To avoid identity theft, be cautious about the identifying information you share — and not just online. You also need to be careful about what you share over the telephone.
What is pretexting?
You may have heard about phishing scams — emails and online messages that try to fool people into giving up their Social Security number, passwords and financial information — but do you know about pretexting? Pretexting is when criminals aim to get your personal information over the phone using false pretenses.
Pretexters gather information and sell it to other individuals and criminal companies that may use it to steal your money, get credit in your name, sue you or otherwise use your identity. Those pretexters use a number of different tactics to try to secure your personal information — the most common way is through a phone call. Usually the pretexter claims he’s from a familiar company or a research firm. He asks your name, address, birth date and Social Security number. After obtaining the information, the pretexter can call your financial institution and use this information to gain access to your account, start applying for credit cards under your name or use your information in a variety of other fraudulent ways.
Your Social Security number
The primary piece of information you should never share over the phone is your Social Security number. Armed with your Social Security number, a thief or dishonest person can use it to apply for credit or try to contact your financial institutions and gain access to your accounts. By giving out your Social Security number over the phone, you put yourself at risk for identity theft, as well as credit card and bank account fraud. Avoid losing money and your credit rating by never revealing your Social Security number over the phone.
Your debit or credit card number
When a sales person or other individual has initiated the phone call, you should never give out your debit or credit card number. It’s a common scam for criminals to pretend to represent a legitimate company to gain access to your personal information. If you want to place an order or purchase something over the phone, you should be the one making the call. And be wary of the number you are calling as well. Don’t call the phone number you received by email or one that was left on your voicemail. Instead, look up the customer service or sales department phone number on the company’s official website.
Be cautious when giving out your full name, birthdate and address over the phone too. Again, you should only do this when you are the one who initiated the call. You should never give out this information if you answer a call or dial back a number that was left by email or voicemail. The goal is to put the least amount of details out there that thieves can steal.
You may not find out that someone is using your credit or your identity until you begin to get collection calls or get turned down for credit. It’s important to check your bank and credit card statements diligently every month, and also regularly check your credit rating or reports several times each year. Also, consider using an identity theft service offered by LifeLock that can help you protect your identity from identity thieves.
Avoid oversharing on the phone, in person and online. You don’t want strangers to know when you are going to be away from home or other details about your whereabouts. Revealing too much can put you at risk for identity theft and numerous other crimes.