Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and Ryan Sothan, outreach coordinator for the Consumer Protection Division, were in North Platte on Wednesday to educate the public about consumer fraud.
The recent Equifax security breach is of significant importance and concern, Peterson said.
“It is one of the largest private sector breaches, but what makes the Equifax (breach) so significant is that it involves Social Security numbers and birth dates,” Peterson said. “The Yahoo and eBay breaches were probably bigger, but it didn’t have such sensitive information.”
Peterson said his Consumer Protection Division has been in contact with officials in other states that will be working together as well as doing their own investigations.
“This one is going to take some time because there are about 146 million breaches and it’s estimated that Nebraska could potentially have over 720,000 affected,” Peterson said. “That’s pretty significant.”
The attorney general’s Office for a Day event at the North Platte Senior Center focused on potential consumer fraud scams.
“The big worry there is identity theft, and it is the No. 1 consumer complaint in Nebraska as well as across the nation,” Sothan said. “That is where somebody has your Social Security number and uses it to largely perpetrate financial fraud and theft.”
The biggest concern from the Equifax scam, Sothan said, is that crooks will file fraudulent tax returns using the stolen Social Security numbers.
“The average tax return in America is about $3,100,” Sothan said. “So one of the first things you can do to protect yourself going forward into 2018 is to file your taxes as early as possible so you can be guaranteed your return.”
Sothan said for those who have concerns about whether their information was breached, there are two methods of checking. The first is to go to the Equifax website at equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on the “Potential Impact” tab.
“Enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number and the site will tell you if you have been affected,” Sothan said.
The other method is to call the Equifax toll free number, 1-866-447-7559.
Sothan shared information on some of the popular frauds and scams in Nebraska. The list includes impostor scams, identity theft, prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, home repair and improvement, health care, banks and lenders, charitable solicitations and debt collection.
The one thing people can do is to understand that a legitimate agency or business will not contact you by phone and ask for immediate payment. Sothan talked especially about the Internal Revenue Service collection scam.
“The IRS will not call you telling you that you owe taxes,” Sothan said. “They will also not require you to pay in a certain way.”
Sothan said scammers will ask for payment by a debit card or some other means, and that should send a warning to the individual that this is not a legitimate call.
“If you owe money to the IRS, you will always be sent a letter” with information on how to contact the IRS to resolve the issue, Sothan said.
“One of the things we try to do is we understand that senior citizens are disproportionally pursued by those who have various scams to try to get money,” Peterson said. “The difficult challenge we have is so many of those scammers are operating outside of this country, so we don’t have any enforcement ability, or they are outside the state, which makes it difficult also.”
Peterson said the attorney general’s office is committed to making people aware of how to avoid being scammed.
“These scams can take a person’s life savings,” Peterson said. “The best thing we can do is to try to make you aware of how these scam operations work. We’re trying to help you become as educated as you can be.”