Resolve to be fraud-free


Published: Thursday, January 18, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 2:04 p.m.
Losing weight and saving money are popular - and worthy - New Year's resolutions this time of year, but the FBI has a suggestion for a resolution that should be on the top of everyone's to-do list: Don't let yourself become a victim of fraud in 2007.
"Unfortunately, scammers of all stripes will be seeking their own fortunes in 2007, often by preying on the public's general affinity to get something for nothing," the FBI cautioned consumers in a recent bulletin.
The list of scams monitored by the FBI is constantly growing, making it imperative that consumers be aware of the risks of doing business through the mail, over the Internet or otherwise.
"Some of the main things we're seeing now are the Internet scams," said Sgt. Keith Kameg with the Gainesville Police Department.
Kameg said a popular local scam happens when a person poses as a buyer on an Internet auction site. The "buyer" will send the seller a check for the merchandise, but the check is written for more than the amount asked. The buyer then asks the seller to simply send them back a check for the difference. But then when the seller goes to cash the buyers' check, it is a forgery.
Kameg said e-mail lottery scams, sometimes called Nigerian letters because many of them originate in Nigeria, are also just as popular as ever.
"Ironically, they're getting through the spam blockers at GPD," Kameg said.
Kameg said elaborate cases of identity theft don't occur very often in Gainesville. Most times, identity theft occurs as a result of carelessness - when someone loses their wallet or checkbook.
"The majority of people don't know the banks where their credit cards are from, and our criminals know this," Kameg said. "As soon as they get someone's credit card, they know it's a 'beat the clock' kind of scenario and they try to buy as much as they can as quickly as they can."
Knowing detailed information about your credit and bank accounts is important to prevent identity theft, as is monitoring who might have access to your information.
Joseph Breckenridge, local spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, urges all consumers to purchase a shredder to destroy documents such as unwanted credit card offers or other statements that might have personal information on them.
He said he also urges consumers to keep track of their credit by looking at a copy of their credit report at least once a year.
"I personally have a monthly subscription I pay for that lets me see any inquiries against my credit anytime I want," Breckenridge said. "It's something that's worth looking into, and there are a whole bunch of services that are out there."
Breckenridge said it's also important not to leave mail sitting in your mailbox for extended periods of time, such as when you're on vacation. He said there was a case in South Florida just recently where a few people went around a neighborhood while people were out of town for Christmas and raided the mailboxes.
"The percentage of people who suffer some kind of theft in that way is very small, but every once in a while a criminal will get the bright idea of doing this," he said.
For more tips on protecting yourself against fraud and for lists of popular scams, visit the FBI's Web site at www.fbi.gov, or the U.S. Postal Service's Web site at www.usps.com.

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