Madigan warns Elgin conference about consumer fraud, identity theft

ELGIN — When odd charges show up on a credit card statement, a bank alert tags a high debit card transaction, or an annual credit report check shows unpaid utility bills, there are things residents can do, said Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

In addition to local police reports, Madigan advised residents to “call us. We are here to help,” she said.

Madigan, representatives from her office, and more than 50 elected officials, police department representatives and many from organizations that give aid to residents were at the Centre of Elgin Wednesday for a round table discussion on consumer fraud and identity theft.

The Attorney General’s office reached out to her staff to bring the event to Elgin, said State Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin.

Madigan left before the event was finished, heading to Washington, D.C., to testify on college loan debt collection scams.

Each year, Madigan said, between 25,000 to 30,000 people file a complaint to her office because of scams and other fraud.

One of the biggest problems they have seen in the past 10 years comes from the data breaches and identity thefts surrounding large companies. Target saw a huge breach right around 2013 holiday season, but craft store Michael’s and online retailer Ebay have also had breaches, she noted.

“A lot of people in our office found charges even before the notification occurred,” she said of the Target breach.

“Right now, they estimate that since 2005-06 there have been 4,000 major data breeches in this country,” she added.

There are things consumers can do to protect themselves from data breaches and other incidents that can leave their personal financial information at risk, Madigan said.

It would help, she said, if consumers used cash more often and plastic less often for small purchases. But for many, that isn’t an easy option either.

“If you are not going to do that, put a transaction alert on your cards,” that alerts the card holder if more than a set amount is being charged to the card. Then, the cardholder can stop the transaction as quickly as possible.

Reading bank and credit card statements also helps catch unauthorized transactions quickly, she said.

Then, using the federal law that allows consumers to get a free copy of their credit reports once a year also helps to ensure no unusual charges are happening. Madigan suggested creating calendar alerts that remind residents to check with one of the three credit reporting agencies once every four months — so that in a calendar year people can see what each agency is reporting.

Scams are also a way residents can have their financial security threatened, said Lizveth Mendez, community outreach liaison for the Attorney General’s office.

Often, senior citizens and youth are the targets of those scams.

The longer a scammer can keep a senior citizen on the phone, the more likely it is that person will fall for a scam, Mendez said. They counsel seniors to “just hang up,” and not listen to the spiel the scammer is selling them.

While many in the audience work with seniors and residents, it was a nice reminder of what the Attorney General’s office and other organizations can do when a resident is the victim of identity theft, said South Elgin Chief of Police Chris Merritt.

“Identity theft is a serious problem, especially in our senior community. We work with Kane County Triad and our detectives often on this,” Merritt said.

It was also a good primer for someone who has not yet started building credit. Often, young people can find out their credit has been compromised even before they start seeking credit cards.

Evangeline Bero, 16, is interning for Moeller this summer and sat in on the roundtable.

“I actually want to go home an check my credit now. You don’t know until you check and I will apply for loans for college soon. I might not be able to if my credit is bad,” she said.

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