Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identification information, like your name, Social Security number or credit card number, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. Here are some ways you can protect yourself:
Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier. Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or on the internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Keep your anti-spyware and anti-virus software up-to-date. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
If you’re going on vacation or a business trip, call your credit card company(s) and let them know where you’re going and for how long.
Check out these important steps from the Federal Trade Commission: Browse Recovery Steps
More than 15.4 million Americans were victims of identity fraud last year, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. The American Bankers Association is offering eight tips to help consumers protect their information and avoid becoming a victim.
“Identity fraud continues to be a major problem for consumers,” said Doug Johnson, ABA’s senior vice president of payments and cybersecurity policy. “Fortunately, there are ways consumers can protect themselves, like being cautious about what information they share and who they share it with, especially online.”
ABA suggests following these eight tips:
Don't share your secrets
Don’t provide your Social Security number or account information to anyone who contacts you online or over the phone. Protect your PINs and passwords and do not share them with anyone. Use a combination of letters and numbers for your passwords and change them periodically. Do not reveal sensitive or personal information on social networking sites.
Shred sensitive papers
Shred receipts, banks statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
Keep an eye out for missing mail
Fraudsters look for monthly bank or credit card statements and other mail containing your financial information. Consider enrolling in online banking to reduce the likelihood of paper statements being stolen. Also, don’t mail bills from your own mailbox with the flag up.
Use online banking to protect yourself
Monitor your financial accounts regularly for fraudulent transactions. Sign up for text or email alerts from your bank for certain types of transactions, such as online purchases or transactions of more than $500.
Monitor your credit report
Order a free copy of your credit report every four months from one of the three credit reporting agencies at annualcreditreport.com.
Protect your computer
Make sure the virus protection software on your computer is active and up to date. When conducting business online, make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active. Also look for an “s” after the “http” to be sure the website is secure.
Protect your mobile device
Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. Before you donate, sell or trade your mobile device, be sure to wipe it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen. Use caution when downloading apps, as they may contain malware and avoid opening links and attachments – especially for senders you don’t know.
Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately
Is it a scam if someone directs you to pay a debt or other obligation with a gift card? The answer is yes – in 100% of cases. But alarmingly, 1 in 4 people surveyed by AARP got this question wrong – at a time when we’re seeing an increase in the use of “payment by gift card” as a scam tactic.
Since 2018, gift cardshave been one of the most popular forms of payment requested by criminals according to the Federal Trade Commission. Gift cards are easy to access, virtually untraceable and less likely to raise red flags. As soon as the card numbers are shared with the scammer, the money – and the scammer – disappears.
AARP’s survey also found that one in three US adults have either been asked to pay for some obligation with a gift card or know someone who has, and one in ten have followed through with the request. Help spread the word. Anytime you are directed to pay a debt or other obligation with a gift card, it is a scam.
Con artists are trying to take advantage of the millions of Americans who have received their COVID vaccines by sending fake surveys asking about their experience. These emails and texts look legitimate and may even include the logos of the vaccine manufacturers, but what they are really looking for is your sensitive personal information. Three things included in these “surveys” let you know they are a scam. First, they offer a prize for participating. Second, the message says you need to reply “right away.” And third, if you do engage with the “survey” you are asked to provide a credit card or other payment information.
A burgeoning scam impersonates Amazon or another big retailer, claiming you are owed a refund and that you need to call a number or click a link to get it processed. These paths always lead to a scammer – who will ingratiate himself to you, and then convince you to allow them to remotely access your device. They will “show” you the refund owed (let’s say it’s $100). Then they will convince you to sign into your bank account online so the can “show” you the deposit they are ready to make – only they show you a fake page in which it appears they mistakenly refunded you $10,000, for example. They swear they will be fired if you don’t help recover the mistake, and ultimately seek to convince you to send the money back by purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card for the amount and reading the numbers off the back. You buy $9,900 in gift cards, share the information, and are immediately out $9,900.
Know this – retailers don’t work this way. And anytime you are asked to purchase a gift card – to buy something, to pay an obligation – anything, it’s a scam 100% of the time.
The post-pandemic pent up demand for travel has the summer travel industry booming. But rather than looking to hotels for overnight stays, travelers are increasingly looking at home rentals. While these properties offer privacy and distance from crowds, they could pose threats to consumers’ wallets.
Crooks steal photos and descriptions of properties on real estate websites, then advertise rentals at rock-bottom prices. After a deal is struck — typically by email — renters are asked for payment upfront – often by purchasing a gift card (Google Play is a common one) and sharing the numbers off the back. When they arrive, they discover that the rental doesn't exist, or that the actual owner isn't renting it.
When renting your vacation getaway this summer, book on websites you know and trust and do your homework to verify that the property really exists and is a rental. Watch out for anyone who ask you for payment by anything other than a credit card.
A key part of being able to spot a scam is knowing the red flags – those signs that suggest that just maybe what you’re confronting isn’t legitimate. One of the biggest red flags these days is anyone who tries to convince you that you owe some debt or other obligation, and the quickest way to address the issue is to purchase gift cards and share the information off the back.
Why gift cards? First, they are readily available. You see them at your grocery store, department store, and hardware store. Second, it’s a way that criminals can get your money instantly and the money is easy to move around. As soon as a target sends the numbers to the gift card they’ve purchased, the criminal is able to convert it to currency in an instant. Not surprisingly, the Federal Trade Commission reports that gift cards have been the most common form of payment in scams since 2018.
Anytime you are directed to pay a debt or other obligation with a gift card, it is a scam.
Avoiding IRS Collection Scams
Tax time is here again and so are the IRS impostors! Scammers posing as IRS agents or Treasury Department officials are out there once again, calling to convince taxpayers that they owe back taxes and face immediate arrest. Know this: the IRS will initially contact you through the mail if you owe back taxes. If you receive an unexpected phone call, an email or a text indicating it’s from the IRS, do not engage.
2020 was the year of new twists on scams. There were COVID testing scams, miracle cure scams, stimulus scams and vaccine scams, but one scam stood out above them all. The Social Security impostor scam.
Social Security impostor scams continue to be the most prevalent in the United States. In 2020, the Social Security Office of Inspector General received well over 700,000 reports of Social Security impostor scams, and 70% of the calls to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline were related to Social Security impostors.
Remember, the real Social Security Administration will not call you unless you are already in discussions with the agency on a particular issue. They certainly won’t threaten to cut off your benefits or seek to “help” with an identity theft problem. Anyone who does is NOT from the Social Security Administration.
The ongoing remote world we’re living in has many of us getting used to doing more of our activities virtually. When we can’t be face to face, it makes for rich targets for adept scammers.
One trending scam is when a criminal impersonates clergy. The crook spoofs the e-mail address of a given faith leader and sends a message to a congregant requesting a favor. They will claim they are busy or out of town and just need you to purchase a dozen gift cards that will be used to help congregants in need. All you need to do is buy them (say, $100 each) and email a picture of the front and back of the cards. And of course, you will be reimbursed.
If you’re ever asked to do a favor like this, take a pause and think, “Would this person really ask me to do this?” Contact the person yourself and get validation they are who they say they are. And if the request was for gift cards, you’ll learn it was a scam attempt.
It’s National Consumer Protection Week —and while AARP is focused on protecting consumers year-round – this is a good time to highlight key tips to keep you safe.
Never give out personal or financial information over the phone or internet – especially if you don’t know the person on the other end. Be careful of what links you click on or what numbers you call back. If something seems to be good to be true it is. Lastly, be your own detective by using trusted resources to determine if something is a scam before responding.
Sorting Fact from Fiction with Vaccines
At the start of the pandemic, scammers hawked fake cures, treatments and vaccines. Now that vaccines are available, scammers are making bogus offers to move you to the front of the line for getting your vaccine – for a fee. Some are even setting up fake vaccine distribution sites. Unfortunately, this means that consumers looking for a vaccine appointment have to sort through fake and legitimate information in search for a shot – a process that can be confusing and dangerous.
With thousands of localities taking their own approach to vaccine distribution, it’s important to follow guidance provided by local public health officials and trusted healthcare providers. When signing up for your vaccine, find out how you will be contacted for any follow-up information or guidance.
COVID-19 and the economic downturn have put millions of Americans in financial peril. For most people, one of the first steps to getting back on their feet is getting rid of debt. Enter the con artist.
Shady companies will claim they can remove bankruptcies, liens and bad loans from your record, or even erase a bad credit history completely, helping you start over with a new credit identity. All you have to do is pay an up-front fee.
To avoid falling victim to these scams it’s important to remember that no one can remove bad information from your credit report if it is correct and timely. Things like bankruptcy or significant debt can stay on your credit record for up to 10 years. When looking for legitimate help with managing debt, avoid anyone who promises they can erase your debt history, increase your credit score or asks for an advance payment.
The numbers are in. The Federal Trade Commission released its report of fraud complaints from last year, and it was historically high, due in large part to COVID and the economic downturn. Criminals thrive in times of confusion and 2020 was the perfect storm. Staying on top of COVID related scams was a never-ending game of whack-a-mole for consumers, and the problem hasn’t gone away.
Reported losses topped $3.3 billion – an increase of around $1.5 billion over the previous year. The top scams were identity theft, impostor scams and online shopping scams. Most of these same scams are still active in 2021, which is why it’s important to avoid answering calls from unknown phone numbers or clicking on links from texts or emails from suspicious or unknown senders. And as long as COVID remains a challenge, beware of offers for miracle cure or a shortcut to a vaccine.
Banking has changed quite a bit thanks to the internet. But many people still prefer the brick and mortar experience when dealing with their money. However, just because you’re not depositing checks on your phone or transferring funds via computer doesn’t mean you’re safe from online banking scams.
These scams start with a phone call, email or text that appears to come from a real financial institution. These spoofed communications carry urgent, but phony, warnings about problems with an account or transaction and direct you to click a link or call a given number. The first defense against these types of banking scams is knowing that a reputable bank will not contact you out of the blue and ask for your Social Security number, online account password or other personal information. If you get a phone call, text or email saying there is a problem with your bank account, hang up and call your bank on a number you know to be legitimate (from a statement, for example). You will know for certain that you’re talking to the legitimate institution and if there is a problem, they will help you address it.
Be a fraud fighter! If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.
Report scams to local law enforcement. Visit the AARP Fraud Website for more information on fraud prevention.
The Federal Trade Commission and American Bankers Association have posted a helpful infographic on Fake Check Scams.