Business

Saturday, Oct 20 2012 12:00 PM

Action Line: Protect personal information during election season

BY JOEY FERNANDEZ Contributing columnist

Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.

Dear Action Line:

I am a registered voter and I've noticed that since I registered I started receiving unsolicited and robo phone calls. I don't know what to make of this. Some of the callers are offering me free gifts in exchange for taking surveys or giving them my personal information. How can I tell what is real or fake?

Dear Reader:

You have done the right thing by contacting us. The presidential election will take place Nov. 6. As the candidates and the public prepare for the big vote, scammers have been gearing up to steal your personal information. Better Business Bureau serving Central California is warning voters to be on the lookout for scams leading up to the presidential election.

Scammers use major holidays, big events and popular news stories to make their pitches to consumers more relevant and realistic. Health care, economic recovery and unemployment are popular topics scammers will use to fraudulently mislead consumers into giving their personal information or credit card number.

Here are a few recent scams reported to BBB:

1. The political survey free cruise offer.

These public-opinion surveys typically offer a free cruise in exchange for participating in a quick telephone survey. However, at the end of the call consumers are asked for a form of payment to cover port fees and taxes. Consumers who hesitate or ask for time to consider the offer are subject to high-pressure tactics, such as being told the offer is "only good right now."

Tip: Be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers. Legitimate polling companies will not offer prizes for participating in a telephone survey, and they will not ask for a credit card number.

2. Fundraising calls for political donations.

Consumers have reported calls from organizations asking for donations. However, these calls may not really be related to either the Obama or Romney campaigns. Avoid providing your personal information over the phone.

Tip: Research charities before donating. If you would like to contribute to a political campaign or party, search for contact information yourself rather than giving out financial information to a caller.

3. Scammers claiming to check on your eligibility to vote.

These unsolicited emails and phone calls claim to be from someone representing your local election board or civic group. They ask for your Social Security or credit card number to confirm your eligibility or registration to vote.

Tip: Do not give out your personal information. According to the FTC, voter registration drives will contact you in person or send voter registration forms. They will never ask you to provide your financial information.

The bottom line is scammers are always looking for loopholes and ways to get your personal information during highly emotional times and during seasons of change. They are hoping to cash in during these times. Be wise and always check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses by visiting www.cencal.bbb.org or calling 800-675-8118.

-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or joey@cencal.bbb.org.

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