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
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.
These days, celebrities share career news, personal views, even travel videos on social media and interact with fans in comment threads. But if you get a direct message out of the blue from a favorite musician, actor or athlete, don’t get starry-eyed, get skeptical — it’s almost certainly a scam. It’s also always a scam when they ask for money for charity or say that you’ve won a large cash prize but need to pay an entry or processing fee.
Sadly, the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline hears about these scams all the time – someone pretending to be Toby Keith or Beyoncé asking for money to help their favorite charity or offering special access for a price.
Remember, never share your personal information or send money via wire transfer, gift card or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know and have only communicated with online, no matter how supposedly famous they are. Check that the social media account of your favorite celebrity is verified (look for the checkmark in a blue circle next to their name on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
Disaster Repair Scams
Following extreme weather events, dubious contractors and outright scammers descend on affected communities, offering quick, cheap fixes. While some reputable contractors occasionally solicit door-to-door, many are scams.
After storms, shady contractors and outright scammers canvas neighborhoods in search of “work” that they may or may not even attempt to do. Many will specifically target older homeowners who they perceive as more trusting, more likely to have savings, and – they think – may be experiencing cognitive decline.
It’s safest to only trust contractors that you proactively reach out to. Also, regardless of who you are talking to, get written estimates and compare bids from multiple contractors before starting any work. Finally, pay no more than a third of the total cost prior to the work beginning – and then only when materials arrive.
When we think about scammers, we often think of “stranger danger” stemming from overseas criminal enterprises bombarding our phones and emails with fraudulent offers. The sad reality for older adults is that the majority of financial abuse they suffer is perpetrated by someone they know.
This Tuesday, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and it’s the perfect time to remember that seniors are vulnerable to financial abuse by loved ones as well as strangers. Some warning signs to look out for include: a caregiver or family member who suddenly asks for access to your loved one’s accounts or possessions, changes in their financial practices such as new credit cards or unopened bank statements, and a financial agent who isn’t following your loved one’s wishes.
Most importantly, if you suspect any sort of financial, physical or sexual abuse, report it to local law enforcement right away.
Looking to slim down for summer? If so, you are not alone. More than 100 million Americans are watching their diet, spending more than $70 billion a year to lose weight. It is not surprising that bogus diet products and programs ranked first among health care scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year.
While there are legitimate diet and weight loss programs out there, many don’t work and are just out for your money. Engage your inner skeptic – does it sound too good to be true to lose weight while eating as much as you want? Second, just because a product is touted as “natural” or “herbal,” doesn’t mean it’s “safe” or “wholesome,” and some herbal ingredients are toxic in certain doses.
Lastly, a lot of subscription programs encourage you to sign up for a free trial but when you read the tiny print, they automatically opt you into getting charged for regular orders or additional products. Be careful – it can be very hard to untangle your “opt in” – so read everything before you make a move.
Is it a scam if someone directs you to pay a debt or other obligation with a gift card? The answer is yes – in 100% of cases. But alarmingly, 1 in 4 people surveyed by AARP got this question wrong – at a time when we’re seeing an increase in the use of “payment by gift card” as a scam tactic.
Since 2018, gift cardshave been one of the most popular forms of payment requested by criminals according to the Federal Trade Commission. Gift cards are easy to access, virtually untraceable and less likely to raise red flags. As soon as the card numbers are shared with the scammer, the money – and the scammer – disappears.
AARP’s survey also found that one in three US adults have either been asked to pay for some obligation with a gift card or know someone who has, and one in ten have followed through with the request. Help spread the word. Anytime you are directed to pay a debt or other obligation with a gift card, it is a scam.
Con artists are trying to take advantage of the millions of Americans who have received their COVID vaccines by sending fake surveys asking about their experience. These emails and texts look legitimate and may even include the logos of the vaccine manufacturers, but what they are really looking for is your sensitive personal information. Three things included in these “surveys” let you know they are a scam. First, they offer a prize for participating. Second, the message says you need to reply “right away.” And third, if you do engage with the “survey” you are asked to provide a credit card or other payment information.
A burgeoning scam impersonates Amazon or another big retailer, claiming you are owed a refund and that you need to call a number or click a link to get it processed. These paths always lead to a scammer – who will ingratiate himself to you, and then convince you to allow them to remotely access your device. They will “show” you the refund owed (let’s say it’s $100). Then they will convince you to sign into your bank account online so the can “show” you the deposit they are ready to make – only they show you a fake page in which it appears they mistakenly refunded you $10,000, for example. They swear they will be fired if you don’t help recover the mistake, and ultimately seek to convince you to send the money back by purchasing a prepaid debit or gift card for the amount and reading the numbers off the back. You buy $9,900 in gift cards, share the information, and are immediately out $9,900.
Know this – retailers don’t work this way. And anytime you are asked to purchase a gift card – to buy something, to pay an obligation – anything, it’s a scam 100% of the time.
The post-pandemic pent up demand for travel has the summer travel industry booming. But rather than looking to hotels for overnight stays, travelers are increasingly looking at home rentals. While these properties offer privacy and distance from crowds, they could pose threats to consumers’ wallets.
Crooks steal photos and descriptions of properties on real estate websites, then advertise rentals at rock-bottom prices. After a deal is struck — typically by email — renters are asked for payment upfront – often by purchasing a gift card (Google Play is a common one) and sharing the numbers off the back. When they arrive, they discover that the rental doesn't exist, or that the actual owner isn't renting it.
When renting your vacation getaway this summer, book on websites you know and trust and do your homework to verify that the property really exists and is a rental. Watch out for anyone who ask you for payment by anything other than a credit card.
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.