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
One of the most effective things that criminals can do to gain your confidence is impersonate an organization that you do business with and trust. Sadly, no one is immune from this. Not even AARP.
Recently, the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline has been receiving calls about a scam involving phone calls from someone claiming to be with "AARP Security Systems" (or something similar sounding). We are told the first question they ask is whether you own your home and then they hang up.
"Smishing”As more of us catch on to scam calls to our smartphones and block them or don’t answer them, scammers have taken to texting. “Smishing” is the term of art: SMS + phishing. Just as scammers phish by casting a wide net with email, so they do with smishing.
The same things that we suggest in order to avoid phishing attacks apply to smishing. But texts live in this space of immediacy – scammers know we are likely to respond much faster to a text than an email. To thwart their efforts, take a pause and consider the message. Is this really my bank, or Amazon, or PayPal, or the IRS texting me? Don’t click links – access the company or agency in a way you know to be safe and see if there’s an issue. Otherwise, don’t engage.
Criminals know that fear is the best motivator, and nothing drives fear more than a loved one in trouble. This is why scams targeting grandparents seem never to go away.
If someone calls claiming to be your grandchild, or some authority calling about your grandchild who is in trouble or danger, it’s most likely a scam. It’s certainly a scam if the caller directs you to send money fast to resolve the problem. Your best move is to hang up and call your grandchild or reach out to family who would know his or her whereabouts.
Utility scams heat up as the temperatures rise (and when they fall), so much so that the Federal Trade Commission ranks utility impostors among the top reported scams. In this one, you typically get a call, email or text saying your account is past due and you must pay immediately, or they will cut off your power. Another tactic is the “utility” claiming you overpaid your bill, and they request your bank account information to issue a refund. Utility scammers can also show up at your door after a power outage or severe storm offering to get your power back on for a fee.
Utility companies typically don’t do business this way. Any unusual communication from your utility should raise a flag. Disengage and contact your provider at a number you know to be legitimate (off of a recent statement, for example). Chances are you’ll learn that there is no problem to address.
If you’re trying to squeeze in a summer trip before Labor Day, it’s buyer beware when hunting for that last-minute deal. Great travel deals can be found online but you can also find scammers looking to put your travel dollars into their pockets.
Crooks set up look-alike travel websites in hopes you will book with them rather than your intended company. And just because the link showed up when you searched “travel deals” doesn’t mean it can automatically be trusted. Scammers often buy paid promotions for their bogus travel sites so they appear high up in search rankings.
Before hitting ‘confirm’ on that deal, make sure you really know who you are doing business with. Be skeptical of any cut-rate hotel or airline offer that seems too good to be true. And, always pay with a credit card, which offers more protection than other forms of payment.
Car Warranty Scams
Raise your hand if robocalls have finally stopped ringing your phone day and night. None of you? No surprise there. Despite industry and regulatory efforts to rid our phone lines of unwanted calls, they nevertheless persist – and many are outright scams. One of the more common scam calls involves car warranties.
These scam calls typically start as a pre-recorded robocall, and the message directs you to press a key to speak to a specialist or stay on the line. Thanks to social media and data breaches, scammers may even have information on you car’s make and model to make it seem legitimate.
While extended warranties might be a sensible investment for some, it’s a product that you should research rather than react to, and only with verified and trustworthy sources.
Social media is an all-too-popular avenue for spreading scams among “friends.” Criminals hijack someone’s social media account and share a “great offer” to everyone on the target’s contact list.
The hot ‘offer’ these days involves government grants – whether it’s free money for college tuition or loan repayment, to pay household bills, or some other made up story. But here’s the thing (actually, two things). First, the government grants billions of dollars a year – but to institutions, not to individuals. Second, you’ll learn there’s a “processing fee” that you have to pay upfront. When you hear that, all signs point to a likely scam.
The COVID pandemic brought countless things into our lives that we were just fine without. However, a few things - like working from home - actually made life a little easier for many. However, with more businesses returning to in-person activities, some workers are looking for new jobs with work-from-home options. That’s something scammers are looking to take advantage of with fake job offers.
Work-from-home scams can promise jobs with medical billing, data entry or starting an online business, but they all require paying something up front. Once you start paying, the requests for more money for training or supplies never stop and in return you get a lot of useless information or requests to recruit more people into the scheme.
There are genuine work-from-home jobs out there. The trick is knowing how to spot the real opportunities in a sea of empty — and costly — promises.
Warm weather is here which means door-to-door sales crews are here, too. But what they’re selling isn’t always legit.
Be cautious anytime a stranger comes knocking, especially if the visitor is trying to sell you goods or services. Be wary of contractors who say they stopped by because they just happened to be in the neighborhood. The good ones are usually too busy to roam around in search of work. Also be on guard for high pressure tactics to make a quick decision for a steep discount, and requests for payment upfront. Your best bet is to proactively seek out services if you need them, versus reacting to an unexpected sales pitch. It’s always okay to explain you don’t do business at your front door (or to not answer when strangers knock).
Protect Your Device, Protect Yourself
Many scams originate right at your fingertips through your computer or smartphone. The good news is the way to block them is also within your grasp. Here are three tips to keep your devices safe from criminals.
Make sure your devices’ operating systems are up to date; you should be able to set an auto-update feature that downloads the latest software when available. Next, make sure to change the password on your Wi-Fi router so it’s different from the password it came with. If you have a lot of devices connected to it, they could be vulnerable if the router is compromised. Lastly, a password manager is a great way to create unique and hard-to-guess passwords for all of your online accounts and apps.
America is open for business again and millions of people are traveling, or planning to. One thing you may run into is sticker shock – especially with rental cars. The lack of travel in 2020 led rental companies to sell a lot of their inventory of cars. Now that demand has spiked, supply is tight and prices are high.
Unfortunately, criminals are paying attention and posting fake rental car deals at rock bottom prices online. While everyone loves a good deal, doing business with an entity you aren’t familiar with could be risky. Whatever your travel needs, stick to reputable websites with proven track records. If you do find a deal with an unfamiliar provider, do your research: look up the company name with “scam” or “complaint” and see what appears, and check out reviews.
Who doesn’t love something for free? But beware, that “free trial offer” might mean months of payments that you didn’t know you signed up for and will have a hard time canceling. These types of sales tactics are called negative options – a customer signs up for a free trial and unwittingly accepts a subscription – sometimes for a questionable product – often by not seeing a prechecked box in the very tiny print.
When it comes to free trials, research before you enroll. Fully understand the terms and conditions by reading the fine print. Keep a close eye on your credit and debit card statements so you spot unexpected charges right away. Contact your bank or credit card company to address the issue; calling the company you inadvertently signed up for a subscription with will likely get you nowhere.
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.