Scams and Fraud
As always, let the police and my office know if you ever witness any suspicious behavior or folks you feel are not from a legitimate sales or utility company.
Practice “stranger danger” and ask who is at the door or look through the peephole. If it is a stranger, or someone unexpected, ask to see ID.
Do not give anyone your key. Always be home while a stranger is working in your home, i.e. making repairs.
If you rent, ask your landlord or building manager to inform you ahead of time of any work or services that need to be done inside your unit. You should not find out about work needing to be done only when the worker is at your door.
Do not feel uncomfortable telling someone that they are not welcome in your home. They may be persistent about needed to get in a fix something, but if you did not know they were coming, do not let them in.
Contact your Alderman’s office about poorly lit areas that make your neighborhood unsafe and provide “lurking zones” for offenders. “Scammers” take advantage of these areas when looking to commit crimes.
PROPERTY FRAUD ALERT
Did you know that in many instances, stealing someone’s house can be easier than stealing a car? According to the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, Karen A. Yarbrough, all it takes is someone filing a fraudulent transfer of ownership document with her office. Savvy fraudsters often target elderly persons who live in paid-for homes, and who have no heirs. This allows the criminal to take out a mortgage or sell the home outright once the owner dies.
Though the documents may be fake, the damage is real because the homeowner must get a court order (at their own expense) to have the fake document removed. Until this happens, the true owner will be unable to refinance or sell their home.
The Cook County Recorder recently helped pass a new state law creating an expedited judicial review process to remove fraudulent recordings and there is also a tool available now that can alert you when a document is recorded against your property’s 14-digit Property Identification Number (found on your property tax bill). Their free Property Fraud Alert will trigger a phone call or email to you when a new document is recorded, so that you can investigate further. Getting this alert will help you to take immediate action, before the offender uses the fraudulent document to take out a loan against your home.
Signup is easy, free and your information is never used for anything other than the Alert. Best of all, you can monitor multiple properties, allowing people to monitor the homes of their older parents and relatives. You can sign up online at www.cookrecorder.com, or by calling 800-728-3858.
If you suspect property fraud or have questions about signing up, please call the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Property Fraud Unit at 312-603-4000. For more information, please click here for a flyer.
When preparing your annual income tax returns, please be mindful of potential scams, individuals and companies that may try to take advantage of you.
Only use licensed businesses to prepare taxes.
Use resources such as the Better Business Bureau to research tax preparation businesses and individuals before soliciting their services.
Protect private information such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth and account numbers. These are used to gain access to personal information or to create fraudulent accounts.
Make sure all transactions are documented and copies are kept for personal records.
After filing tax records, do not disclose to others the amount of a refund received or expected.
Report all fraud to your local law enforcement agency and allow their detectives to investigate and prevent future criminal activity.
Only use recognized and secure tax websites when providing personal information online
PROTECTING YOUR IDENTITY
Identity theft is a common crime that causes victims sometimes years of headache and frustration, not to mention often thousands of dollars. Follow these tips below to help prevent your identity from getting into the wrong hands.
Buy a cross-cut type shredder to shred all your important papers especially bank statements and credit card receipts.
Watch out for “shoulder surfers” when using the ATM or pin machines at stores. They can get your “Pin Number” and get access to your accounts.
Be careful of “Dumpster Diving.” Work with your neighbors to lock outdoor garbage cans, and make sure that you do not throw anything away that someone could use to be you.
Personal checks can be altered pretty easily. Try not to use your own mailbox when delivery checks via USPS. Instead, bring them to a Post Office or a postal mailbox. When ordering new checks, have them delivered to your Bank and not your home. Most banks will make sure your checks are delivered to their branch nearest you if requested.
Memorize passwords and other important numbers – DO NOT write them down. Identity thieves can easily connect passwords they find to what they unlock. It most cases, you can provide personal information to unlock forgotten passwords if necessary.