The Financial Crimes and Fraud Unit is responsible for investigating many of DC’s financial crimes and fraud, including identity theft and cons.
As our lives become more integrated with technology, keeping our private information confidential becomes more and more difficult. Your personal information is often requested, partially-completed credit card applications may be mailed to your residence often, and electronic transactions have become commonplace. Although all of this has the potential to simplify daily activities, it also makes it easy for someone to take advantage of the situation and steal your identity.
There are a number of ways that you can protect your private information and reduce the risk of becoming a victim of a financial crime or a con.
General Financial Safety Tips
Here are some good rules to follow all the time—whether or not you suspect a fraud.
- Don’t believe “something-for-nothing” offers. You get what you pay for.
- Read all contracts and agreements before signing. Have an attorney examine all major contracts.
- Do not hesitate to check the credentials of anyone who comes to your door. Ask to see official identification and inspect it carefully.
- Create a strong password, memorize it, and change it regularly. The BEST passwords mix numbers with upper and lowercase letters. If you have the option of letting your computer or a website remember your password for you, DON’T use it! Anyone who uses your machine will have access to information that is password protected.
- Never give a bank account or credit card number, or other personal information such as your Social Security number or PIN, to anyone you don’t know. Avoid providing card and account information to anyone over the telephone. And remember: banks will never request your PIN over the telephone.
- When making a purchase, if you have a choice between using your credit card and paying with cash or a check, use a credit card. You can always dispute fraudulent credit card charges, but you can’t get cash back.
- Don't write your PIN on a piece of paper and place it in your wallet. If your wallet and card are lost or stolen, someone will have everything they need to remove funds from your account.
- Beware of individuals impersonating police officers who ask you to withdraw large sums of money. No real member of the police department should ever ask for money in connection with any case.
- Keep a master list in a secure place at home with all account numbers and phone numbers for reporting stolen or lost cards.
The best way to avoid being a victim of fraud is to be informed. Please be aware, and protect yourself and your financial welfare by exercising good judgment and being skeptical when necessary.
What To Do If You Become a Victim of Fraud
Here’s what to do if you discover someone has been abusing your accounts:
- File a Police Report: A report can be made with MPD one of three ways:
- You may file the report by calling 911 and having a patrol unit respond to your home. An officer will take the report and it will be forwarded to the Financial Crimes Unit. Please have any pertinent account numbers and receipts available.
- You may file the report by calling 311 and speaking to an officer over the phone. The report will then be forwarded to the Financial Crimes Unit. Please have any pertinent account numbers and receipts available.
- You may visit the nearest MPD district station and have an officer take the report. The report will then be forwarded to the Financial Crimes Unit. Please bring any pertinent account numbers and receipts with you.
- Stolen Checks: If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to the check verification companies (see "Resources" below for a list). Close your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Give the bank a secret password for your account (not your mother’s maiden name).
- ATM Cards: Get a new card, account number, and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, don’t use common numbers like the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birthday.
- Fraudulent Change of Address: Notify the local postal inspector if you suspect an identity theft has filed a change of address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. Find out where the fraudulent credit cards were sent. Notify the local postmaster for the address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk to the mail carrier.
- Social Security Number Misuse: Call the Social Security Administration to report fraudulent use of your social security number. As a last resort, you might want to change the number. The SSA will only change it if you fit their fraud victim criteria. Also, order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits statement and check it for accuracy.
- Passports: If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently.
- Phone Service: If your long-distance calling card has been stolen or you discover fraudulent charges on your bill, cancel the account and open a new one. Provide a password, which must be used anytime the account is charged.
- Driver License Number Misuse: You may need to change your driver’s license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the state or District of Columbia office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Also, fill out the DMV’s complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the complaint form to the nearest DMV investigation office.
- False Civil and Criminal Judgements: Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter. If a civil judgement has been entered in your name for actions taken by your imposter, contact the court where the judgement was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the state Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask how to clear your name.
ATM Safety Tips
- Make sure you have memorized your personal identification number (PIN). Never write it down on your ATM card or keep it with the card. Never tell anyone your code or let them enter your code for you.
- Do not give out information about your PIN over the telephone—banks will never request such information.
- Try to use machines you are familiar with, and use terminals located in banks rather than independent terminals.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Look around before conducting a transaction. If you see anyone or anything suspicious, cancel your transaction and go to another ATM.
- If you must use an ATM after hours, make sure it's well lighted.
- Use your body as a shield when making a transaction at the ATM.
- Never walk away from an ATM with cash still in hand. If you are going to count your money, do so at the ATM. Then take the time to put your money away before leaving.
- When making an ATM transaction from your car, be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes and ears open, and keep car doors locked.
- Report any lost or stolen cards as soon as you discover they're missing.
- Check your receipts against your monthly statements to guard against ATM fraud.
- Tear up your ATM receipts when you no longer need them.
- According to DC Law, panhandling within 10 feet of any ATM is illegal. If you witness this, please call the MPDC's non-emergency number, 311.
Consumers are using the Internet now more than ever. Unfortunately, not all people offering services online are legitimate, and sometimes Internet crime occurs. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, established to address fraud and other types of crime committed over the Internet. If you have been a victim of Internet crime, you should report the violation through the IC3.
For more information or to file a complaint, visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center website.
Credit Reporting Bureaus
Remember, if you have been the victim of credit fraud (15 USC §1681j(b)) or are denied credit (15 USC §1681j(c)(3)) you are entitled to a free credit report. If you are a victim of fraud, be sure to ask the credit bureaus for free copies. They will often provide them.
- Report Fraud: (800) 290-8749
- Order a Credit Report: (800) 685-1111
- Opt Out of Pre-Approve Offers of Credit: (888) 5OPTOUT or (888) 567-8688
Experian (formerly TRW)
- Report Fraud: (800) 301-7195 or (888) 397-3742
- Order a Credit Report: (888) 397-3742
- Opt Out of Pre-Approve Offers of Credit and Marketing Lists: (888) 680-7293
- Report Fraud: (800) 680-7289
- Consumer Relations: (800) 916-8800
- Order a Credit Report: (888) 680-7293
Social Security Administration
- Report Fraud - (800) 269-0271
- Order your Earnings and Benefits Statement - (800) 772-1213
To Remove Your Name From Mail and Phone Lists
- Mail Preference Service: PO Box 9008 Farmingdale, NY 11735
- Telephone Preference Service: PO Box 9014 Farmingdale, NY 11735
To Report Fraudulent Use of Your Checks
- CheckRite: (800) 766-2748
- CrossCheck: (800) 843-0760
- Chexsystems: (800) 428-9623
- Equifax: (800) 437-5120
- International Check Services: (800) 526-5380
- SCAN: (800) 262-7771
- Telecheck: (800) 710-9898
Other Useful Resources
- Federal Government Information Center : Help in obtaining government agency phone numbers: (800) 688-9889
- Federal Trade Commission: Help in any type of consumer complaint (105 PL 318, 112 Stat.3007 Section 5)
- (specifically identity theft and referrals to local law enforcement): (877) FTC-HELP
Congratulations, you’ve just won a million dollars in a lottery you never entered...
This is one of the most common scams throughout the US. The approach is made via email, telephone, fax or letter. A good rule of thumb in these situations is to remember if it sounds too good to be true, IT IS! Don’t let your excitement get the best of you.
Here’s how it might happen:
- The suspect tells the victim that they just won the lottery. All they need to collect the winnings is to wire them the money for taxes and the international conversion fees.
- The suspect requests that money be wired to a Western Union or MoneyGram location based out of the country, usually Canada, the United Kingdom or Nigeria.
- The victim never sees any winnings.
What to do if approached in this manner:
- Do not send the money. If you really do win the lottery, the lottery association will arrange to take the money for the taxes directly out of your winnings.
Relative in Distress Scam
A caller contacts you on the telephone identifying themselves as your relative. They ask for financial assistance because they just got into a car accident in a nearby jurisdiction.
Here’s how it might happen:
- The suspect calls and says they need money immediately. If they do not settle the accident right then and there, they will go to jail. If the victim agrees to help, the suspect will then send a friend to get the money at the victim’s house.
- The second suspect (the friend of the ‘relative’) shows up at the victim’s house to get the money. They have been told what names to use with the victim when picking the money.
- The victim finds out later that the relative never called and asked for the money.
What to do if approached in this manner:
- If the person asks for money, be sure to confirm that it’s really a relative – ask a question only that relative would know.
- Confirm with another relative that the relative named is in town.
Badge Player Scam
A suspect posing as an undercover police officer needs your help capturing a bank employee who has been working with some area con-artists. To do this, they need you to remove a large sum of money from your account for fingerprinting. Once the fake officer has the money, they are never seen again.
This scam usually occurs to a victim who has already been scammed once. The new suspect is often working with the con-artists from the earlier offense.
Here’s how it might happen:
- The suspect identifies themselves as a police officer and shows the victim a fake badge.
- The fake police officer tells the victim that they have identified the suspects from the earlier case and that they are in custody.
- The fake police officer then tells the victim that a bank employee may have been working with the suspects in custody. To confirm this, the fake officer needs the victim withdraw money from a particular teller at that bank.
- The victim then gives their money to the fake officer for fingerprinting. The fake officer assures the victim that the police will return the money to their account, but the money is never returned.
What to do if approached in this manner:
- Ask the individual to present their departmental issued picture ID. No real member of the police department should ever ask for money in connection with any case.
- Ask for a uniform officer to respond to the scene.
- If the suspects leave, get a license plate and call 9-1-1.
Area Code 809 Scam
You may receive a message on your answering machine or your pager which asks you to call a number beginning with area code 809 (or another unfamiliar area code). The reason that you're asked to call varies: it can be to receive information about a family member who has been ill, to tell you someone has been arrested or died, or to let you know you have won a wonderful prize. In each case, the message tells you to call the 809 number immediately.
If you call from the US, you will be charged up to $25.00 per-minute, and the scammers will try to keep you on the phone as long as possible to increase the charges. When you get your phone bill, you may be charged hundreds of dollars for the minutes you accumulated making the call to area code 809.
How It Works
The 809 area code may be used as a "pay-per-call" number, similar to 900 numbers in the US. Despite looking like a 10-digit domestic number, the 809 area code is not in the US, so it is not covered by US regulations. There is also no requirement that the company provide a time period during which you may terminate the call without being charged. Furthermore, whereas many US phones have 900 number blocking to avoid these kinds of charges, it will not prevent calls to the 809 area code.
How to Protect Yourself
It is recommended that no matter how you get the message, if you are asked to call a number with an 809 area code that you don't recognize, investigate further or simply disregard the message. Be wary of email or calls asking you to call an 809 area code number.
It's important to prevent becoming a victim of this scam; fighting the charges afterwards can become a real nightmare. If you actually make the call and later complain, both your local phone company and your long distance carrier may not want to get involved. You may end up dealing with a foreign company that argues they have done nothing wrong.