In the internet age even honest offers can appear bogus
Turns out that Discover does want information about your citizenship and occupation, after all.
Last week, I wrote about a reader who got what seemed to be a suspicious letter from Discover Customer Service asking that she update her profile. The reason, the letter said, was so Discover could “meet government guidelines that prevent money laundering and terrorist financing.”
Discover, in fact, has been sending out such letters and emails since last October, spokesman Derek Cuculich said.
It is doing so to comply with the Patriot Act, counter-terrorist financing requirements of the Bank Secrecy Act and programs through the Office of Foreign Assets Control — mandates that apply to all U.S. banks, Cuculich said in an email.
However, consumers are not required to provide the information, he added.
And those who do so should exercise great caution — especially after the scary Equifax data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 143 million Americans, said Christina Tetreault, staff attorney with the Consumers Union.
“It’s OK for financial service providers to ask for this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not uncomfortable for consumers,” she said. “Often these types of inquiries may mirror a scam.”
The Discover letter tells consumers they can update their citizenship and occupation info by calling either the number listed or the one on the back of their credit card. It also provides a link to the profile page on the Discover website.
Whenever a letter or email like this arrives, the best thing to do immediately is nothing. Don’t call any numbers or — ever — click on a link in an email, regardless of how legitimate the letter looks.
Instead, find the relevant phone number independently and call to see whether any such request for personal information is legitimate.
And, although Discover confirmed sending out these letters, it’s always possible that you will receive one that is bogus and that comes from a scammer imitating the credit card company.
“The big consumer issue here, I would say, is just watch out for scammers (and) to cast a particularly jaundiced eye on any inquiry for personal informatoin,” Tetreault said.
But why is Discover seeking this information and not, apparently, other credit card companies?
While federal rules require collection of certain kinds of information, they also say financial institutions must show “due diligence” on knowing who their customers are.
That requirement is somewhat “amorphous,” meaning “there are different ways financial institutions can do due diligence,” Tetreault said.
And back to that huge Equifax breach. Here are some interesting tidbits relating to the hacker invasion that exposed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. (They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people.)
If you are among those who responded by freezing your credit, be grateful that you live in New Mexico. We are among the majority of states in which a credit freeze is permanent until you lift it. It will not automatically expire after a certain amount of time.
However, New Mexico is not among the 29 states that allow parents to place a freeze on a minor’s credit report, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Wouldn’t you know it. Scammers are trying to cash in on the breach by calling people and claiming to be from Equifax. They’re telling people that the company needs to verify account information. “Experian will not call you out of the blue,” the Federal Trade Commission said in an alert. “It’s a scam.”
Those who have general questions about identity theft or other types of fraud, can call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360. Trained volunteers are available to help, the organization said.