February 19, 2018

CT Watchdog: How to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft

The call from Tyler was scary. He had been in a car accident in a rental car in Montreal and needed money to pay an attorney and fly home.

Dorothy Cheo, 81, of Niantic, was so upset on hearing her grandson was in trouble that she couldn’t think straight.

She quickly went to a local grocery store and wired $935 to Montreal through Western Union.

It was only after receiving the second phone call asking for more money that she began to question whether she had really talked to her grandson.

Nope. According to East Lyme resident state police Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette, she was at least the second local victim of this type of scam in the past year.

Cheo contacted me, asking that I tell her story as a cautionary tale to other parents and relatives, and she had a suggestion that Sgt. Blanchette endorsed: create a secret word for the family to use only if they are in trouble.

Cheo said she fell for the scam because the boy identified himself as Tyler and was coughing so hard it was impossible for her to know that it wasn’t really him. And then, when a second person got on the phone explaining he was Tyler’s attorney, she knew she had to act fast.

“If he had said ‘this is your grandson’ I would have been suspicious,” Cheo told me. “But he said he was Tyler and he sounded sick.”

After wiring the money, Cheo said she called her son, but couldn’t reach him. And the more she thought about it, the less sense it made. Her grandson was only 16 and she wasn’t even aware that he had a driver’s license. And what was he doing in Montreal instead of being in Massachusetts.

So by the time the “lawyer” called back saying he received the $935 but needed more money, she said no.

“Somehow the caller knew my grandson’s name and relation to me, so pretended to be him with a bad cough and desperate sound. Then a so-called lawyer explained that he was in jail in Montreal due to an auto accident that was not his fault.”

She then got contacted her son, who reassured her that Tyler was safe at band camp and had never been in Montreal.

“It was dumb,” she said, “but I was so worried.”

She said if they had set up a secret code word, this would not have happened.

Cheo said she has no idea how the scammers knew her telephone number and her grandson’s name.

She filed a complaint with the East Lyme police, and Sgt. Blanchette said he wasn’t surprised.

With so much personal information on the Internet, he said, it’s easy for crooks to put family information together, especially using sites like Facebook.

But, he said, “so far, how they picked out this family is a mystery.”

He said the first complaint he saw was very similar, where the call also came from Montreal.

“This is the crime wave of the future,” he said, adding that similar scam take place with hijacked email accounts.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST ID THEFT

Thanks to Consumer Reports for its effective suggestions on how to diminish ID theft.

I will start with my personal recommendation, which may be counterintuitive for those who don’t trust the Internet to do on-line banking.

Use on-line banking to pay your bills. Its free (nothing is really free but most banks offer it as long as you meet other requirements like automatic deposits). Effective. You have all your documentation in one place.

And you can set up alerts – this is crucial – to tell you when a new payee is added or a payment is made. It’s a tremendous way to have instant knowledge of what is happening with your bank account.

Other suggestions from CR – the trusted place for consumer tips:

Do not fill out surveys on warranty cards beyond your name and address and product info.

Stop unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers at www.optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688.

Put your name on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call registry at www.donotcall.gov or call 888.382-1222.

When you move only fill out a temporary change of address with the U.S. Postal Service that lasts for six month.

To get your name off mailing lists, go to the Direct Marketing Association’s consumer web site, www.dmachoice.org. Click on “Register for eMPS” to opt out of unsolicited junk email.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse lists data brokers that offer opt-out policies at www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm.

You can reach The Watchdog at George@connecticutwatchdog.com and he will answer as many emails as he can. Please check out his site, www.ctwatchdog.com for comprehensive consumer, health, finance, media, internet, computer, travel and education tips.

 

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