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.
What should you do if you are an apparent victim of identity theft? View our guide for identity theft victims.
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
With nine in ten U.S. adults online these daysfor work, finances, shopping or entertainment, criminals have many opportunities to steal money or sensitive personal information. When you factor in the many devices in our homes linked to the internet – computers, gaming systems, TVs, smartphones - the opportunities grow.
To keep your home network safe from criminals, follow these three home security rules. Keep the operating systems, web browsers and security software on all of your connected devices updated. If your internet router has the same name and password it came with, change both. . And engage your firewall – your operating system or antivirus software should come with a firewall that guards your system from uninvited sources; make sure yours is turned on.
The holidays are getting close and many of us are looking for those last minute deals. One place people are turning to is Facebook Marketplace, but beware because scammers are lurking. The spike in online shopping has unfortunately lead many victims right to the criminals who offer deals too good to pass up.
This fall, the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline has received a high volume of calls from people losing money to scams on Facebook Marketplace. Here are some tips to avoid online sales scams. Before making that purchase research what similar items are selling for elsewhere, the greater the deal the greater the likelihood that it could be a scam. Buy local versus having something shipped, and arrange to meet in a public space. Pay cash – if asked to pay by a payment app, wire transfer or gift card, refuse. Finally, if you need to get an item shipped, use a credit card which has fraud protections.
According to a recent AARP survey, more than 2/3 of US consumers will purchase a gift card for someone this holiday season. While these gifts are easy to give and popular to get, they are also open to fraud. The same survey found that one in three people have either given or received a gift card with no funds on it. Remember these tips whenever buying gift cards.
If buying from a store rack, inspect the card before purchase to make sure that the packaging hasn’t been tampered with and that the code hasn’t been revealed. Better yet, buy gift cards online directly from the retailer, restaurant or other issuer. Be wary of buying from gift card resellers- if you do, make sure they offer a guarantee.
In the time of COVID peer-to-peer payment apps have become more popular than ever. According to a recent AARP survey on online holiday shopping, more than half of US adults plan to use a peer-to-peer payment app for gift purchases. It’s important to know that some apps are safer than others.
PayPal, for example, is set up for users to make purchases with businesses where it’s offered. But other popular payment apps like Venmo, Zelle and Cash App, are intended for use among friends and family – to split a dinner bill or pay the babysitter. Fraud losses using these apps to pay for a product that never comes are generally not recoverable. To protect your assets remember that that the old fashioned ways of using cash or a credit card, which comes with fraud protections, are still your best bets.
Do you believe everything you see online? The obvious answer is no, but there are plenty of sensationalized headlines, misleading stories and even complete falsehoods circulating on the Internet, making it hard for even the most discerning reader to sort fact from fiction.
Their time in service to protect our country is over. Now it's our turn to protect our veterans from scams. Veterans deserve our gratefulness, our respect and praise. Here's what they don't deserve: attempts to take advantage of their service. Yet every day, scammers attempt to defraud our veterans of their hard-earned benefits, steal their identity, or take their savings. These frauds include seeking donations for fake charities claiming to serve our nation’s veterans (always research before giving); targeting veterans with fake employment opportunities (it’s a scam if you have to pay to get the job or provide sensitive personal information); and offers of free cash from little-known government grant programs (the federal government doesn’t hand out grants to individuals).
Together, we can fight back and take one small step to repay our veterans for their service and sacrifices.
It’s Thanksgiving, which means the holiday shopping season is about to kick off. Only this year, we can expect a big uptick in online shopping as we continue dealing with the pandemic. Here are three tips to make sure the hot deal you’re clicking on is really legitimate.
First, be suspicious of any discounts larger than 55% off. Second, be on the lookout for irregular contact information, such as a Yahoo or Gmail address instead of a corporate retail account. Third, be wary of web addresses that are overly complex, don’t include the corporate retail name or don’t start with “https” -- they are all indicators that your data or your money may not be safe.
It’s open enrollment season, which means it is also Medicare fraud season. Eligible beneficiaries have until December 7 to shop for the best deal for their health care dollar. Unfortunately some of the deals they will be offered won’t be deals at all.
Just like in other years, Medicare scams spike during open enrollment season with scammers posing as insurance providers calling and emailing about free gifts or limited time offers. These scams are all designed to capture information scammers can use to bill Medicare for bogus services and treatment.
Be suspicious of anyone who calls, emails or visits you promoting a Medicare plan. Legitimate health plans can only contact you if you’ve requested information. Don’t give personal information to anyone who calls or visits out of the blue and always review your Medicare or explanation of benefits statement to ensure fraudulent charges aren’t included.
When we think about protecting ourselves from cybercrime, we often stop at password protection and anti-virus software. But in today’s day and age, being cyber safe extends beyond our computers and phones. Televisions, video games, doorbells, refrigerators and more can all be connected to the Internet. These are all ways that scammers can gain access to our personal data.
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month and AARP is joining federal law enforcement and other partners to urge consumers to take cyber safety measures throughout their homes and businesses. Make sure all of your devices are secure and your private data are protected. You can find some great tips on securing your devices at staysafeonline.org. Think about it this way: if you can connect it, protect it.
Some scams never go away regardless of the season. Utility scams are a perfect example. If it’s hot or cold out, scammers will call, email and even knock at your door demanding immediate payment for overdue bills or they’ll shut off your service. When it’s storm season and the power goes out, these crooks show up offering to restore service for a payment.
Whatever the season, the goal of these crooks is the same – to create a sense of panic in their targets in hopes they will act hastily and pay up. If you get a surprise visit or call from the “utility company,” ask questions like what your bill history is or what the individual’s employee ID number is, and then follow up to confirm before taking any action.
These days, because of COVID-19, lots of financial transactions that used to take place in person now happen virtually. This creates an opportunity for scammers to pose as legitimate operators and steal people’s money. One place this is happening more often is in real estate – specifically fake home rentals.
Scammers take pictures from legitimate home rental offers and create their own fake rental listings. The rentals are often offered for well below market price and the crooks use the coronavirus as a reason why a tour and in-person meeting aren’t possible. Only after the victim sends their deposit and shows up at someone else’s home, do they find out it is a scam.
Be suspicious of any rental where you can’t physically visit the space and make sure you’re using secure and trusted websites when looking for a home rental.
Criminals are looking to take advantage of people who may have lost income during the pandemic. They post legitimate sounding work at home opportunities on trusted job boards. The offer is typically for some basic accounting work. Once the target is “hired,” the “boss” sends money to their banking account. The boss explains that, once the check clears, the new hire needs to send that money using Venmo or CashApp to pay vendors. The new hire does as directed, and learns some days or weeks later that the check the “boss” sent was fake. The money sent to “vendors” was the target’s own money, and the “boss” disappears.
Look at all online employment opportunities with a healthy dose of skepticism. Find out all you can about the “employer.” If it doesn’t add up, move on to real opportunities.
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.