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Pretexting: What Is It and How do I Protect Myself?

Identity theft is a scary and increasingly popular form of thievery around the world. Pretexting is just one way that scammers can gain access to your personal information that often leads to identity theft and fraud. It could even lead to debt in your name. As a precursor to ID theft, pretexters can be notoriously tricky when it comes to how they gain your personal information. And that’s why it can be so dangerous; because you could be putting private, personal information in the hands of scammers without even realizing it. Gaining more information about pretexting is important to protecting yourself from future trouble.

Here's how to recognize pretexting.

ACCC is here to tell you how to recognize pretexting.

Pretexting: What Is It & How do I Protect Myself?

What is Pretexting? And How Does it Work?

Pretexting is the practice of getting someone else’s personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters can gain your personal information in any number of ways. A common example of pretexting is when you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from a bank, survey firm, government agency like the IRS, or any number of reputable organizations. What happens is, they trick you into thinking they need your personal information for their organization. And before you know it, they could have accessed your name, address, Social Security Number, credit card, banking information and possibly more. Pretexters then use or sell your information to people who may try to steal your identity.

But, doesn’t that sound illegal? Yes! It is. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act makes it a federal crime when someone: “knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.” Under the Identity Theft Act, a name or SSN is considered a “means of identification.” So is a credit card number, cellular telephone electronic serial number or any other piece of information that may be used alone or in conjunction with other information to identify a specific individual.

Often times, consumers don’t realize they have become a victim of pretexting and identity theft until much later. Usually, when you start to see bills for things you never bought, accounts you never created, and other repercussions like damage to your credit score. If you think your identity has been stolen, take action immediately. Here are the first steps for victims of identity theft.

I don’t say this to scare you or make you question anyone who asks a personal question, it’s actually quite the opposite. Knowing more about the potential dangers we face in life makes it that much easier to protect yourself.

How to Protect Yourself from Pretexting

The bad news is that pretexting does happen. The good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself, your personal information, and your assets from pretexting.

  1. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, online, or via email. Try to stick to this rule unless you are absolutely sure who you are dealing with or you initiate the contact. This way, you are in control. For the most part, legitimate organizations already have the information they need to do business with you. And, keep in mind that often times, even legitimate organizations may ask for information that they don’t absolutely need. Only divulge information that you feel comfortable sharing.
  2. Stay in the know. Always ask financial institutions about their policies regarding your personal information and how they plan to safeguard it. Remember, it’s your information and you have the right to know what is being done with it.
  3. Use passwords. This sounds like a give-in, but it works. An added password is another level of protection for your information. And, while you’re at it, avoid using common information as your passwords. For example, setting a password as your mother’s maiden name may not be the best idea if it is also on your Facebook profile or in other easily accessible places.
  4. Always review your monthly statements, follow up on things that seem fishy, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re already working towards debt relief, regularly checking your statements is probably a habit you’ve gotten into anyways.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today.


Madison is a Marketing Communications & Programs Associate at ACCC. She is excited to share her tips on saving money and being financially responsible here on the Talking Cents blog!

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