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Getting to the bottom of phone fraud calls, stolen identity

 A window sticker advertising Visa and MasterCard credit cards hangs in a window February 25, 2008 in San Francisco, Calif.
A window sticker advertising Visa and MasterCard credit cards hangs in a window February 25, 2008 in San Francisco, Calif.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Does your person wear glasses? Is your person wearing a hat? Is your person a male or a female? These are the types of questions that are asked in a 1979 board game called Guess Who?

And the more correct guesses a person states, the more cards she flips down. Slowly one board game player figures out who you are.

That's about how phone fraud and credit card fraud companies work. All they need is the right guess to figure out how to get your information, and if you're a little too chatty and your guard is down, they'll win the game of Guess Who? every time.

After recently changing a cell phone number (and forgetting to automatically add the new number to to avoid solicitors and telemarketers), the phone number that showed up on my phone was (708) 000-0001.

Warning 1: When a company calls you from a number you cannot recognize outside of the area code, ask for their company name immediately. On a landline phone, the company's name will sometimes pop up. On cell phones, a random phone number is more common.

The company, which called itself "Member Services," told me I was eligible for a better credit card interest rate because my current credit card balance was over $6,000.

Warning 2: Guessing a credit card balance only takes a Google search. The average American, according to CNN, had approximately $15,950 in credit card debt in 2012. PBS' "Frontline" special: "Secret History of the Credit Card" made me cut up my cards a few years ago and get as far away from that statistic as possible. But with the current unnemployment rate and need for basic living, it's not unreasonable to believe that some people do indeed need credit cards.

I asked for the company associated with the card. They ran off a list of companies, including JP Morgan Chase and Target.

Warning 3: When a credit card company wants to speak with you, someone from that credit card company will contact you directly. Third-party representatives are not only unnecessary but unrealistic. It's more likely to see skinny Santa Claus than it is for a big-name company to send you no snail mail with their logos, e-mails from their secure website or in-person representatives to stop you as soon as you enter the buildings.

I asked for the website address of the company that I was speaking to. The website I got was

Warning 4: A company with an Illinois area code doesn't usually need to add "us" in their website. Don't be fooled by a company just because it has ".com" at the end. Anyone with money can start a website. But this company didn't even have a working fake website. I checked while he was still on the line and told him so.

Finally I asked him to tell me what my name is. When a financial expert can call you, know your account balance (or estimate) and know what companies you have financial ties to, it's not too much to ask for them to be able to identify you as well. He could not tell me my own name.

By this time, I'd already pulled up the Better Business Bureau (BBB) site and started my report about this number. I explained to the representative what I was doing and he hung up mid-sentence.

Warning 5: A legitimate company won't freak out when you mention BBB. Accredited businesses will usually have no problem with you going to BBB to search for their company. With the recent Target credit card hacking, BBB confirms that scam artists are taking advantage of naivete even more.

Subscribe to BBB's scam alerts for more information.

In the meantime, if you legitimately think there's a possibility that a company you work with is willing to give you a better deal, tell the incoming caller that you are busy at the moment and you will call back. Then immediately make an outgoing call to the phone number of the actual company (listed on the company's site or on the back of your credit card) and ask to speak with one of their representatives.

Follow Shamontiel on Pinterest for all her latest Chicago finance, employment and savings tips, or subscribe to her Chicago Personal Finance channel at the top of this page.

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