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
The American Bankers Association is offering eight tips to help consumers protect their information and avoid becoming a victim:
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
Just like the Groundhog says, winter isn’t going away anytime soon. That fact has many of us looking for a warm getaway this spring, but beware: scammers could be lurking on the other end of that sweetheart spring break deal. These three tips will help you spot a potential travel scam.
First, be wary of any deal that is dramatically lower than what else is available at your destination. Next, verify the legitimacy of online travel sites by looking closely at the web address – scammers often “spoof” legitimate hotels and third-party booking sites. Finally, don’t trust anyone who requests a wire transfer or prepaid gift card to pay for your getaway – these are the payment forms preferred by today’s scammers.
The second week of March is National Consumer Protection Week —and while AARP is focused on protecting consumers year-round – this is a good time to highlight some key consumer protection tips.
Giving out personal or financial information to someone who contacts you is a high-risk proposition. Rather than clicking links from texts and emails from your bank or from businesses you have accounts with, go to your app if you have one, or to a web browser and type the address in yourself – that way you know you are going to the legitimate site. Lastly, engage your inner skeptic when a communication produces a strong emotional response; we know scammers want us “under the ether” of emotion to get us to believe their lies.
This year Social Security payments are being boosted by the biggest cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in more than 40 years, and beneficiaries aren’t the only ones looking to cash in. Social Security impostor scams are among the most reported scams each year and criminals are already seeking to use the COLA boost to their advantage.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) has reported that scammers have been contacting people claiming that they have to pay a fee or share personal information in order to receive the higher payments. The truth is that COLA adjustments happen automatically.
The best way to fight back against Social Security impostors is to remember that SSA will not contact you out of the blue. Any unsolicited call claiming to be from Social Security is likely to be fraud – especially if they ask for personal or financial information or payment.
For many fraud victims, the financial toll is only part of the story; nearly two in three victims suffer a significant health or emotional impact, according to research by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.
To address this reality, the AARP Fraud Watch Network and Volunteers of America (VOA) developed a free program to provide emotional support for people affected by fraud. AARP VOA ReST, which stands for Resilience, Strength and Time, features small groups whose participants are led in discussion by one or more trained peer facilitators. These online, hour-long sessions help to re-establish trust, integrate your experience and build back your resilience despite a difficult and painful occurrence. Discussions are confidential and you are welcome to attend one session or several – it’s your choice.
Banking has changed quite a bit thanks to the internet. While many people still prefer the brick and mortar experience when dealing with their money, today you can do many of the same functions online and over the phone. Criminals are cashing in on these remote transactions by impersonating banks.
These scams start with a phone call, email or text that appears to come from your financial institution. These spoofed communications carry urgent 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 sensitive information. If you get a phone call, text or email saying there is a problem with your bank account, don’t engage. Instead, contact your bank in a way you know to be legitimate (a phone number on a statement, for example). By verifying the official number before calling 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.
The first week of February is Identity Theft Awareness Week. It’s a good time to think about a sobering reality: your personal information has most likely already been stolen. Many entities have our personal information – credit card and bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and health-related information – and data breaches have exposed it. So, what can we do to protect ourselves after the fact?
Here are three steps to protecting yourself against identity fraud. 1) Place a security freeze on your credit accounts with the three main credit bureaus so no one can open a new credit line in your name; 2) Establish online access to your financial accounts and monitor them regularly (you can typically set up text alerts for activity on these accounts); 3) Use unique passwords for every online account; consider purchasing a password manager that creates complex passwords and stores them securely.
Veterans, active duty and military families are nearly 40% more likely than the general population to lose money to scams and fraud. According, to the Federal Trade Commission, reported fraud attacks against our nation’s heroes and their families jumped 69 percent from 2020 to 2021.
The latest scam targeting veterans involves offering help getting benefits (for a fee) from the “Camp Lejeune Settlement.” The Camp Lejeune Justice Act, part of the PACT Act that became law in August, allows vets and their survivors to pursue compensation if they developed serious illnesses from water contamination at Camp Lejeune. You don’t need to pay someone to help you receive benefits. This also applies to fee-based offers to maximize your benefits, overhaul your investments to be eligible for Aid and Attendance benefits, or for obtaining or updating records with the VA.
Learn more about PACT Act benefits by visiting va.gov/PACT or calling the VA’s toll-free number at 1-800-698-2411.
One way to protect yourself from identity thieves is by opting into two-factor authentication. This means that to log in to a given site, you enter your password, and then are prompted to enter an authentication code. You either receive the code via text, phone, or email, or you use an app that generates the code. Once you enter that code, you are able to log in. This additional layer of security is meant to protect you in case a criminal has your login information. But like other protections, scammers have found a way around it.
Credit reporting company Experian warns that scammers are using bots — automated programs — to convince people to share their two-factor authentication codes. The bot makes a robocall or sends a text that appears to come from a legitimate entity, like your bank . It asks you to authorize a particular charge, and if you didn’t recognize the charge, to enter your authentication code. In reality, the bot is trying to log into your account, but it needs that code to break into your account
Two-factor authentication codes work as intended, but if a criminal is able to convince you to share it, it has no value. Anytime you are prompted by an unsolicited communication to share a recently received authentication code, it’s a scam. Change your password to that account ASAP.
All crimes that seek to steal money or sensitive information through deception are loathsome. But perhaps the most pernicious involve crimes of the heart. Online romance fraud is rampant and growing, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and it isn’t only dating sites where these criminals lurk.
Here are some red flags that will help you spot a romance scam. The person might propose chatting offline or profess their feelings for you before getting to know you. They may offer to visit if you can help cover travel costs, then cancel those plans at the last minute.
Many victims don’t see the crime coming because they weren’t looking for love online to begin with and think “it just happened.” This is a common ploy for con artists. Know this: anytime a love interest or new friend whom you’ve never seen in person asks for money or invites you to invest in cryptocurrency, it’s most likely a scam.
With most U.S. adults online these days for work, finances, shopping or entertainment, criminals have many opportunities to steal money or sensitive personal information on the web. When you factor in the many devices in our homes linked to the internet – computers, gaming systems, TVs and 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 your connected devices updated (use the device’s setting to make updates automatic). 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, and that it also receives automatic updates.
Here’s a New Year’s Resolution we could all benefit from: be vigilant about cryptocurrency scams. Fraud involving crypto investment schemes and crypto as payment in other schemes skyrocketed in 2022, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Reported losses exceeded $1 billion.
Last year, the evergreen online romance scam turned into crypto “investment opportunities” – starting on such platforms as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn in addition to dating sites and apps. The target can see their assets gaining value as they continue to invest more money, only the crypto exchange they are on is fake. When they try cashing out, they’re told they must first pay excessive fees, and they don’t get their money back.
In the ‘crypto as payment’ schemes, criminals convince targets that some urgent matter requires quick payment and direct them to a nearby crypto-ATM machine that converts cash into electronic currency. These losses are virtually unrecoverable.
The best way to avoid these scams – really any scam – is to know about them so you can avoid engaging from the start. Seek a financial advisor’s guidance on investing, and anyone pressuring you to pay by crypto to address and urgent or time-sensitive matter is a criminal.
If you’re like a lot of Americans, you spent a lot this holiday season and you might be in the mood to tackle your debt in the New Year. Getting yourself out of debt is hard work and it is time intensive. Be wary of offers of guaranteed quick fixes.
Criminal scammers prey on financial fears by offering simple solutions. These offers usually involve up-front fees (which are illegal), bad advice like stopping communication with your creditors and vague details on what services they provide. If you need help getting out of debt, turn to an organization like the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
We all want to be helpful, especially when the request comes from our boss, a friend or a community leader. This instinct is something criminals take advantage of. That’s why you should be suspicious of any urgent message that asks you to “do me a favor.”
These scams can impersonate a boss needing last-minute gift cards for an employee appreciation event, or a local faith leader who needs a quick favor of you to buy gift cards to support a family in need. These quick gift card requests promise reimbursement, which never comes.
Be aware of short, urgent text messages, emails or social media messages asking for your help purchasing gift cards. Criminals can hack into the profiles of friends, family, and community members to send messages in their name. In the professional space, the message often looks like it’s from your employer, but the criminal may have added a letter or number to the sender information.
Like so many scams, this one relies on getting the target into a heightened emotional state – of course you want to respond to your boss quickly or help your faith community support those in need. If you ever get a message asking for your help buying gift cards, contact the sender in a way you know to be legitimate and verify. Chances are the request was from a criminal scammer.
Winter is upon us and with temperatures plummeting in many areas, keeping the heat on is critical — a fact that criminals try to take advantage of. They impersonate utility companies, threatening to cut off service if an immediate payment isn’t made. The goal of these crooks is to create a sense of urgency so the target acts quickly to pay the alleged past-due balance.
If you get a surprise visit or call from the “utility company” this winter, hang up and don’t engage. Contact your utility company in a way you know to be legitimate (online account, app, or customer service number from a prior bill) to determine if there is a problem with your account. And know that no legitimate company will seek immediate payment for a new-to-you issue.
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.