Ken Paxton
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Protect Yourself:
Hang Up, Shred It, Opt Out

It is unfortunate that senior Texans are targeted by scammers. However, you can take action to protect yourself. For nearly every scam or fraud, there is a simple strategy that you can use to stay safe.

Hang Up!

Unsolicited phone calls are a very real danger to Texas seniors. These are calls from someone you do not know, and this includes people you do not know who claim to be someone who has real business with you.

It is important to remember that a caller could say he or she is with your bank or your credit card company, a state or federal agency, or any other organization with official credibility or a reputation you trust. Always bear in mind that sometimes these callers are imposters.

A definite red flag is when a caller asks you for personal information such as your Social Security Number, date of birth or financial information such as your credit card or bank account number. The simple strategy to stay safe? When in doubt, JUST HANG UP.

Never give out personal information to anyone who has called you, no matter what they say. You are under no obligation to remain on the line with someone who is trying to talk you into (or out of) something. Just hang up.

If you think the call might be legitimate (for instance, you think it may really be your bank calling about a problem with your account), tell the caller you’ll get right back to them. Do not use a number the caller has given you when you make the return call. Look up the number of your bank yourself by consulting the phone book or a recent paper statement.

Shred It!

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America today. You can lose your money, ruin your good name, have your credit destroyed and find yourself deep in debt, all through no action of your own.

Identity theft often begins when someone obtains key personal and financial information such as your Social Security number or bank account number. Personal information such as your mother’s maiden name may also help the thief "prove" his or her identity on a loan or credit card application.

Be careful that you're not helping identity thieves by discarding papers with this key information whenever you throw away old bank statements, cancelled checks, or other financial documents. In addition, many consumers routinely receive "pre-approved" credit offers which a thief could take from their mailbox.

You can protect yourself by shredding all documents that contain personal information, including pre-approved loan and credit card offers, insurance forms and financial statements. The information in these documents could be used by an identity thief to open accounts and charge up debts in your name.

As an additional level of protection, you may also want to consider placing a credit freeze on your account with the three major credit bureaus. This will prevent other people (mainly creditors) from accessing your credit report unless you specifically authorize them access. This will in turn prevent anyone (including you) from being able to get quick, on the spot credit. For you, this may be a small inconvenience requiring you to temporarily "lift" the freeze whenever you apply for new credit, but for the would-be identity thief, it is a tough barrier to get around.

Opt Out!

You can limit the number of pre-approved credit offers issued in your name by removing your name from the marketing lists of the three credit reporting bureaus. Call 888-5OPT-OUT or (888) 567-8688. A representative will ask for your Social Security number and will then ensure that your information is protected from general disclosure.

It is not unusual for businesses to sell your information to marketing agencies as a source of revenue. While they are prohibited by law from disclosing your Social Security number and other identifying financial information to others, these businesses may sell your name, address, phone number and other personal information on a regular basis.

If you prefer to stop receiving such offers, you can contact your creditors in writing and ask that you be removed from their solicitation lists and to withhold your information from their affiliates. You can also contact the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service and request that they remove your name and home address from national mailing lists.

You can add your name, address and telephone number to state and federal "no-call" lists, which will identify you as someone who does not wish to receive telemarketing calls. Being on these lists will stop many unwanted sales calls.