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
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.
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 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 big agencies so no one can open a new credit line in your name; 2) Establish online access to your financial accounts and monitor 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.
February means Valentine’s Day, but romance scammers abound every month of the year. It’s important to understand that a “romance” scam isn’t about romance at all. It’s about people looking for social connection online – whether a dating site, an online game, or a neighborhood listserv. Criminal imposters are more than happy to provide that connection – at great cost.
How can you tell if your new online connection is fake and what can you do if it is? First, be wary of a new relationship with someone who suddenly bestows on you overwhelming affection; this is what criminals call ‘grooming.’ Second, check their photos using your web browser; both Google and Bing offer image search. You may find your Romeo’s picture is actually one of a Marine sergeant’s or from a magazine ad. Most importantly, don’t engage with any financial transaction – this is the biggest red flag and the one that can cost you thousands of dollars and great emotional pain.
We know that criminal scammers steal billions of dollars every year. But how do they avoid law enforcement tracing all that money? Enter the money mule. A money mule transfers illegally acquired money or packages. The unfortunate reality is that many money mules have no idea they are involved in criminal activity.
Using money mules helps criminals launder money stolen through scams and fraud or other crimes like human and drug trafficking. They add layers of distance between criminals and their victims, making it hard for law enforcement to follow the money.
The Department of Justice has seen an increase in victims becoming involved in money laundering schemes without knowing they were committing a crime. These money mules respond to fake job ads or social media posts promising easy money for little effort. They think they’re making a fast buck legally but don’t know they are helping international criminals launder billions.
If anyone tries to get you to move money in any way – by opening accounts, sending you checks to disperse with a money app, by purchasing gift cards and sharing the information off the back, or sending and receiving cash – walk away.
It’s tax filing season, which means sorting through forms and paperwork. This year, preparing to file may take an unexpected twist for people who suddenly discover they have a Form 1099-G listing the unemployment benefits they received – only they never applied for or received the benefit.
The number of fraudulent unemployment claims have spiked as states have rushed to send out legitimate unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One estimate puts losses at $36 billion.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network is dedicated to providing people with simple tips to keep them safe from scammers. In 2021 we’ve got three simple words to keep you protected: Stop, Think and Verify.
When you get an unexpected offer or alarming news over the phone or other device, stop and ask yourself, “Is this for real?” Next think about content of the message. Is it too good to be true? Do you have to act now? Is there a threat involved? If the answer is yes, you should end contact. If you are concerned the communication may have been valid, independently verify it. For example, if the caller claimed to be with the government, look up the agency’s phone number (without relying on the results of a web search, as the numbers that result could connect you to a scammer) and inquire if there is an issue.
Covid -Vaccines Scams
If 2020 taught us anything it’s that scammers follow the headlines. While we’re all relieved to turn the calendar to 2021, the uncertainty that marked the last 12 months isn’t going away any time soon. And scammers thrive on uncertainty.
One particular uncertainty right now is when we’ll get our COVID vaccines. In the early weeks and months, expect the limited supply of vaccines to be available only to certain high-risk populations. So, when you see an ad, email, text message, or you pick up a call and the offer is to reserve your vaccine for a fee, know it’s a scam. Listen to your health care provider and health authorities for guidance and ignore all else.
Scammers make their living by keeping up their ploys day in and day out. Often, they aren’t solo con acts but are part of a large criminal enterprise scheming to fund illegal activity, from child trafficking to terrorism. And often, our reaction to hearing about a scam is to shake our heads and not understand how someone could “fall for it”.
Once we know, though, that these are sophisticated criminal enterprises, and that the money they steal funds deeply troubling criminal activity, we could perhaps have more empathy for the victims and more desire to shut it down.
See for yourself how ubiquitous scams are. Thousands of people report scams they’ve seen or experienced on AARP’s scam-tracking map at www.aarp.org/scammap. Add your story to help others spot and avoid criminal scammers.
If we could share just one New Year’s Resolution for 2021 it might be this: don’t send explicit photos. While this might seem like a joke, it is very serious to victims of romance scams who have been extorted because they shared private photos with someone who turned out to be a scammer.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline has seen a sharp increase in calls from romance scam victims who have shared compromising photos. Scammers, who have been particularly active during the pandemic, develop virtual relationships with victims online and eventually ask for seductive photos. Once they have them, they then threaten to share the photos with the victim’s personal and professional contacts unless the victim pays money. The fact that scammers can readily violate people’s trust in such a personal way is a reminder that you can never fully trust someone you’ve never met in person.
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.