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Be very wary: Consumer fraud, identity theft up

“Protect all your private information,” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, recently warned. “Guard it with your life.”

Wheeland issued this warning after having the unsettling experience of becoming a victim of identity theft.

The lawmaker became aware of suspicious activity after being notified by the state that his unemployment claim had been denied — even though he had never applied for benefits.

Then he found that a credit card he and his wife share was used to make a purchase in Chester County.

He has no idea how his personal information was stolen but can only speculate that somebody obtained his Social Security number.

Wheeland is not alone in this type of experience.

Every day, the American landscape is prime hunting grounds for scam artists and criminals wanting to take what isn’t theirs.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network tracks consumer fraud and identity theft.

It received 4.8 million reports in 2020, up by 45 percent from the 3.3 million reports in 2019.

Of 2020’s 4.8 million reports, most were for identity theft, and almost one third of those were for scams involving government benefits.

Anymore, we as a society have become very suspicious of just about every incoming phone call.

How often does the phone ring with an unknown caller on the other end seeking personal information? How often are seniors, in particular, targeted by scammers wanting to bilk them of their savings?

It has become so bad that many people — maybe even most people — won’t answer a ringing phone if they do not recognize the number.

Forget that it could be an important personal call. Just note how often the phone rings. Endlessly, sometimes, it seems.

It’s just not right.

But it shows how important it is to heed Wheeland’s advice and guard your personal information.

Keep an eye on your financial accounts.

And be very, very wary of strangers who call and ask for personal information, regardless of who they say they are.

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