Pretexting: Your Personal
When you think of your own personal
assets, chances are your home, car, and savings and investments come
to mind. But what about your Social Security number (SSN), telephone
records and your bank and credit card account numbers? To people
known as “pretexters,” that information is a personal asset, too.
Pretexting is the practice of getting
your personal information under false pretenses. Pretexters sell
your information to people who may use it to get credit in your
name, steal your assets, or to investigate or sue you. Pretexting is
against the law.
Pretexters use a variety of tactics to get your personal
information. For example, a pretexter may call, claim he’s from a
survey firm, and ask you a few questions. When the pretexter has the
information he wants, he uses it to call your financial institution.
He pretends to be you or someone with authorized access to your
account. He might claim that he’s forgotten his checkbook and needs
information about his account. In this way, the pretexter may be
able to obtain personal information about you such as your SSN, bank
and credit card account numbers, information in your credit report,
and the existence and size of your savings and investment
Keep in mind that some information
about you may be a matter of public record, such as whether you own
a home, pay your real estate taxes, or have ever filed for
bankruptcy. It is not pretexting for another person to collect this
kind of information.
to Be a Law — There Is
Under federal law — the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act — it’s illegal for
use false, fictitious or
fraudulent statements or documents to get customer information
from a financial institution or directly from a customer of a
use forged, counterfeit, lost, or
stolen documents to get customer information from a financial
institution or directly from a customer of a financial
ask another person to get someone
else’s customer information using false, fictitious or
fraudulent statements or using false, fictitious or fraudulent
documents or forged, counterfeit, lost, or stolen documents.
The Federal Trade Commission Act also
generally prohibits pretexting for sensitive consumer information.
The Link to
Pretexting can lead to identity theft. Identity theft occurs when
someone hijacks your personal identifying information to open new
charge accounts, order merchandise, or borrow money. Consumers
targeted by identity thieves often don’t know they’ve been
victimized until the hijackers fail to pay the bills or repay the
loans, and collection agencies begin dunning the consumers for
payment of accounts they didn’t even know they had.
According to the Federal Trade
Commission (FTC), the most common forms of identity theft are:
Credit Card Fraud — a
credit card account is opened in a consumer’s name or an
existing credit card account is “taken over”;
Communications Services Fraud — the identity thief
opens telephone, cellular, or other utility service in the
Bank Fraud — a checking or savings account is opened in
the consumer’s name, and/or fraudulent checks are written; and
Fraudulent Loans — the identity thief gets a loan, such
as a car loan, in the consumer’s name.
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.
Even though the laws are on your side, it’s wise to take an active
role in protecting your information.
Don’t give out personal
information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet
unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing
with. Pretexters may pose as representatives of survey firms,
banks, Internet service providers and even government agencies
to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, financial
account numbers and other identifying information. Legitimate
organizations with which you do business have the information
they need and will not ask you for it.
Be informed. Ask your financial
institutions for their policies about sharing your information.
Ask them specifically about their policies to prevent
Pay attention to your statement
cycles. Follow up with your financial institutions if your
statements don’t arrive on time.
Review your statements carefully
and promptly. Report any discrepancies to your institution
Alert family members to the
dangers of pretexting. Explain that only you, or someone you
authorize, should provide personal information to others.
Keep items with personal
information in a safe place. Tear or shred your charge receipts,
copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and
other financial statements that you’re discarding, expired
charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail.
Add passwords to your credit card,
bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available
information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the
last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series
of consecutive numbers.
Be mindful about where you leave
personal information in your home, especially if you have
roommates or are having work done in your home by others.
Find out who has access to your
personal information at work and verify that the records are
kept in a secure location.
Order a copy of your credit report
from the three nationwide consumer reporting companies every
year. An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act
requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting
companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit
reports, at your request, once every 12 months. To order your
free annual report from one or all of the nationwide consumer
reporting companies, visit
call toll-free 1-877-322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit
Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request
Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print
the order form from
ftc.gov/credit. Do not
contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies
individually. They provide free annual credit reports only
1-877-322-8228, and Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O.
Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
Your credit report contains
information on where you work and live, the credit accounts that
have been opened in your name, how you pay your bills and whether
you’ve been sued, arrested or have filed for bankruptcy. Checking
your report annually can help you catch mistakes and fraud before
they wreak havoc on your personal finances.
If You Think
You’re a Victim
If you think you’ve been a victim of pretexting, the FTC recommends
Report it to your financial
institution immediately. Close accounts that have been tampered
with and open new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers
(PINs) and passwords.
Contact the fraud departments at
one of the three major credit reporting companies immediately.
Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a
statement that creditors should get your permission before
opening any new accounts in your name. The company you contact
will transmit your request to the other two.
1-800-525-6285 and write: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA
1-888-EXPERIAN (1-888-397-3742) and write: P.O. Box 949,
Allen, TX 75013-0949
Trans Union: call:
1-800-680-7289 and write: Fraud Victim Assistance
Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
Contact your local police as soon
as possible, and ask to file a report. Even if the police can’t
catch the pretexter, having a police report can help you in
clearing up your credit records later on.
Contact the Federal Trade
Commission as soon as possible. The FTC works for the consumer
to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices
in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers
spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free
information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free,
1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338), or use the complaint form at
The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other
fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure,
online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
If you’ve been a victim of identity
theft, file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC’s
Identity Theft Hotline by telephone: toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT
(1-877-438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail: Identity Theft
Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
NW, Washington, DC 20580; or online:
The FTC has published a free booklet,
Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft. This
comprehensive guide includes information on what consumers can do to
reduce their risk of ID theft; how consumers can protect their
personal information; the steps consumers can take if they do become
victims of ID theft; and a directory of government resources
available to ID theft victims. For your copy, visit