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With identity theft on the rise, members of the Wilson Community Improvement Association financial literacy class got a crash course this week in ways to avoid falling victim.
“Identity theft is when thieves steal your personal information — your date of birth, your credit card numbers and such — because with the sufficient information, a person can commit fraud or other crimes in your name,” said Dale Sauls, a financial educator with the Wilson County Department of Social Services. “It is a serious problem because it is becoming more and more sophisticated. Law enforcement has more in place, but it seems like new scams are coming up all the time.
“If the crime is not detected early, it can take you months or years to get it cleaned up, so that is why we encourage you to review your credit and review your bills on a regular basis.”
The free class covers a range of topics, but identity theft is one subject that is reiterated throughout the nine-week course. Sauls and Deanie Dawson, the community improvement association’s housing director, used personal examples of times they almost fell victim to scams like phising and pharming.
For Sauls, she was just shopping for shoes on a major retail store’s website and clicked on another pair of shoes recommended based on other shoppers’ purchases. When it came time to check out, she realized she wasn’t on the original website anymore and was at risk of giving her information — financial details as well as where she lived, her phone number and so forth — to some unknown phisher.
“You really have to be careful about what you’re doing and where you’re clicking,” she said, “because it can lead you astray.”
Sauls said she often receives reports from people who have received a call from the “IRS” threatening liens and court cases, but she noted federal officials won’t email or call requesting information and such interactions should be reported to police.
Other tips include keeping only needed identification — never your Social Security card — and credit cards in your wallet, never pre-printing driver’s license numbers or phone numbers on checks and picking up mail as soon as it is delivered to avoid thieves obtaining information by raiding the mailbox.
“And if you’re mailing stuff out, I strongly encourage you to put it in a mail receptacle at the post office or store,” she said. “Putting the flag up on your box for your postman also signals to everyone and their brother that you’ve got something — possibly a check — in there to be collected.”
Sauls also urges residents to report any suspected crime to police immediately, followed by a call to the bank or credit card company’s security or fraud department.
Shredding all personal financial records can go a long way toward thwarting thieves, and the Wilson Police Department is offering a super shred-a-thon from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Wilson Mall. The free event is open to all individuals looking to properly dispose of bank stubs, credit card offers, receipts and outdated tax documents. Police will also collect nonperishable food for the department’s Beyond the Badge food pantry during the shred-a-thon.