Kevin Hunt: Don't Fall For It! (Or Have You Already?)

All rested up from a leisurely summer? Then let's expend some energy fighting off spammers, scammers, telemarketers and identity thieves. Here are a few basics every consumer should know:

Do Not Call Registry

Keep telemarketers away by registering with the national Do Not Call Registry at http://www.donotcall.gov or by dialing 1-888-382-1222. Both landlines and cellphone numbers are eligible.

The registry does not apply to political robocalls (hello, Linda McMahon), surveys and charities. Beware of any caller claiming to having a political exemption to registry. The Better Business Bureau says it received reports recently of a caller posing as a public-opinion pollster who offered a "free vacation" for a fee.

"As you know," says Howard Schwartz of the Connecticut Business Bureau, "legitimate pollsters don't do that."

You'll also get calls with offers from your credit-card companies. Use your Call ID wisely and you'll never have to listen to one.

Virtually every type of telemarketing robocall has been illegal since Sept. 1, 2009, says the Federaal Trade Commission. The FTC has devoted a new page on its site (www.ftc.gov/robocalls) to robocallers and what you can do to stop them.

It's never a waste of time to report an unwanted telemarketing call at http://www.donotcall.gov or by calling the FTC's Consumer Response Center at 1-877-382-4357.

Text Messages

Don't fall for texts that say you've won a $1,000 gift card at Walmart, Best Buy or anywhere else.

Scammers who use the name of a familiar retailers are trying to lure visitors to an unauthorized website where they will be asked to input personal information like passwords, account numbers, even Social Security numbers.

"Spam text messages began to hit cellphone customers of wireless carriers late last year," says the BBB's Schwartz. "The earliest examples offered the recipient to click on a link to stop receiving the texts. Unfortunately, anyone who clicked on a link to stop receiving the texts found unexpected charges on their wireless bills and they continued to receive the malicious texts. When reported, the wireless companies block the numbers and remove a related charge for the received text."

So contact your wireless carrier. AT&T and Verizon can tell you how to report text spam and also how to block the spammers' numbers. (Forward spam messages to 7726, which spells out s-p-a-m.) Do not reply to spam texts. If you respond to a request to opt-out of the messages it only tells the spammers they have a live phone number and potentially lead to unauthorized charges on your account.

Credit Reports

You're entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Get them at http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you go anywhere else, it's unlikely the reports will be free — no matter how they're advertised. Also do not call the credit reporting agencies directly.

If you think you're a victim of identity theft, consider a credit freeze that will prevent any new credit issued in your name. It also will stop anyone from accessing your credit report without your permission. A credit reporting agency might charge about $10 each for a credit freeze and unfreeze.

What if you want to dispute a credit error on your report? Divyesh Dalal of South Windsor returned last year from five years overseas as part of his job at UTC Aerospace Systems to find his credit score had dropped to the mid-500s after being in the desirable 800s when he left.

He has traced the plunge to a Macy's bill that he never paid because it arrived after he had left the country.

"It's impacting my borrowing and loan cost," he says. "How do I get the credit companies to correct my score as it was not my fault but just that I had moved and was not aware of the Macy's bill? It was delinquent over five years."

Dalal should pay the delinquent bill, then contact both the credit reporting agency and Macy's, in writing by certified mail, with details and documentation that support his case. A credit reporting agency is obligated to investigate within 30 days. It must provide the results, in writing, and provide a free credit report if the dispute results in a change.

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