I heard a terrible story last year. An acquaintance of mine had her checkbook stolen. Before she could notify her bank, the thieves were able to go to the local Walmart and cash a check for more than $1,000 without any form of ID, because checks had been cashed there before, and her information was on file. At Walmart, checks get “cashed” immediately and treated like a debit, so my friend is out the money with very little hope of ever catching the thieves.
I’ve also been alerted that shoppers at several big-box stores have been victimized by cashiers who added a “$20 cash back” charge to the credit or debit card amount, and then pocketed the cash.
The lesson for all of us is to be very careful. Ask that a demand for positive identification be added to your information on file at the stores where you shop. You’ll have to present positive ID every time you want to pay by check, but that’s better than losing $1,500 with no recourse. Be sure you check the total of any charge receipt before you leave the register, so that you can dispute any additional charge. Make sure you speak to the manager if an unauthorized charge appears.
Have records of all your credit card numbers and other account numbers, along with contact information. Keep the list up to date. Call the companies immediately if your wallet or purse is stolen, and notify your bank immediately so that they can put a stop on your account. (This is where having a good relationship with your banker is important, because you might be able to authorize individual checks as they are presented for payment, so that legitimate checks aren’t automatically bounced.)
Tell your bank or credit card holder if you’re going to be traveling out of state or out of the country. Credit card companies now routinely call about possible fraud if your card is used outside its normal “home range” and sometimes won’t allow charges, so if you want to use your cards, make sure the issuing company knows you’re traveling.
There are simple, common sense rules that apply to everyone:
• Lock your car.
• Keep wallets and pocketbooks out of sight.
• Store valuables in the trunk.
• Carry your handbag thoughtfully in stores and on the street.
• Be aware of who’s around while you’re talking on the phone or texting.
There are also new rules that help us protect our identity and finances:
• Get a valid, state-issued picture ID if you don’t have a driver’s license. You’ll need it to travel, and you should sign all your credit cards with “demand photo ID” as well as your signature.
• Don’t put vacation or trip information on social media. It’s fun to share on Facebook, but wait until you get home before posting your travel pictures.
• Make sure you shred financial documents, including credit card statements. Or toss them in the wood stove.
• Never give out Social Security or account info on the phone unless you initiated the phone call.
• Don’t fall for the scams that abound. Make sure people who call in distress, who need money immediately, are the real family members. Call home to check. The “grandchild scam” is infamous for ripping off grandparents.
• Ask for advice. If you have doubts, or even if you don’t, ask your banker or librarian about the legitimacy of mail or email requests and offers, or ask a family member.
Deborah McLean is principal of Maine Senior Guide.com, a web resource site that showcases products, services and information for Maine seniors and their families. Reach her at dMcLean@maineseniorguide.com.