Local bank seminar aims to raise fraud, identity theft awareness

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Prevent identity theft

■ Visit www.optoutprescreen.com to stop receiving prescreened credit card applications.

■ Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov.

■ Opt out of direct marketing mailings at www.dmaconsumers.org/cgi/offmailinglist.

■ Directly contact banks and credit card companies to keep them from sharing information about you with other lenders.

— The scam has been around for years, but some people still think a Nigerian has millions of dollars that belong to them. According to the emails, all a person must do is send a couple of thousand dollars to release the funds.

“That’s been around for a long time, and people are still falling for it,” said Lori St. Pierre, senior vice president of operations at Yampa Valley Bank.

This week is Money Smart Colorado Week, and Yampa Valley Bank is one of numerous banks, schools, libraries and government agencies across the state offering free seminars to Coloradans with the goal of helping them make better financial choices.

“We thought it would be a good community service,” St. Pierre said.

Money Smart Colorado was organized by the nonprofit organization Jump$tart Colorado.

St. Pierre organized a seminar Tuesday evening at the bank to discuss identity theft and scams.

Minimizing the risk of identity theft can start with evaluating what personal information a person carries with him or her. Those at highest risk often carry their Social Security card and have that number printed on checks along with their driver’s license number. Some people even have their bank personal identification number written on their debit card. St. Pierre also recommended that people limit the number of credit cards and debit cards they carry.

She suggested that people consider not carrying checks because they contain easily accessible bank account information.

“It’s actually safer to use your debit card than your check,” St. Pierre said.

St. Pierre discussed a top 10 list of risks from 2010 and offered these tips.

■ At No. 1 was phishing, where scammers deceive people to collect personal information.

“It’s still going strong this year,” St. Pierre said.

She suggested limiting information that is publicly available on social networking sites, such as birthdays and addresses.

■ Malware was No. 2 on the list. It is harmful software that can install itself on a computer and silently mine private information.

“When you’re opening email, make sure you know who it’s from,” St. Pierre said.

■ Economy-related scams often become frequent after incidents such as natural disasters, and they prey on those needing help.

■ The Nigerian scam continues to make the list of most common scams.

■ The lottery scam is similar to the Nigerian scam in that someone seeks money to cover a handling fee or taxes for a person’s winnings.

“If you didn’t go to Canada and play the lottery, you didn’t win it,” St. Pierre said.

■ The doorstep scam often victimizes the elderly, who are targeted by people who go door-to-door trying to collect information.

■ There are a variety of online auction scams. One to be cautious of is if you receive a check for more than the amount you are owed, and the person who sent the check wants you to send them part of the leftover money. The check is likely bogus.

■ Also be cautious of offers to work from home, investment scams and unbelievable vacation offers.

“Do you really think you are going to get a six-day, five-night vacation for $299?” St. Pierre said.

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