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Protecting Yourself

How can I detect counterfeit currency?

Visit the Know Your Money page on this website for more information on detecting counterfeit currency

How can I protect myself against credit card fraud?

  • It is critical that you notify your bank or credit card company immediately if you lose your card. It may prevent someone else from using it illegally. Remember to get your card back after purchasing goods or services. Do not leave the card in hotel rooms or unnecessarily exposed for long periods of time. The number can be copied even if the card is not taken.
  • Retain all carbon copies of your receipts when making a purchase and retain receipts from ATM withdrawals. If you don't get a billing statement on time, notify the credit card issuer immediately. Check billing statements carefully upon receipt to make sure all charges are yours. Errors or changes that don't belong should be reported as soon as possible.
  • Do not put your credit card account number on checks used to pay your monthly bills. The credit card agency can always trace your check through your name/address information on the check.
  • Retain copies of receipts to check against billing statement. Be careful when disposing of materials and correspondence relating to your finances. Shred all receipt carbon copies to make sure your credit card number is unrecognizable. Do not throw away canceled checks, financial statements or letters offering pre-approved credit cards where others can easily find them.
  • Promptly destroy all old cards or cards you no longer use. Dispose of them in a manner ensuring the card number is unrecognizable.
  • Secure your mailbox. Obtain a lock, if necessary. If you receive mail through an apartment house clusterbox arrangement, make sure the locks for the panel and your box lock correctly.
  • When applying for a credit card, check the return address. If there is a sticker with a return address placed on the application, contact the card issuing company to verify the correct address.
  • Do not give your card number to anyone calling on the telephone offering you prizes or gifts.
  • Do not write your card number on a postcard notifying you that you have won a prize or gift and requesting the number as part of the award arrangements.
  • Do not leave gasoline credit card receipts at the pump. They may contain your credit card number.
  • Do not provide your credit card number to unsolicited email messages or on suspicious Internet web sites.

What should I do if I think I have been victimized by credit card fraud or identity theft?

If your complaint is essentially a non-criminal dispute with a retailer or other business, you must immediately dispute the charge(s) in writing with the customer relations office of your credit card company.

If you have been the victim of credit card fraud or identity theft, the following tips will assist you:

  • Report the crime to the police immediately. Get a copy of your police report or case number. Credit card companies, your bank, and the insurance company may ask you to reference the report to verify the crime.
  • Immediately contact your credit card issuers. Get replacement cards with new account numbers and ask that the old account be processed as "account closed at consumer's request" for credit record purposes. You should also follow up this telephone conversation with a letter to the credit card company that summarizes your requests in writing.
  • Call the fraud units of the three credit reporting bureaus. Report the theft of your credit cards and/or numbers. Ask that your accounts be flagged. Also, add a victim's statement to your report requesting they contact you to verify future credit applications. The following is a list of addresses and numbers to the three credit bureaus:

    Equifax Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Division
    P.O. Box 105496
    Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496
    Tel: (800) 997-2493

    P.O. Box 2104
    Allen, Texas 75013-2104
    Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

    Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
    P.O. Box 390
    Springfield, PA 19064-0390
    Tel: (800) 680-7289

  • Keep a log of all conversations with authorities and financial entities.
  • As with any personal information, only provide your credit card number to merchants you know. Also, remember to protect your social security number. You have to give your social security number for employment and tax purposes, but it is not necessary for many businesses. Notify the Social Security Administration if you suspect your Social Security number has been used fraudulently.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the Commission assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action. If you have been a victim of ID theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC's Consumer Response Center.

    By phone:
    Toll Free 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357)
    TDD: 202-326-2502

    By mail:
    Consumer Response Center
    Federal Trade Commission
    600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
    Washington, DC 20580

    On the Internet:

    For consumer information:    

How do I report a case of advance fee fraud and (also known as "4-1-9 fraud")?

The perpetrators of advance fee fraud, known internationally as "4-1-9 fraud" (after the section of the Nigerian penal code which addresses these schemes), are often very creative and innovative. A large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar windfall profits for no apparent reason.

If you have suffered a significant financial loss related to advance fee fraud, please contact your local Secret Service field office. Telephone numbers are available in the Field Office Directory on this website or may also be found on the inside cover of your local telephone directory. Any investigation regarding this type of fraud will be conducted on a case by case basis at the discretion of the local Secret Service and U.S. Attorney's Office.

If you ever receive an email or fax from someone you do not know requesting your assistance in a financial transaction, such as the transfer of a large sum of money into an account, or claiming you are the next of kin to a wealthy person who has died, or the winner of some obscure lottery, DO NOT respond. These requests are typically sent through public servers via a generic "spammed" email message. Usually, the sender does not yet know your personal email address and is depending on you to respond. Once you reply, whether you intend to string them along or tell them you are not interested, they will often continue to email you in an attempt to harass or intimidate you. If you receive an unsolicited email of this nature, the best course is to simply delete the message.

Due to a number of aggravating circumstances, such as the use of false names, addresses, stolen/cloned/prepaid cell phones and remote email addresses, verifying the location of and subsequent prosecution of these persons or groups is difficult. The act of sending an email soliciting strangers' assistance in a financial transaction is not, in itself, a crime. The installation of a credible spam filter and contacting your Internet Service Provider may help deter these unsolicited emails. However, there is currently no available program to completely block these types of messages.

How can I protect myself against check fraud?

  • Don't give your checking account number to people you don't know, even if they claim they are from your bank.
  • Reveal checking account information only to businesses you know to be reputable.
  • Report lost or stolen checks immediately.
  • Properly store or dispose of canceled checks and guard new checks.
  • Report any inquiries or suspicious behavior to your bank, who will take measures to protect your account and notify proper authorities.
  • Do not leave your automated teller machine receipt at the ATM; it may contain account information.
  • Check your bank statements carefully and often.
  • Use direct deposit.
Tips for Businesses - Internal Procedures:
  • Review your bank statements regularly to ensure that the authorized signers are not the same people who reconcile the account.
  • Have Social Security and as many other checks as possible deposited directly into your bank account rather than mailed to you.
  • Review all hiring procedures. Know your employees.
  • Make sure two people are responsible for accounts payable and ensure that mailroom personnel and procedures are sound.
  • Keep all check stock or cash equivalents in a secure and locked facility.
  • Change keys or entry codes periodically to prevent routine access to storage areas.
  • Consider surprise audits.
  • Consider moving check disbursement activity to electronic payment.
  • Read and understand your bank contracts regarding liability for fraud under the Uniform Commercial Code.
Tips for Businesses - External Procedures:
  • Maintain contact with other businesses in your area so you can receive timely information on fraud occurrences. Keep a record of when, what and how a fraud may have hurt your business so you can prevent it the next time.
  • Use bank services like positive pay, expedited return information and signature verification systems to protect your accounts payable and accounts receivable areas.
  • Purchase check stock from well-established vendors. Use safety paper. If you process your payables through a service bureau, make sure you have a copy of its security procedures.
  • Reconcile your check disbursements and deposits regularly.
  • If a payment account is fraudulently used, close the account as soon as possible.
  • Be cautious when using refund accounts, such as rebates for subscriptions. This is another target for check fraud. The checks are relatively easy to obtain and can be used for counterfeits.
  • Evaluate the use of negative check file databases, especially if you accept a large number of payments by check.
  • Find ways to replace paper documents with electronic payment devices.

How can I protect myself against telemarketing fraud?

Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim:
  • Don't allow yourself to be pushed into a hurried decision.
  • Always request written information, by mail, about the product, service, investment or charity and about the organization that's offering it.
  • Don't make any investment or purchase you don't fully understand.
  • Ask with what state or federal agencies the firm is registered.
  • Check out the company or organization.
  • If an investment or major purchase is involved, request that information also be sent to your accountant, financial adviser, banker or attorney for evaluation and an opinion.
  • Ask what recourse you would have if you make a purchase and aren't satisfied.
  • Beware of testimonials that you may have no way of verifying.
  • Never provide personal financial information over the phone unless you are absolutely certain the caller has a bona fide need to know.
  • If necessary, hang up the phone.
Tips for Determining Telemarketing Fraud:
  • High-pressure sales tactics.
  • Insistence on an immediate decision.
  • The offer sounds too good to be true.
  • A request for your credit card number for any purpose other than to make a purchase.
  • An offer to send someone to your home or office to pick up the money or some other method such as overnight mail to get your funds more quickly.
  • A statement that something is "free," followed by a requirement that you pay for something.
  • An investment that is "without risk."
  • Unwillingness to provide written information or references (such as a bank or names of satisfied customers in your area) that you can contact.
  • A suggestion that you should make a purchase or investment on the basis of "trust."

How can I protect my privacy?

  • Get a copy of your credit report from more than one credit bureau. Check for inaccuracies.
  • Don't share personal information with anyone who doesn't have the right to know. Among other things, that means you shouldn't write down your Social Security, credit card or telephone numbers on checks if it's not appropriate to do so. Don't offer this information to store clerks and unknown telephone marketers.
  • To avoid junk mail and telemarketing calls, write to direct marketing associations and request that your name be removed from any junk mail lists.
  • Be aware that almost every time you call an 800, 888 or 900 number, your name and address are captured by the company you dialed. This information becomes part of your electronic profile.
  • Ask your bank to notify you in writing when someone requests your records. Examine your automated teller receipts to make sure that the balance is correct and that nobody is tapping your account electronically.
  • Invest in a paper shredder for documents you no longer need such as old bank statements, receipts and junk mail (including unsolicited credit card applications) to avoid being victimized by "dumpster divers" looking to steal your identity.