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Federal and state government agencies offer help for consumers to avoid identify theft and scams.
A wealth of information is available on various agency and non-government websites:
The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has information about product safety and provides a way for consumers to see product recalls and report unsafe products: http://www.cpsc.gov/.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has information for consumers about food, drugs, medical devices, cosmetics and many other products: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/default.htm.
The Texas Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division can be reached at http://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/index.shtml or (512) 463-2100 (main switchboard). The Consumer Protection Hotline is (800) 621-0508.
The National Consumers' League operates the National Fraud Information Center/Internet Fraud Watch, which is devoted to helping consumers detect and avoid fraud and other scams: http://www.fraud.org/.
The Better Business Bureau: http://www.bbb.org/.
Free trial offers-these may be legitimate but buyers beware. If you aren't careful, you could wind up obligating yourself to a long-term contract that you really don't want. See this alert from the FTC: FTC Consumer Alert | Could Free Trial Offers Be 'Fee' Trial Offers in Disguise?
Monitor your bank accounts; communicate with your bank and take advantage of any programs it has for protecting you from identity theft. Don't open suspicious e-mails, especially those from persons or e-mail addresses you aren't familiar with.
Take steps to protect your medical information. Click here for a copy of the FTC's brochure that tells you what to do to avoid medical identity theft.
Watch out for scammers pretending to be census takers. The U.S. Census Bureau will soon be sending its census takers out to gather information from everyone for the 2010 census, but scammers are already out there trying to steal your personal information. If someone approaches you, follow these steps to protect yourself: Ask the person for official identification from the Census Bureau. Real census takers will have the following:
Also, census takers do not ask for any of the following information, so if you are asked for these by someone claiming to be a census taker, they are not legitimate:
Report such persons to the Census Bureau: email@example.com.
Finally, the Census Bureau does not request information by e-mail or over the Internet, so any requests through those sources are fraudulent. Follow this link for information about avoiding these scams.
Never give your credit card or personal information to anyone, unless you know for certain who they are and why they need it.
A common scam appears in the form of an e-mail from someone claiming to be from your credit card company or bank saying that they need to verify your account information and asking you to follow a link to a website. Do not click on the link. Instead, call your bank or credit card company using a number you know to be correct and tell them about the e-mail or phone call so they can verify whether it was a legitimate call.
The same goes for phone calls from persons claiming to be from your bank or credit card company. Don't give them the information, but call your bank or credit card company.
Sign up for the no-call list to block telemarketing calls.
Do not open any e-mail that looks suspicious, even if it gets past your antivirus protection software.
When you receive offers in the mail that you did not ask for, check for the following:
Beware of the letters or e-mails offering you a cut of a large sum of money or an inheritance if you send money. These are nothing more than variations on one of the oldest scams around.
Pay particular attention to persons who approach the elderly members of your family.
Always remember to cardinal rule: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.