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Fighting fraud: Tips to avoid being the victim

FARGO -- The numbers are alarming. It's difficult to turn on the television without hearing stories of people falling victim to fraud. "Every day there are scam artists that target literally millions of people and attempt to steal money or confid...

Stolen Credit Cards in Hands of Thief Trying to Use Cards Online without Owner Permission. Online Payments Security and Identity Theft Concept Photo.
Stolen Credit Cards in Hands of Thief Trying to Use Cards Online without Owner Permission. Online Payments Security and Identity Theft Concept Photo.

FARGO - The numbers are alarming. It's difficult to turn on the television without hearing stories of people falling victim to fraud.

"Every day there are scam artists that target literally millions of people and attempt to steal money or confidential banking information," says Delton Steele, the southeast North Dakota regional president for U.S. Bank.

The list of fraud types is seemingly endless: telemarketing fraud, healthcare and health insurance fraud, ponzi fraud, advance fee fraud and more.

"The one that always concerns me the most is identity theft - having someone get all your information and start posing as you," Steele says.

In fact, according to Javelin Strategy's "2016 Identity Fraud" report, identity theft "fraudsters have stolen $112 billion in the past six years" or approximately $35,600 per minute.

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That's enough to fund an average mortgage for two years in just 60 seconds, or one year of college fees in 3 minutes.

With the volumes of transactions, fraud doesn't have a preferred time. It happens all day, every day.

But where does it stem from?

"Fraud can come from multiple sources," Steele says. "With the advent of all the technology we have nowadays - whether it's our computers, our iPads, our cell phones, whatever it may be - we have access to so much more information. And so do the bad guys."

Though technology is great for many things, it can be a liability.

"They're wonderful tools, but you need to be on the defensive because there's someone out there that's trying to do the wrong thing," Steele says.

Effects of fraud

In many cases, fraud causes more damage than one could ever anticipate. The effects spiral into something bigger. Steele says financial fraud may affect more than just banking accounts.

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If criminals get ahold of enough information, they can file false tax returns that result in income tax fraud, damage credit history and even cause emotional damage as anxiety arises when victims can't pay bills, collecting agencies call or the victims themselves are accused of committing crimes.

It's undeniable that being a victim of fraud is, at the very least, a burden. To catch fraud upfront, be aware of these warning signs.

Fraud warning signs

• Missing bills or bank statements. Expected documents fail to arrive in the mail.

• Unexpected charges. Credit card, checking, savings or other account transactions don't correlate with your spending.

• Denied or fluctuating credit. When applying for credit, you are denied unexpectedly or there is a dramatic decrease in credit score.

• Unsolicited credit cards. Credit cards you didn't apply for show up in the mail.

• Collection calls. Creditors or collection agencies contact you to collect payment for items or services you didn't purchase.

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Precautions to take

Steele encourages consumers to take daily precautions to avoid fraud, including:

• Monitor your accounts. "Don't take for granted that everything is going okay; check your accounts and make sure your transactions are legitimate transactions that you're making," Steele says. Alert the bank of any suspicious activity.

• Set and change passwords. "Make sure you have password protection so not just anyone, if you happen to lose it, can get right into your phone," Steele says. This goes for other devices such as computers and tablets as well. Once those passwords are set, update them regularly. "Never reuse passwords that you've used before," Steel says.

• Know your bank. "You want to know who you're doing business with," Steele says. "The merchants or the businesses - whether online or in-person - do they have the up-to-date technology to do what they can on their end to protect your account?"

• Be aware of suspicious activity. Consumers shouldn't reply to phone calls, emails, texts or other communications that ask for personal information. "We're never going to call you and say, 'Give me your social security number, your account number.' You want to be leery of that," Steele says.

People should also be aware of email phishing where criminals create what appears to be a bank or trustworthy company, asking users to input confidential information. Watch for misspelled words or generic attributes instead of referring to the user's name.

• Make a list of wallet items. "Make a list of things in your wallet and keep those - not in your wallet - but in a safe place in your home," Steele says. "So if your wallet is ever stolen you know what you had in there if you had to report it." This includes credit card information, medical cards, insurance, driver's license, etc.

• Sign up for security alerts. Many banks offer technology to alert its customers if potential security risks arise.

• Go paperless. By going paperless with banking statements, consumers eliminate the risk of releasing sensitive information via mail.

If a person is unfortunate enough to become a victim of fraud, resources are available to help. Start with the fraud department at the bank or credit union.

If criminal fraud is committed, identity theft can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

In the end preventing fraud requires being alert and being intentional about taking precautionary measures to ensure safety.

"The fact is even though fraud is very prevalent in our world today, most of us enjoy being able to go to the store and make a purchase and we never have an issue," Steele says. "But, unfortunately it does happen. We just have to do the common sense things to protect ourselves."

Related Topics: FRAUDTHEFTCRIME
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