MONROE, La. – Most of us can handle a harmless prank or two on April Fools’ Day, but being a victim of a scam is no laughing matter. The best way to avoid being fooled is to be aware of the various scams and how they work. CenturyLink wants to help keep its customers from falling prey to scams that could result in identity theft or loss of financial assets.

Here are some common scams along with ways to protect yourself:

U.S. Census Scam
How it works: Someone calls you claiming to be from the Census, the IRS or other “trusted” organization and asks you to divulge personal financial information, donations, and/or Social Security numbers. In addition, fraudsters now have devices that can make Caller ID display any number or name they choose such as "U.S. Census" or a similar identifier.  In rare instances, a Census worker may call to clarify information you've submitted, according to the Census Web site.

How to protect yourself: Never give out financial or personal information over the phone unless you are certain of the identity of the person or company who is requesting it.

Phishing Scam
How it works: Phishing e-mail messages are designed to steal your identity. They get your personal data by directing you to phony, but very realistic "secure" Web sites. The phony URL is a total knock-off of a company's legitimate log-in site. The sole purpose is to trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.

How to protect yourself: Legitimate companies don’t ask for personal information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the company mentioned in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine. Don’t cut and paste the link from the message into your Internet browser — phishers can make links look like they go to one place, but that actually send you to a different site. Also, review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to check for unauthorized charges.

Mystery Shopper Scam
How it works: You receive a notice stating that you’ve been selected to participate in a “Mystery Shopper” program.  Along with the notice, you receive a check and are asked to wire money back through a money transfer company, such as Moneygram or Western Union.  Even though a bank may make the funds available when you cash the check, it does not mean the check will clear. It can take weeks for a counterfeit check to be discovered, at which time the bank can deduct the amount that was originally deposited in your account, making you cover the loss.

How to protect yourself:  If you receive this type of notice, delete it or throw it away.  Do not send the money and do not cash the check.

How it works: Slamming is a term for an unauthorized change to your long distance company. This often happens when you sign up for a contest or other marketing promotion without checking the fine print. The company then has authority to switch you from your current long distance company. Cramming is similar, but involves a company placing an unauthorized miscellaneous charge on your phone bill. This could involve a charge for a voice mail service, Internet access services, or other service charges.

How to protect yourself: Read the fine print when you agree to a sales pitch or contest over the phone or in person and check all details on your phone bill regularly. If you see a suspicious charge, use the contact information provided to ask about the charge. If you cannot resolve the situation and you didn't authorize the charge, contact CenturyLink.

Advance Fee Scam

How it works:  You receive a letter, fax or email from someone claiming to be or to have connections with foreign government officials who have access to millions of dollars in untraceable funds that they want to transfer out of their country.  All you have to do is reply and provide your bank account information so the money can be transferred to a legitimate recipient - you.  They will then demand that you send them money to cover the bribes and other expenses associated with the transfer.  After many months, you finally learn that you got nothing from the deal but money taken from your bank account.

How to protect yourself:  Don’t pay attention to get rich quick schemes.  Delete, shred or throw away any correspondence you may receive.

Social Engineering
How it works:
This is a general term that involves someone trying to convince you that they are someone they're not, in order to collect critical personal information from you. Sometimes that person will claim to be a phone company representative. The person may say you overpaid your last phone bill and they need some information from you, including your Social Security number, to process a refund check.

How to protect yourself: Overpayments are almost always applied to your next bill with no need to call you to process a refund. Ask questions and for a callback number but do not provide personal information over the phone or via email.

809 Scam
How it works:
In this scam, you might receive an email, page, or cell phone text message urgently asking you to call someone in the "809" area code or some other area code that you normally don't call. If you make the call, you may unwittingly dial into an expensive overseas pay-per-call service, resulting in large charges being placed on your next phone bill.

How to protect yourself: If you don't recognize the phone number or area code, don't return the call.

Bottom line: Never give out information to people you don’t know, and always review your phone bill carefully. If you see any suspicious activity, contact CenturyLink at the number listed on your bill. By working together, we can help reduce scams that take advantage of our customers.

CenturyLink is a leading provider of high-quality voice, broadband and video services over its advanced communications networks to consumers and businesses in 33 states. CenturyLink, headquartered in Monroe, La., is an S&P 500 company and expects to be listed in the Fortune 500 list of America's largest corporations. For more information on CenturyLink, visit