DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from "Eugene in N.J." about a letter he received saying that he was "the sole beneficiary of a $12 million estate." He said he responded by sending them information on a bank account that he "no longer does business with, but had a $2.83 balance remaining." That was the wrong move!
Now the thieves have his name, address and account number. It doesn't matter if the account was closed or open -- thieves counterfeit checks using the information he gave them. Scans such as "Eugene" described are a common way identity thieves gather information. Unfortunately, the actions he took in his anger and frustration have exposed him to identity theft. It is important to understand that e-mail scams are sent out to millions of people. If you answer -- even to say stop writing -- you will be put on a "sucker" list.
Some common scams people need to avoid:
(1) No company is going to call or e-mail you to verify an account, ask for your Social Security number, or any bank or credit card numbers, PERIOD! This is called "phishing." Account verification scams look very real, but are ALL scams. Do not answer them no matter how convinced you are that it is a real company.
(2) You have NOT won a lottery in the Netherlands, or Canada, or anywhere else, if you didn't first buy a ticket here in the U.S.A.
(3) Question any company that offers you a prize, but asks for a fee or your Social Security number, and verify the existence of that company through the Better Business Bureau, and confirm independently that the prize is real.
(4) A stranger did not die and leave you money.
(5) The Nigerian scam has now morphed into a creative writing exercise about all kinds of people needing your help to transfer money from one account to another. This practice is called money laundering, and it is illegal.
(6) You may also be telephone-scammed with similar offers. Be on the alert for suspicious callers, and never give out your Social Security number or a credit card number to anyone who calls you.
Thank you, Abby, for helping your readers to understand how thieves steal a person's identity. -- LINDA FOLEY, CO-EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IDENTITY THEFT RESOURCE CENTER
DEAR LINDA: Thank you for sharing this valuable information with my readers and me. Readers, my experts tell me the only safe way to deal with a scam is to either hit the "delete" key, or forward it to the Federal Trade Commission at spam(at)uce.gov and THEN delete it. As tempting as it may seem, do not engage any of the scammers in a dialogue.
The Identity Theft Resource Center is a nonprofit program, based in San Diego, that is grant- and donation-funded. Its mission is to help victims of identity theft and consumers. For further information on scams, including examples of common scams, visit the Web site at www.idtheftcenter.org.