Identity Theft, Scam Calls, and Online Creeps… All Just Names for Thieves

This actually started out as a reply to a post on Facebook. And it got pretty long, so here it is ! Unfortunately, I’ve had personal info and credit cards stolen online several times. I’ve become rather bitchy if I get a phone call, and I don’t recognize the caller ID. Even my Samsung Tracfone had some issue (don’t know what happened, but my phone number was erased from the SIM card- could have been something totally unrelated to ID theft, but who knows?). 

I’ve had my credit cards hacked more times than I can count. I started out relatively trusting many years ago, but it didn’t take long to become a snarky b…… big mouth. I didn’t have personal experience with all of this, but it’s related, and a lot of it is from personal experience.

Don’t say “Yes” to ANY question on the phone from someone you don’t know– don’t even say the word ‘yes’…the thieves can take that part of a conversation, and patch it into anything they want, charging your accounts & saying you gave consent. Even if folks have accounts with someone who calls (or says it’s from a company you have business with), get their first and last name, then call the number back that is on the invoices or websites that you already have- ask if someone from their company has tried to contact you. If they hang up, get the phone number from your call history, and write it down to do a reverse phone look up (more on that in a minute).  Report scam and robocalls to the FCC- their form is long, but easy.  They won’t answer individually, but the information helps them with patterns and investigations.     https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/hc/en-us
It’s a lot easier to apologize to someone legit than clean up the mess from the thieves.  If I don’t recognize a number or the caller ID is vague, I answer with a very harsh “What?”. People who end up being legit have been very understanding when I tell them that I’ve had ID theft issues.  Just apologize nicely, and from my experience, I get a lot of “Hey, I know what you mean. No problem.”
Set up alerts on any accounts where you can lose money– bank/debit card/credit cards/etc. I keep mine fairly low ($50 or so), so I’m alerted to charges before they become shopping sprees. I had 2 tickets to Abu Dhabi ($1200 or some such number) blocked by my bank at the time- who then called me to ask if I was going on a trip- they didn’t have any alerts at the time, but recognized my patterns. The crooks can be calling from anywhere even with YOUR local area code on the caller ID, and shop with your cards anywhere in the world.

Sometimes you have to do a little bit of ‘profiling’ if you don’t initiate a call. This isn’t to be mean- it’s because it’s necessary to avoid having your identity jacked.  If someone is on the line with a distinctive “not originally from here” accent, and YOU initiated the call, relax.   Part of the amazing part about the US is that we are a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures. It makes this country richer by the diversity we have.  If you get someone who calls YOU, and seems to have a failing grade in “English as a fifth language”, claiming to be collecting donations for desperately poor kids in Beverly Hills, just hang up. They could be calling from some outpost in Mongolia. I hate being guarded, but I’ve got no sympathy for thieves- I’m sure Beverly Hills will be fine. The folks who call from “offshore” locations are just trying to make a living, but they’re also thieves in how they do it.

If you get any indication of a country outside of the US being the source of the call (reverse phone call look-up can help), and want to make a donation, I strongly suggest Compassion International. You can sponsor a kid, or do a one time gift.  I’ve got sponsor kids in Bolivia, the Philippines, Ghana, Tanzania, and Thailand.  By helping them get out of poverty, they won’t end up in call centers or as sex slaves.  It’s a legit way to help those in countries with high rates of poverty- it’s a hand up for a child, and in turn his or her family. The organization helps them as kids, and through trade schools, or college. Compassion International has very good ratings on Charity Navigator (another great resource). OK, PSA complete. 

Another clue- you get a phone call, and they ask for your phone number. Their computer just happened to connect your sequence of numbers – pure ‘luck’ for them. Don’t give them the number- it’s another form of ID.  If you get tenacious jerks calling, get an old school gym whistle if you see the number on the caller ID, and answer with that. I had one scam caller call every 45-60 minutes for 12 hours/day.  If I’m in a particularly snarky mood and happen to answer the call (normally I don’t), I’ll call them on it with a “you called me- you had my number when the phone was ringing”. Or, just say “amateurs” loudly enough to hear AS I’m hanging up. If you can block numbers, do that.  I have a landline call blocker (yes, some people have landlines), and it’s great- and programmed with 5000 known scam numbers- and you can add more by scrolling through numbers and simply clicking a big red button.  Also get all phone numbers on the ‘Do Not Call’ list- it’s not %100, but it helps.
If someone says your kid/grandkid/friend/vet’s hairdresser, or whoever needs help, hang up and call the number you have for the person you know. Do NOT just redial the number that contacted you. Redialing is another way to get and keep your phone number.
If ANY charity calls and wants donations, don’t do it on the phone. Call your local chapter’s office (including law enforcement and fire- but use non-emergency number) to see if they are soliciting… the online thieves and phone bandits use ANY name- including very well known ones. I also don’t talk to charities for first responders. That sounds cold, but thieves know how to pull at emotions. If you want to make a donation to the police/fire/EMTs, just call the city’s office for whoever, and ask how to do that. NEVER over the phone if you didn’t make the call.
Do reverse phone look-ups on unknown numbers. I’ve found southern California to be a minefield of scam callers, but they’re all over the country, as well as out of the country. It is easy for them to put YOUR area code in their caller ID.  DO NOT PAY for reverse phone look ups. Just put the number in you want to find instead of a name, business, or whatever. Hit enter, and wait. There are sites with ‘reviews’ of phone numbers. And some will give you the name of the person calling.  Sometimes it’s a stolen number, so don’t call back and yell at the person- they might not know their number has been jacked.  Medical offices often have vague caller IDs for patient privacy. They understand online shenanigans as well, and a simple apology is easy enough.
Don’t talk to anybody who claims to be from a computer problem fixer company, credit card, or bank. Just hang up. If you don’t initiate a call that requires payment information, it’s not worth it to expose more of your info. You can call your credit card and bank with the phone number you know is really theirs.
The IRS will never call you about any problems. They still use USPS.
IF your American Express card gets hacked, they’ll send you a new card that has all the same numbers as the stolen card EXCEPT the last 4 numbers- which are the only ones seen on invoices/statements- it fixes nothing, and might slow the thieves down for a couple of weeks (personal experience w/this and AmEx; took 4 or 5 new numbers before someone at the company told me that I had to ASK for LOGICAL changes to a stolen card). YOU HAVE TO ASK them for an entirely new card number PLUS blocking any/all other AmEx cards- they’re still usable even with the NEW last 4 numbers !!! The excuse? To avoid hassles with subscriptions or regular charges. Like getting a new card and cancelling a bunch of stuff isn’t a hassle. I told them that I’ll decide what’s a hassle to me. I recently paid them off and closed the account. My other card company (now with a zero balance, so anything fishy shows up immediately) had more sense.

I had a $1500 pair of butt ugly Louis Vuitton shoes show up at my door- which creeped me out. They had my AmEx and my address. I called the sheriff on that one. I felt like I’d been mailed evidence !   He said that online shopping sites with fast delivery had been a problem in town at the time. He reassured me that the ability to get very far with my stolen e-mail address (more on that coming) was minimal.  But, scanning the bar codes during delivery can bring up some information, and of course, they have the address on the package.

I now reload a gift card every month, and don’t use my debit card for anything except for the gift card- then delete the debit card until the next month on different days of the month. Once it clears my bank and the card is reloaded, the debit card isn’t visible or connected to my shopping account.  IF you prefer Walmart, you can get their Visa gift cards, but it’s a little tricker to get your full card’s worth out of them since some places won’t take more than one card for a single purchase- if you get $50 cards, and have a $85 total to pay for the stuff you want, you might lose out on the “change” from 2 $50 IF the store will take two cards for one purchase.

And a huge risk- DON’T GIVE YOUR E-MAIL TO ANYONE who you don’t initiate contact with, or know personally. It’s like giving up the keys to the backdoor of EVERY ACCOUNT YOU HAVE, whether you pay bills online or not. My e-mail was stolen (another risk- I didn’t give it to someone on the phone) and SOLD ON THE DARK WEB. That’s were pedophiles, sex traffickers and other creeps who can’t risk being found on the known internet sites live. Changing e-mails is incredibly annoying. And your old one is still circulating.  Make hard copies of anything you don’t want others to have, and minimize things you keep in files. Technology has been a good thing in many ways, and created many ways for thieves to run rampant.  You can get ID theft protection services, but I haven’t found them to be that helpful. One of the big names completely missed the Louis Vuitton shoes that were purchased online in a state far from where I live. 

It’s a pain in the butt to deal with these remorseless jerks, and the havoc they cause. Whether it’s some other country’s poor folks just trying to make a living (by assuming all Americans are rich- HA!), or a ring of ID theft thieves, it’s still criminal.  You’ve got to keep yourself safe. Nobody else will.