(ARA) – Tough economic times lead to an increase in crime. Chicago police say they’ve seen an increase in muggings recently. In Southwest Florida, thieves desperate for money are breaking into abandoned construction sites and stealing supplies on a regular basis; and assault cases are on the rise across the country. So are so-called crimes of opportunity.
According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, which provides law enforcement members with access to complaints provided directly to the Federal Trade Commission by consumers, identity theft and fraud complains are on the rise. In 2008, there were 643,195 fraud complaints filed nationwide; and 313,982 identity theft complaints.
Among the most common scams Americans are falling for: foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams (38,505 complaints); getting people to send money to participate in fake lotteries and sweepstakes (33,340 complaints); and work-at-home plans that fail to produce results (20,286 complaints).
But by far, the most common complaint is about identity theft. In 2008, there were 313,982 complaints filed.
How do thieves get your information? According to The Identity Theft Resource Center, the most common ways are as follows: stealing your mail or wallet; finding papers with personal information in the trash; tricking you into giving out information over the phone; and by sending out unsolicited e-mails that the victim replies to and offers sensitive information.
Here are some critical steps you can take to protect yourself from becoming a victim:
1. Check your credit reports once a year from all three of the credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
TransUnion: (800) 888-4213 www.tuc.com
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN www.experian.com
Equifax: (800) 685-1111 www.equifax.com
If you find an error or mistake on your report, it may be the result of fraud. Request that an investigation by conducted.
2. Don’t share your social security number with anyone, unless absolutely necessary.
3. Don’t reply to unsolicited e-mails.
4. Shred any papers you throw out that have personal information on them.
5. Be suspicious of telephone solicitors. Never provide information unless you have initiated the call.
Taking a few simple, common sense steps to protect yourself can make all the difference in these tough economic times
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