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
Nearly half of US adults say they are trying to lose weight, and with many people worried about weight gain while stuck at home during the pandemic, that number may very well rise. Unfortunately, scammers know this and are trying to take advantage for their own financial gain. In fact, diet scams are the most common types of health care fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission.
Be leery of websites that offer results that seem too good to be true, even if they include celebrity endorsements – which are often fake. When signing up for a free trial, read the terms and conditions closely. Often hidden in the fine print of even legitimate free trial offers is that your free trial becomes a paid subscription, and you’re on the hook for a monthly fee. . Also, check with your health care provider before starting any new weight loss supplements.
One of the most resilient scams we know about is the lottery scam. In 2019 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly 125,000 reports of scams involving prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries that cost victims $121 million.
When someone calls or mails (or e-mails or texts…) to congratulate you for winning a big lottery, engage your inner skeptic. Remember, you can’t win a lottery you’ve never entered. And know that legitimate sweepstakes and lotteries will NEVER require you to pay an upfront fee.
Scammers are always looking to capture people’s personal information, and Social Security numbers are highly valuable. Because of that, scammers often impersonate the Social Security Administration. They may pose as a friendly Social Security official who just needs to confirm your information – including your Social Security number. Or, they use fear tactics to force the target’s hand out of fear their Social Security number will be suspended (something the Social Security Administration never does). They may even call with good news – you are eligible for a special cost of living adjustment; all you need to do is confirm your Social Security number.
Know this: the Social Security Administration will not call you out of the blue. You may get a legitimate call if you have an existing issue that you have been working on with the Social Security Administration. If you aren’t expecting a call, when “Social Security” calls, hang up.
When it comes to scams and fraud, we are often looking out for the unknown con artists. But most financial crimes against older adults are perpetrated by someone they know. Financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse in the US, and the average victim loses $120,000. We also know this crime is severely under reported.
Social isolation is a significant risk factor for financial abuse, and one of the best ways to combat it is maintaining regular contact with your older loved ones. Some telling signs of financial abuse include sudden changes in mood or behavior, or new financial issues like overdue bills or maxed out credit cards.
If you suspect your older loved one is suffering from financial exploitation, contact Adult Protective Services in your area for guidance and support. If you fear your loved one is in danger, call 911.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers have filed fraudulent unemployment claims using stolen identities of many US workers. This scheme is costing states millions of dollars.
If you receive a letter from your state unemployment agency stating you have been approved for benefits, alert your employer. Then report it to your state unemployment agency, note when you reported it and write down the case number for your records. You should request a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. All agencies are offering free weekly reports online through April 2021. Finally, consider placing a fraud alert with the credit bureaus (contact one and the others will comply). This move will require a lender to notify you if someone is trying to take out a loan or open a credit card using your identity.
PSYCHOLOGY OF SCAMS
One of the hardest things to understand about scams can be how victims become victims. When you hear about a scam secondhand, the red flags can seem obvious. What isn’t obvious in the retelling of the story is the intense emotional state scammer’s create. Today’s fraudsters are trained in psychological manipulation. They know how to get their targets out of their logical thinking and into an emotional state where logic goes out the window.
Scammers will keep their victims in the ether as long as they can; many will never see the signs until it is too late. Understanding these tactics can help you avoid scammers and help friends and loved ones who might be in this situation.
The Coronavirus has created a perfect storm for scammers. One unique scam to arise this summer is scammers posing as contact tracers working for state health departments.
Contact tracing is an important part of efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Approaches to contact tracing will vary by state; but know in all states, legitimate tracers will never ask for money, bank account information, Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers, or medical insurance information. You may receive a text from a contact tracer to inform you they will be in contact by phone. If a text like this tells you to a click a link, it’s a scam. Clicking will download software on your device to access personal and financial information. When in doubt, don’t act before contacting your state health department to find out what process they are using.
It’s back to school season in the time of coronavirus, and for many families it means more working from home and attending school from home. Scammers will take advantage of this to scare people into thinking their device has been attacked by malicious software – a nightmare for workers and students alike.
The “tech support” scam typically involves a phone call with someone claiming to be with Microsoft, Dell, or another well-known tech company, claiming they have identified a virus on your computer. Or, you will see a pop up message on your computer with a phone number to call right away to deal with a virus. In both scenarios, the scammer’s goal is to get you to allow them to access your computer remotely in an effort to steal financial and personal information. If tech support calls, it’s a scam. If you get the popup and your computer freezes, simply shut down and restart your computer and it should go away.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, scam attempts have skyrocketed across the country. While the volume has increased, the types of crimes have largely remained the same, albeit with a COVID-19 twist. One of the most prevalent scams right now is the “grandparent scam” where an impostor claims to be a grandchild in urgent need of financial help because they are sick with the coronavirus.
According to the FBI, victims in New Jersey and New York alone have lost $1 million to the grandparent scam in recent months. If you get a call from a grandchild or someone claiming to be with your grandchild in urgent need, hang up and call your grandchild on a known number, or another relative who would know their whereabouts. Then report the scam to authorities.
Warm weather brings with it door-to-door solicitations. Be cautious anytime a stranger comes knocking, especially if the visitor is trying to sell you goods or services. Protect against bad actors by refusing to do business right on the spot. Always ask for credentials and check references of anyone seeking to do work for you. If you agree to the visitor’s offer, pay by check or credit card, or arrange financing. Paying in cash can be dangerous – you may lose the cash and not get the promised goods or services. And always insist on a written contract before you pay anything and before work begins.
According to the FBI, 2020 has seen a spike in extortion scams. These are typically e-mail messages that include a password you’ve used in the past. The sender claims that they have installed malicious software on your computer, and have proof you’ve been frequenting adult websites. They warn they will share that proof with all of your email and social media contacts unless you send money – typically in the form of hundreds of dollars of Bitcoin.
True or not, this fear tactic works. But this is really just a phishing expedition using data obtained from a prior data breach. The hope is you’ll see an old (or current) password and believe the message must be true and pay up. Don’t click on any links or respond to the scam message. But do report it to authorities.
Renting a home or apartment is a big expense and an even bigger one when the rental is a scam. Scammers look for easy cash by collecting the first month’s rent, a deposit, and application and background check fees and then bolt before handing over the keys. Numerous versions of rental frauds abound – some are bait-and-switch while others will attempt to rent out properties that are already leased or otherwise unavailable.
Renters signing leases and putting down money based on units similar to a model unit is on the rise, and would-be renters are losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. When renting a new place, watch out for scammers who ask you to sign before seeing anything or request payment via wire transfer, peer to peer apps or cash. Do your research on the property and owner, and read agreements carefully.
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.