How can people protect themselves from identity theft?

Statistics reveal that fraud and identity theft claim a new victim every 22 seconds.

Just when many think all the scams have been played out, sophisticated criminals come up with a new way to separate the unsuspecting from their money.

"They'll pivot on a dime. If it doesn't work today, they'll switch tomorrow. They're much more agile than the general public, who tend to be creatures of habit," said Lana Thompson, vice president and regional sales manager at BMO Harris Bank.

To help people safeguard their finances, Thompson will discuss fraud and identity theft from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22 at The Community House (see Page 24 for details).

"We'll show people how to identify the signs of fraud, what are some red flags they can look for, what are some common scams that are out there," she related.

And it starts with developing wise practices, like limiting one's use of personal checks.

"If you can at all help it, don't ever write another check to somebody that you don't know and trust personally," Thompson advised. "If a fraudster gets a hold of your check, they've got a ton of information right there they can use."

"Always follow up to see that it's been cashed property," she said.

Electronic transfer is a safer method, when possible. But going digital is not as natural for seniors, often making them prime targets.

"They sometimes tend to be more trusting of others. And they've amassed some wealth," Thompson said. Email scams are constantly flooding people's in-boxes, often with persuasive pleas.

"They say you need to update your account in 24 hours or it will be canceled. They want to create a sense of urgency and discomfort so people get frazzled and go ahead and provide their personal information," Thompson said. "The criminals prey on that."

Check with the institution's customer care service directly if there's a question before divulging any data. Banking and credit card fraud are the most common forms, but thieves also target medical, home mortgage and other information.

If someone is victimized, Thompson prescribed three steps to take: collect the pertinent information, report it to the institution and the police and repair the damage done through the processes available.

And don't feel ashamed.

"Never be embarrassed," she commented. "It's a crime, and they are expert at being criminals."

She encouraged everyone to utilize online banking and avoid carrying checks and large amounts of cash.

"If done correctly, (online banking) is the safest way that you can do your banking," she said. "When you have access to your account 24/7, it gives you the opportunity to regularly review and inspect transactions and just give yourself that piece of mind."

Thompson encouraged everyone to attend her free talk to gain the tools for guarding their information and resources, and the confidence to act in the event of criminal activity.

"I hope this education empowers individuals to protect themselves and ask the right questions," she said. - by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean