CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is warning consumers to be cautious if they receive a call from a person purporting to work for a satellite, cable or other utility company who wants to verify the consumer’s account information, including Social Security number.
The Attorney General’s Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office recently was contacted by a consumer who said she received a call from a person who claimed to work for DirecTV. The caller said he was verifying account information and provided the caller with the last four digits of the Social Security number. The consumer said those were not the last four digits of her number, and the caller offered to update the account with her correct four digits.
“Thankfully, this consumer did not provide her information and instead called DirecTV to see if the call was legitimate, which it wasn’t,” Morrisey said in a press release. “Scammers can be very convincing and appear helpful and kind. We urge people to be cautious any time someone calls out of the blue and asks for personal, private information.”
Scammers can use the last four digits of a Social Security number to guess a consumer’s entire number, especially if the scammer knows when and where a person was born. Once armed with the complete number, that scammer can either use a consumer’s identity to set up new banking and credit card accounts, or sell the consumers information on the black market.
“Having a consumer’s Social Security number is like winning the golden ticket for scammers,” Morrisey said. “It opens up all sorts of options for them to steal someone’s identity, and it happens more than people may think.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 1,100 West Virginians reported having their identity stolen in 2013. AN FTC report on identity theft said the Beckley metropolitan statistical area had the ninth highest rate of identity theft-related complaints among the nation’s MSAs. The Eastern Panhandle region included in the Washington, D.C., MSA was ranked 40th for identity theft complaints. No other metropolitan area in West Virginia made it into the Top 50 rankings.
The most common forms of identity theft in West Virginia, according to the FTC, are:
- Government documents or benefits fraud,
- Phone or utilities fraud,
- Credit card fraud,
- Bank fraud,
- Employment-related fraud, and
- Loan fraud.
Morrisey said consumers should do their best to keep their Social Security number private including:
- Never provide the number to a person who is calling, emailing, texting, or using social media, even to correct erroneous numbers the caller provides.
- If a person purports to represent a government agency, reputable business, or other entity, call the business or agency yourself and find out why they need the number. Most reputable businesses will never ask for your Social Security number.
- Use an alternative identification number, such as a driver’s license number.
- Shred all sensitive documents, including tax documents, health care statements, and banking information.
- Question why the person is asking for your Social Security number, whether an alternate identification number can be used, whether the number will be kept in your records, and what steps the person will take to protect your privacy.
“Consumers always should be diligent in protecting their Social Security number,” Morrisey said. “Once your number is in the hands of scammers or identity thieves, it is very difficult and time consuming to restore your good name and credit.”
If you have been a victim of identity theft, call the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division by calling 800-368-8808
or the Eastern Panhandle field office in Martinsburg at 304-267-0239
. To file a report online, go to www.wvago.gov