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Don't let 'jury duty' scam take away your identity

Do you want to have your world turned upside down?

Let the con artists win: Give your Social Security number and personal banking information to people you don't know over the phone. Believe in get-rich-quick schemes. Give in to high-pressure tactics or threats.

In short, become a victim of identity theft.

Scams, of course, have been around for eons. For every way there is to separate a fool, or a na?ve person, from his money, there are a thousand con artists eager to do it.

But the lengths today's crooks are willing to go keep expanding; they're always coming up with new and inventive ways of hoodwinking their victims.

One of the latest scams preys upon people's sense of civic duty - and their desire to obey the law. An Alexandria realtor tipped us off about it. Here's how it works: Someone claiming to be from the local court system will call your home, saying that you've failed to report for jury duty. The caller will tell you that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. You, naturally, will say that you never received the jury notification. The scammer will then ask for confidential information - Social Security number, birth date, even a credit card number - for "verification" purposes so that the arrest warrant can be lifted.

What they're really doing with the information, of course, is stealing your identity. In the real world, court workers would never call someone asking for Social Security numbers or other personal information.

The jury duty scam has been reported in several states, including Minnesota. It has worked, experts say, because the victim is caught off guard and is upset at the prospect of a warrant being issued for his or her arrest. They let those emotions take over instead of the cool, calm logic of never giving out confidential information over the phone.

Another popular scam these days is for callers to pose as IRS officials, once again asking for confidential information over the phone.

Stopping identity thieves isn't that difficult. It just takes some common sense and a few precautions. The National Society of Accountants (NSA) offers these tips:

• Don't carry your Social Security Number (SSN); leave it in a secure place.

Only give your Social Security number when absolutely necessary.

• Your employer and financial institution may need your SSN for wage and tax reporting purposes. Don't give a business your SSN just because they ask for it. Find out why before giving it out.

• Ask why your SSN is needed and if other types of identifiers can be used. For example, if your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.

More than 8.3 million American adults were victims of identity theft in 2005, according to a 2007 Federal Trade Commission study. Don't let it happen to you or your loved ones.

-- Alexandria Echo Press