound like the real deal, complete with corporate stationery and professional websites.
So, how do you tell the real assignments from the fake? The FTC has some good advice, listed below, on spotting the real firms from the scam artists. Read it carefully.
First, how to spot real companies:
1. Search the Internet for mystery shopping companies that are accepting applications. Legitimate companies don’t charge an application fee. Many accept applications online.
2. Do some homework about mystery shopping. Check libraries or bookstores for tips on how to find companies hiring mystery shoppers, as well as how to do the job effectively.
3. Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website at http://www.mysteryshop.org/ for information on how to register to be a mystery shopper with a MSPA-member company, a database of available jobs, and additional information on the industry in general.
And be skeptical of mystery shopping promoters who:
1. Advertise for mystery shoppers in a newspaper’s ‘help wanted’ section or by email. While it may appear as if these companies are hiring mystery shoppers, it’s much more likely that they’re pitching unnecessary — and possibly bogus — mystery shopping “services.”
2. Sell “certification.” Companies that use mystery shoppers generally do not require certification.
3. Guarantee a job as a mystery shopper.
4. Charge a fee for access to mystery shopping opportunities.
5. Sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers.
The best advice is NEVER accept a cashier’s check from someone you don’t know and trust, and never wire money to strangers. Legitimate mystery shopping companies will never ask you to disburse money from your own checking account, so that should be a warning sign for you.
If you think you have encountered a mystery shopping scam, file a complaint with your local consumer protection agency, the Better Business Bureau, your State Attorney General, or the FTC.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
Free Annual Credit Report
Fight identity theft by monitoring and reviewing your credit report. For more information, visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/.