It's campaign time, so expect to hear plenty of promises that will never be kept—and not just from candidates. This is also the season for voter registration scams.
Among the newest:
- Sign here to switch parties. But you won't know you're doing it. This scheme, which recently occurred in many parts of California, involves collecting signatures for petitions on hot-button issues such as the marijuana legalization or environmental initiatives. But after signing at storefront booths or in parking lots, hundreds of people alleged their signatures were used to forge forms registering them as Republican voters.
- Your vital information for a vote. A ploy that has triggered warnings from the Federal Trade Commission involves unsolicited e-mails, phone calls or home visits from self-described "volunteers" who claim to need your Social Security or credit card numbers to register you to vote or to confirm eligibility. These people may say they represent a political party, the local election board or a civic group, but they're really crooks trying to get your information for identity theft.
Some states and municipalities do require a Social Security number for voter registration. Provide yours only if it's needed on an official voter registration form that you return directly to your local or state election office. Personal financial information is never required.
- Pay us for what you can do for free. Registering to vote or switching your political party is always free, yet some online services charge for it. One website that has generated official warnings and consumer complaints is iwanttovote.com. It charges $9.95 for voter registration and $9.95 a month for membership. The website does not provide a telephone number to cancel memberships or answer questions; it did not respond to e-mail from Scam Alert seeking comment on the complaints.
Here's how to defend yourself against voter registration ploys:
- Get free registration forms at the offices of your city, county or township clerk or your election board, or from their websites. Some libraries and post offices also provide the forms.
- Don't give personal information to people identifying themselves as election workers. Legitimate volunteers who call or go door to door to register voters will leave you a form to fill out and return yourself.
- Know the deadline. Most states require registrations at least 30 days before an election. So anyone showing up at your home after that date could well be a scammer.
If you believe you have been a victim of a voter registration scam, contact your local election board. You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or call 877-FTC-HELP.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).