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Scam Alert: Election, Part 1 – Voter Registration Ruse

The Democrats have their donkey. The Republicans have their elephant. And scammers want you as their pigeon. As the Nov. 4 election nears, ’tis the season of voter registration scams.

In the first of two parts, Scam Alert explores an age-old ruse: the phony voter registration scam. Next week we report on scammers who charge a fee for what you can do for free.

It can come via e-mail. Or through an after-dinner telephone call. Or even from a smiling “volunteer” at your door, eager to help you have your voice heard via a voting ballot.

The excuse from these impostors claiming to be from a local election board or civic group? They need your personal information—i.e., Social Security, credit card and bank account numbers—to “confirm” your current voting eligibility or to register you as a new voter.

The real goal: identity theft.

That’s why the Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning about this age-old voter registration scam.

“We want to warn Americans because phishers and scammers are so good at exploiting what’s in the news and what’s on people’s mind. They have no shame,” FTC spokesman Nat Wood tells Scam Alert.

Wood says there is no data on how common this scam is, but he adds it occurs in most elections—and is especially rampant during a presidential race. A similar warning was issued in 2004.

In reality, states and municipalities have their own rules about the use of Social Security numbers for voter registration—some require it, others do not—but personal financial information is never required.

Although legitimate volunteers do go door-to-door to register voters, they will always leave you a bona fide form to fill out yourself, and will not ask for your personal information. Attempts to get such data via an e-mail or telephone call are likely outright attempts at identity theft, say officials.

Meanwhile, voter registration forms are available from your city, county or township clerk or election board, or through those offices’ websites. Post offices, schools, libraries and other taxpayer-funded facilities often have registration forms as well.

Alternatively, register on the website of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency. Most states accept this form.

Typically, registration deadlines to vote in November’s election are early to mid-October.

If you already have provided personal data via a voter registration scam, report it to the FTC or call 1-888-382-4357 toll free.

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life (AARP Books/Sterling).

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