Scams, identity theft creating a maze of danger zones for consumers

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Nevada No. 6 in the United States for identity theft, according to Metro Police

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A gray-haired shopper looking through prepaid gift cards at the grocery store might seem like nothing out of the ordinary to most people. But at Metro Sgt. Beth Schmidt, this could be an ongoing nightmare.

And if the customer is talking on a cell phone, it might be time to step in.

Schmidt described the scene as she led a First Tuesday session at the Metro Police’s Downtown Zone command. Chances are it’s an ongoing financial crime, she said. People continue to fall for scams, and seniors are often duped by scammers who tell them to buy gift cards and then give them the numbers over the phone. And the youngest are also victims.

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“These guys are really good. They are master manipulators,” Schmidt said. “Gift cards are cash. We cannot trace this.

Schmidt says it’s important to tell the police about a scam. “Don’t be embarrassed. They are professionals. The sooner the police know about a scam, the sooner we can address it,” she said.

You’ve probably heard it before: no government agency will ever demand payment over the phone or tell you to pay with cryptocurrency at a Bitcoin ATM. They will never ask for prepaid cards.

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If personal information has been stolen from you, you are not alone. Nevada is No. 6 in the nation for identity theft, Schmidt said. The state has seen a 200% increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are 50,000 cases of identity theft every month in the United States as scammers cast their nets wide in hopes of finding the people who haven’t been tricked yet.

Schmidt said the Metro Financial Crimes Section handles 400 to 500 cases a month. Metro has 20 detectives and five civilian crime-solving investigators.

The basics

The police offer some basic tips for avoiding scams, but there are others you may not know. First, the basics:

  • If you receive an unsolicited phone call or email asking for personal information or online account information, hang up the phone and do not answer. If it looks like the person asking should already have this information, you may be talking to a scammer.
  • If you get a call asking for a security code that was sent to your phone, don’t share the code – it’s a scam
  • Keep smartphones up to date
  • Keep computer anti-virus software up to date
  • Use a strong password on all devices – at least 10 characters
  • Carefully review financial statements for discrepancies
  • Review your credit report at least once a year

Identity theft is an issue that has changed the way we do things. Opportunistic thieves are out there, and if they haven’t already victimized you, they might be trying. “It created a strange culture,” Schmidt said. “People don’t want to answer their phones.”

Your mailbox

Beyond that, remember that your inbox is just as much of a target as your cell phone and computer. Here are some other mail-related tips:

  • Pick up your mail quickly every day
  • Set up online banking and online bill payment when available
  • Buy a cross-cut shredder and destroy everything about your finances when you’re done.
  • Send your letters from the post office, not from your mailbox
  • Ask the US Postal Service about “Informed Delivery” – a service that sends you a digital preview of your mail each day. This way you will know when something is missing.

Protect your information

And then there are the horror stories.

Identity thieves use technology to collect information, and you need to be on your guard when making day-to-day transactions. If you haven’t yet switched to a debit card with a chip instead of a magnetic stripe, try to do so soon. Much of the technological wizardry used by thieves relies on stealing information from older cards.

Sometimes thieves place false fronts on payment terminals. Plates are designed to be very difficult to detect and they steal information when your card is swiped. Some have cameras that record as you enter your PIN. Once the thieves have that, they have you.

Subway police suggest shooting the card reader before using it. If it doesn’t feel solid, it may be a false front.

One way to prevent some of these skimmers from getting you is to simply cover your hand when typing in your PIN.

Another trick: thieves can insert a device into an ATM to do the same thing. These “skimmers” were found inside the ATMS when technicians came out to service the machines. If the thieves take it out of the machine before it is discovered, they have stolen information on your card.

They’re very sophisticated devices, usually placed by teams that work for overseas-based scams, Schmidt said.

Where to report it

If you’ve been a victim — someone actually managed to rob you — contact the Metro Police by calling the police station near you.

If you are the victim of a phone scam, identity theft, or deceptive marketing practice, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.

Online crimes should be reported to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at IC3.gov.

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