May 18th, 2015
Jackie here. These days, it may seem like almost any bit of personal information about you can be used by fraudsters to commit ID theft. While methods are evolving, there are some standard pieces of information that make it much easier to pose as another person. Let’s take a look at what information thieves need to capitalize on your identity.
You use it all the time. It’s on your name tag at work, proudly displayed across your social accounts, and something you share with the doctors, repair people, and even strangers at the grocery store. Your name is a big key to your identity. That doesn’t mean you should start keeping it a secret, though. Your name might be one key to your identity, but typically it must be paired with other information for ID theft to occur. What’s more, in some instances, ID thieves don’t use your real name at all, but instead pair other pieces of your identifying information with a different name.
Your Social Security Number
Who have you shared your SSN with lately? You might not openly tell this number to friends and family, but odds are you’ve given it to doctors, utility companies, and others more times than you realize over the years.
Your address isn’t typically a secret (friends, family, and neighbors all know it), but it is an important part of your identity. With a name and an address, thieves can often access accounts, sometimes even sensitive ones. Your address can also be used to redirect mail, giving identity thieves a treasure trove of personal information. While you can’t keep your address a complete secret, you can take steps to better protect it. Don’t share it openly on sites like Facebook or Twitter. LexisNexis found that a surprising 20% of consumers admit to sharing their addresses on social media.
Your Date of Birth
If your PIN for your bank account is the year of your birth, change it immediately. Every combination of 19XX make up the top 20% of most common PIN numbers. Your birthdate can also be the final piece of identifying information to unlock various accounts.
These four keys to your identity are things we share daily. In fact, the only thing on this list that you don’t share often is your SSN. Do your best to protect your information, but know that it is out there. Watch closely for the signs of ID theft so you can catch it quickly if it does occur.
April 4th, 2015
Jackie here. Have you been neglecting your identity? In the daily hustle and bustle it is easy to let some important identity protecting tasks fall through the cracks. Just like you spring clean your house to get caught up once a year, take some time to spring clean your identity. Catch up on those tasks you’ve been forgetting and keep your identity a little safer. Here are some ideas:
Check Your Credit (and Clean it Up)- Have you ordered your free credit reports this year? Once a year you’re entitled to a free report from each of the credit bureaus. Get your reports by visiting annualcreditreport.com. If you notice any errors, correct them right away. If you see signs of ID theft, take action before the problem gets worse.
Opt Out- Are you getting unwanted credit card offers in the mail? Is your number on the Do Not Call Registry? Take a few minutes and opt-out to protect both your privacy and your identity. Here are a few opt-out options to consider:
Top Opt Outs from the World Privacy Forum- a great list of 10 opt-outs you should consider.
Shred- Unwanted paperwork can pile up. Take some time and get to shredding. Shred any paperwork with sensitive information that you no longer need, including old bills, medical statements and records, expired credit cards, bank statements, tax records, etc. Use a crosscut shredder to ensure your documents are really destroyed.
Change Your Passwords- Even if you’ve chosen strong passwords, it’s still a good idea to change them occasionally. If you haven’t changed your passwords lately, update them today!
Check Privacy Settings- When was the last time you checked your privacy settings on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other social accounts? This help sheet will walk you through the process on many of your favorite sites.
Re-Read Privacy Policies- Privacy policies might not be the most interesting reading around, but they are important. Review the privacy policies at your favorite websites and be aware of what you’re sharing.
Update- Is your anti-virus software up to date? What about your favorite apps and plug-ins? Update your computer, run an extra security scan, and make sure you’re protected.
Delete Old Apps- Remember that heartbeat tracking app you installed and used only once? Now’s the time to say goodbye. Go through your apps and delete any that you aren’t currently using. In addition, double check the information you are allowing your current apps to access – many automatically request access to data they do not need.
What will you do spring clean your identity this year?
March 14th, 2015
Jackie here. In most instances, identity theft is considered a crime and that means that your local courts and legal system may be able to offer some assistance in identity theft resolution. The availability will vary greatly depending on where you live, but here are a few resources from the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Your Local District Attorney’s Office
Many district attorney’s offices offer some sort of victim assistance for ID theft. Contact your local DA’s office and ask what programs are available. Your local office may have group meetings, victim counselors, packets of local resources, helplines, or informative websites to provide information.
File for Restitution
If you want to file for civil restitution after ID theft (especially common when the perpetrator was local), your local court is the place to start. Restitution can help cover expenses related to the theft (including postage, time off work, photocopies, faxes, etc.). In order to file a claim, you’ll need to keep detailed records and save receipts.
Get Your Credit Report
As an identity theft victim, you’re entitled to free copies of your credit report during the resolution process. Your police report and records of other legal filings can be used to prove that you’re entitled to these free reports. Just a note, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the 3 credit bureaus is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to request your copy.
Letter of Clearance
If you’re a victim of criminal identity theft and are struggling with mistaken identity, a letter of clearance from the court can be used to prove your identity to law enforcement and help you avoid jail stays due to your identity theft.
For more tips about using the legal system to your advantage after identity theft, check out this great tip sheet from the ITRC.
February 26th, 2015
Jackie here. ITRC president Eva Velasquez recently shared some ID theft tips we can all take advantage of. Often it’s the little things you do that make the biggest difference in keeping your identity safe.
Password Protect Your Phone- Is your phone password protected? If you haven’t taken the time yet to set up this simple, but essential identity protection, stop reading and go do it. Setting up a password just takes a few minutes and can keep your personal information safe should your phone be lost or stolen.
Keep Your SSN to Yourself- When companies ask for your Social Security Number, ask them why. In many instances, they don’t actually need it. What should you do when asked for your SSN? Eva Velasquez offers a simple solution, “You are free to tell the company that you do not give out your Social Security number, and that you’ll be happy to provide different information, such as your phone number or address.” In certain instances, however, companies do need you SSN to provide you the services you request.
Take Your Mail to the Post Office- Don’t drop that tax form or check into the mailbox outside of your house. Take it to the Post Office instead. If you’re mailing anything that contains personal information (including checks, health insurance statements, and tax documents), send it directly from the Post Office.
Change Your Password- Change your passwords often and while you’re at it, make sure you’re choosing strong ones. Hint: your birthdate or address is not a good choice.
File Your Taxes Early- We’ve told you before and we’ll tell you again, file your taxes as soon as possible. If you’re waiting to file, remember that the thieves are not. “If a thief gets there first, your legitimate return will be rejected for having a return already filed under your Social Security number.”
Take these 5 simple steps today for a safer identity.
February 5th, 2015
Jackie here. Tax season is upon us and for some people that means returns are around the corner. While you’re hard at work preparing your tax documents, thieves are busy too, filing returns and claiming refunds that aren’t theirs. How can you protect your refund this tax season? Here are some tips from Time to get you started.
File Quickly- If you haven’t yet started on your taxes, start as soon as you can. Filing quickly can protect your refund by ensuring that you file under your identity before thieves do. Waiting until the last minute to file can greatly increase your risk of tax identity theft.
Minimize Your Risk- How big is your refund? If you’re getting back thousands this year, you might want to change your withholding to reduce the size of your refund. This won’t protect you from tax ID theft, but will minimize the amount of money that you have at risk should you fall victim.
Protect Your Information- All thieves need to file a fraudulent refund in your name is your birthdate and SSN. Protect these numbers. When possible, have tax forms (like W-2s, 1099s, mortgage interest statements) sent to you electronically. At the very least, bring your mail in as soon as possible; thieves often steal tax forms out of mailboxes at this time of the year.
Get a PIN (when it becomes available)- The IRS is launching a pilot program where taxpayers can obtain a personal identification number (PIN) to protect their identities. This special number must be included on all tax documents. Right now the service is only available to those that filed a return from Washington DC, Florida, or Georgia last year or those that were victims of tax ID theft. Get your PIN here if you qualify. (Once you opt in, you can’t opt out.)
Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to File- If you file online, use a secure computer and a secure network. Never use public Wi-Fi to file your taxes.
Avoid Scams- Tax themed scams are rampant this time of the year. Remember, the IRS isn’t going to call you on the phone – they communicate via snail mail. Be very careful with the sharing of personal information to keep your tax refund safe.
For more tips about protecting your refund, check out this article from Time Magazine.
January 6th, 2015
Jackie here. We’re right in the middle of open enrollment season for insurance and that means that scammers are out in full force looking for opportunities to trick consumers out of their personal information. Be on the lookout for health care scams this time of year and use these tips to help spot and avoid scams.
Watch for Grammar and Spelling Errors- If you receive an email riddled with grammar and spelling errors, send it to your spam folder immediately. It is very unlikely that a legitimate company will send emails packed with errors. This is a great first level screening for any spam, healthcare related or otherwise.
Look Deeply at the Sender’s Address- Even emails that appear to be from your health insurance company could be from scammers. Hover over the sender’s address to see where the email is really coming from. – if the real address doesn’t match who is supposedly sending the email, use caution before you click any links or take any action.
Avoid Clicking Links- If an email asks you to click a link immediately to input personal information, don’t do it. This is a common tactic used to direct you to malicious sites that may install malware on your computer. Avoid clicking links in unsolicited emails.
ACA not “Obamacare”- Scammers often refer to the nation’s health law as Obamacare. While this is a commonly known nickname for the law (actually called the Affordable Care Act or ACA), you won’t see it on official insurance correspondence. If you see “Obamacare” know that the email is likely spam.
Call Customer Service Yourself- If you receive a call or email from your insurance company, call them back yourself using the number on your card. This is a great way to check in and make sure your coverage is setup and working without disclosing personal information to the caller. When in doubt, call yourself.
These simple tips will help you to avoid many of the healthcare scams this year. Check out more tips from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).
December 9th, 2014
Jackie here. The holiday season is here and that means friends, family, hot cocoa, and of course, holiday shopping. As the holiday shopping season heats up, make sure you’re protecting yourself from ID theft and fraud. You aren’t the only one busy this time of year; fraudsters love using the chaos of the holidays to make a quick buck. These holiday shopping tips will help keep your family safe from ID theft this year.
Use Your Credit Card
If you missed our recent article on credit cards vs. debit cards check it out before you head out holiday shopping. Credit cards offer more fraud protections than other payment methods, making them one of the safer choices for holiday shopping.
Save Your Receipts
During the holidays when you’re making lots of purchases it can be hard to remember what you’ve spent and where. Save all your receipts including those for online purchases.
Check Your Statements
With your saved receipts in hand, checking your statements will be much easier. Double check amounts and purchases for any inaccuracies. If you notice a problem, report it to your financial institution quickly. With debit cards, you only have 2 business days to report fraud if you want to limit your maximum losses to $50.
Beware of Shopping Apps
Shopping on your phone is certainly convenient, but if you aren’t careful you might be sharing more information than you intend. Mobile shopping apps can collect a great deal of information about you including address, phone number, driver’s license number, and even your Social Security number. Before you install a shopping app, make sure you check the permissions and if you’re uncomfortable, find another way to buy the items you need.
Limit the Information You Share
Keeping your identity safe is all about limiting the information you share. Don’t give out your credit card number in exchange for an opportunity to win a gadget or gift card. Watch your inbox for phishing emails and don’t reply. Be very cautious about the information you provide this holiday season.
Not All Charities are Charitable
If you plan on making a donation to a charity, choose wisely. Charity scams are common year round. This guide from the FTC will help you spot charity scams and choose legitimate options for your donations. It is admirable to give back during the holidays, but you want to be sure that your generosity is actually helping those in need.
For more tips for safe holiday shopping, check out this guide from the FTC.
November 6th, 2014
If you’re looking for a wonderful resource for all things identity theft related, head over to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). They have tons of free resources for identity theft victims, businesses, consumers, and others that are worried about ID theft. I was excited to discover that the ITRC president Eva Velasquez made a recent appearance on a San Diego radio show.
Listen to the full broadcast for yourself or keep reading for a few tips pulled from the show.
New Victim Every 3 Seconds- If you think you don’t need to protect yourself from ID theft, think again. According to Velasquez there is a new victim every 3 seconds. There are ways to minimize your risk, but there is no foolproof method to keep from becoming a victim with 100% certainty.
Some Types of ID Theft are Easier than Others to Resolve- Some types of ID theft are easily resolved while others can take much more effort. Simple credit card fraud is often resolved with just a phone call or two to your credit card company. More complicated cases can take many phone calls and several hours to resolve.
Thieves Keep Finding New Methods- Tax identity theft first became a headline-making issue in the 90s, but prior to that time, it just wasn’t something people even considered to be much of a risk. Thieves are going to keep finding new ways to use our information and data in the future. No one can predict with certainty how things will evolve going forward.
Not All Data Breaches are Equal- Some data breaches carry a larger impact for consumers than others. For example, a breach of payment information can be stopped by getting a new card (things are a bit easier with credit cards than with debit) while a breach of SSNs can lead to new accounts being opened in your name.
Use a Credit Card- If you can, use a credit card, especially when shopping online. Debit card fraud can clean out your bank account and make it hard to pay bills and access your cash while the issue is resolved. Credit cards make it a lot easier to resolve the problem and to keep access to your accounts should a compromise happen.
Ask Questions- If a company wants your SSN, ask why. Many times you won’t actually need to provide it. Ask companies how they plan to keep your information safe.
Don’t Check Email While Distracted- We are all at risk for phishing scams. Protect yourself by paying attention when checking your emails. If you’re distracted, wait to respond to emails that ask for personal information so you can take the time to research the sender and confirm that the request is legitimate.
September 10th, 2014
Jackie here. More than a billion username and password combinations were recently stolen by Russian hackers along with more than 500 million email addresses. Here are some tips for protecting yourself in the aftermath of this heist.
Change Your Passwords Today
If you haven’t yet changed your passwords, do it today. You should change all of your passwords (and possibly your usernames) to your most sensitive accounts including bank accounts, email, and health insurance sites. While you’re at it, make sure that the new passwords are strong and unique. Include upper and lower case letters, symbols, and numbers when possible. Avoid words found in the dictionary.
Watch for Signs of a Problem
In instances such as these your information may have fallen into the wrong hands so keep a close watch on your accounts looking for signs of a problem. Don’t just be vigilant right now; you never know when your information might be compromised so always be aware. Unfamiliar charges, emails that appear to be from your bank or financial institution, and emails asking for personal information should be closely examined. Never click on links or reply with personal information to an unsolicited email. Instead visit the website of the company in question yourself using a known web address.
Check Your Credit Report and Card Statements
The best ways to deal with this hack are the same simple tactics we should use every day to protect against ID theft. Check your bank statements often and report any discrepancies to your bank. Also check your credit report at least once a year. You can get a free yearly report from www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
Learn more about the Russian hack here and get some tips from the FTC here.
August 26th, 2014
Aaron here, AllClear ID Investigator. It’s that time of year again; summer is coming to a close. Many parents are going shopping for their kid’s school supplies and that perfect new backpack. However, most parents probably aren’t thinking about what personal information is being stored in this new backpack, nor would most be thinking of identity theft if the backpack was stolen.
Identity theft is at an all-time high; it seems almost everywhere you turn you are hearing something about a data breach and resulting identity theft. If an identity thief was to steal your child’s backpack would they find the key to your credit history? These days, children have all sorts of personal identifiable information stored in their backpacks and it’s important to take the time to learn about how that information could be used if it got into the wrong hands.
Below is a list of what most identity theft suspects would be looking for if they were to steal a child’s backpack, as well information on how to protect yourself in case this does happen.
Most carriers have a simple code to access the actual account information. If a suspect were to get a hold of your child’s device they would potentially be able to order new services and wreak havoc on the account. Not only is the account at risk, but think about the contact information that your child may have on this device, and what risk occurs if this information was to get in the wrong hands. This type of intrusion causes issues like phishing emails, grandparent scams and malware installation. Not to mention the amount of notes and even passwords that parents and kids store in these devices.
Ways to avoid these issues: Make sure you educate your child on the potential danger of this type of technology. Inform them about creative alpha numeric passwords. Also explain why certain types of sensitive information should not be stored in their device (like their SSN or any passwords). You can have your child set up the Find Me app, this app erases all content should someone ever steal the smart device your child has.
Most everyone knows the risk of a laptop if it were to fall into the wrong hands. The same issues explained about the Smartphone can apply to this device as well. Now think about all the accounts that are tied to the parent and are also set up on the child’s laptop, apps like Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and social media and most of these apps have it set to automatically log in once the child opens the device.
Now think about all of the files, and emails that maybe saved on the child’s laptop, all of this PII (personal identifiable information) is a scammers dream. Everything from credit card information, addresses of family members, as well as birth dates.
Ways to avoid these issues: Have your child make sure to log out of every online account that they have when they are done using it. Always make sure that no sensitive information is stored on a child’s laptop, and if it was handed down from the parent to the child, make sure to have all sensitive documentation deleted from the system. Make sure to educate on the importance of not storing user names and passwords on the device as well. Make sure that whatever password the child has up on the laptop is also shared with you.
Most children will use a Karabiner attachment for the backpack to store keys and identifying name tags showing ownership. The problem that this causes is the potential risk of having a thief /robber show up at the home while away working. The best way to avoid this problem is not to put any address information and just to put a work contact phone number with the child/Parent’s name on it, no other information is necessary.
Overall, child identity theft is a large issue and one we have done studies on in the past. While the options for protection are limited, the best protection starts at home, with you.
August 15th, 2014
Jackie here. When it comes to identity theft are you an expert or a novice? Check out this fun quiz from Credit.com and see how you rank. If you’ve been reading our blog regularly you’ll probably score pretty well. After the quiz, come back here for additional resources that can help you if you struggled with some of the answers along the way.
Passwords are the key to all our most sensitive online accounts. Your bank (and the money you keep in it) is only as secure as your online banking password. How secure is your password? This article from our blog will give you tips for making your passwords stronger.
Social Security Numbers
It seems like everyone wants your Social Security Number, from the doctor’s office to the electric company. Are you required to provide your SSN to everyone that asks? This fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse will help you determine when you must share your SSN and when you can safely decline. It’s usually a good idea to ask if another form of identification will suffice to limit how many people know your SSN.
The IRS uses mail as their primary method of contact. If there’s a problem with your tax return you can expect to hear about via US Mail. Tax identity theft is a growing problem, so be on the lookout for scams related to your tax return. Anyone can fall victim to tax ID theft, even someone with extensive identity theft knowledge.
Protect Personal Information
“Big Data” knows a lot about each of us. We need to learn to safeguard our personal information, not just to protect from ID theft (although that is important), but also to preserve our privacy. Learn to read privacy policies so you know what information is being shared and collected about you.
Is This Call Legitimate?
When you get a call, don’t automatically trust the caller ID. This article from our blog will help you understand caller ID spoofing and how to avoid it.
When was the last time you checked your credit report? Check as often as you can, but at least once a year. You can get your free annual reports from www.annualcreditreport.com, the only source for your free yearly report.
How did you do on the quiz? Do you have some brushing up you need to do? This quiz could be used as a tool to introduce id theft to teens and older children.
June 11th, 2014
Jackie here. If I were to take a quick peek at your social profiles, what would I learn? Would I know that you were out of town on vacation next week? Could I learn your birthdate, or the birthdates of your children? When we hop on Facebook (or other social media sites) we feel safe and secure. After all, we’re just sharing with friends. But, in reality, too much information shared has the potential to lead to ID theft. Here are some vital tips for keeping yourself safe.
Do you read privacy policies? It is so easy to quickly glance over the legal information required to start an account without ever really discovering what permissions we are giving away. With companies that possess our most sensitive data, we need to know what rights we are granting and how our information might be used. Read the Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policies, and other important documents.
Double Check Privacy Settings
When you post to Facebook, who can see it? It’s always a good time to perform a privacy checkup on your social media accounts. Know what you’re sharing and who can see. Change settings and delete old posts if you’ve shared more than you’d like.
How Could an Identity Thief Use This?
It’s tempting to share every funny detail of your life with friends and family online, but we must remember that these details are very valuable to identity thieves. They can pair information mined from social media (think birth dates, answers to security questions, etc.) with information they’ve gathered about you to unlock your accounts and commit fraud. Before you post, think about how this information could be used by the wrong parties.
Clean Out Your Friend List
Before you accept a social media connection from a person, ask yourself if you really know them. We need to be careful about who we connect with online. Thieves and scammers may create fake accounts to gain access to your information. Knowing your connections personally will help to minimize your risk of falling victim to ID theft or fraud.
Don’t make it easy on identity thieves and scammers. Take control of your social media profiles and stay in control. For more tips, check out this article from AZ Central.
June 9th, 2014
Jackie here. It’s graduation season. Congratulations to all of you new graduates out there! A graduation ceremony is a rite of passage, signaling that you are done with one chapter and ready to enter another. As you clutch that diploma and prepare to start a new life, bear in mind that identity theft can strike at any time. Here are some potential ID theft pitfalls that new graduates are especially vulnerable to (for more tips check out this great article).
Tax ID Theft is No Joke
Will this be your first year earning a paycheck and filing taxes? If so, you should be aware that tax identity theft is a growing problem. Thieves like to file fraudulent tax returns to steal refunds. Filing early is one way to combat the problem. You’ll also want to get any tax help you need from a trusted, reputable source.
To Credit or Not to Credit?
My first experience with credit was a store credit card I accidentally signed up for my first semester of college. I never used it. Pre-approved credit card offers and store accounts can be tempting to the new graduate. While these may be a wise financial choice, make sure you remain in control. Choose credit cards wisely and be sure that you understand the terms before signing up. Once you have those cards, monitor them closely looking for any charges that you didn’t make. You should also check your credit reports at least once a year at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/.
On the Job Hunt? Don’t Fall Victim to an Employment Scam
Many new graduates find themselves in need of jobs and scammers love to prey on job hunters. Keep an eye open for work from home scams. Remember, if an opportunity promises to pay well for very little work it’s probably a scam.
Protect your SSN during the job hunt process as well. You may want to hold off disclosing it until the interview stage in the hiring process. If you’re nervous about sharing your SSN with a potential employer, research them to make sure the job opportunity is legitimate.
Congratulations on your graduation and the new and exciting things coming your way… just make sure that identity theft isn’t one of them.
June 3rd, 2014
Jackie here. Sometimes it feels like our privacy is being assaulted on many fronts. And it can all be very confusing. You may have questions about your privacy rights or the best way to handle a privacy concern. When you have privacy questions or complaints, turn to the privacy experts at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. They offer an Online Complaint Center to address privacy questions, concerns and complaints.
If you plan on submitting a question, be aware that all requests must be submitted online. They take each question seriously and need time to research before replying so you can’t call in, even if you think the question is a simple one. Their focus is consumer privacy, basically how companies handle your information, not the government. They also can’t provide legal advice or take action for you, but they may be able to direct you to resources and others that can help.
If you don’t have a specific question, but do want more information about privacy in general, take some time and browse their website. They have a comprehensive set of Fact Sheets available that cover everything from cellphone privacy to data marketers and even debt collection. Check it out!
I’m excited to share this great privacy resource with you today. If you give it a try, comment and let us know how this tool works for you.
May 29th, 2014
Ben here, AllClear ID Investigator. A new bill passed in Texas that will give parents and guardians the ability to better protect their children from ID theft. Texas Sentate Bill 60 will allow a parent or guardian to place a security freeze on the consumer file or other record created or maintained by a consumer reporting agency. This will make it more difficult for minors to become victims of fraud or identity theft.
Typically credit is the last thing on the mind of a parent when raising a child. It is not until 16-18 years of age that a child would typically start being connected with credit via authorized user accounts or student loans. With no established credit file before that point, minors are often victims of ID theft as thieves use their SSNs to establish a false credit file without anyone knowing it. In some cases, identity thieves have even been able to use a SSN before it has been issued out.
In a statement, Texas Senator Jane Nelson said “ A staggering number of Texas children have fallen victim to illegal child identity theft, putting them at risk for credit problems before they ever reach adulthood.” Prior to the passing of this bill, a parent was very limited at the tools necessary to help fight or detect identity theft. While child identity theft will never be eliminated completely, this bill certainly is a step in the right direction as it is designed to make it more difficult for children to become the victims of identity theft or credit card abuse.
May 2nd, 2014
Jackie here. Do you need help paying for college? As education expenses increase, students and parents look for ways to cut down on costs seeking financial aid, scholarships, and other monetary help. Scammers are taking advantage of the desperation students feel when searching for financial help to pay for school and are create fake financial aid offers. Get an education on what these scams look like, so you can head to school without falling victim to a financial aid scam.
Signs of a Financial Aid Scam
There are lots of great scholarship and financial aid opportunities out there. Don’t disregard all financial aid and scholarship opportunities because of a few scams. Instead, learn the warning signs of and keep a diligent watch for potential problems. A good tip to remember when it comes to education scams (and all others as well) is, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”
Here are some clues that might alert you to a potential financial aid scam.
- Pay in Advance- Some fake scholarship opportunities offer a guaranteed scholarship in exchange for a small upfront payment. Be extremely cautious of any scholarships or aid opportunities that ask for an advance payment. Some scams call the payment a processing fee while others promise to do the work of getting the scholarship in exchange for a small payment. Also be aware of opportunities that guarantee results or that promise your money back if you don’t qualify for a scholarship.
- Don’t Provide Banking Information- Most legitimate scholarships will make their payments directly to your college. Some will reimburse receipts submitted by their recipients and others mail out checks. Be cautious of any aid opportunity that requires bank account information for a direct deposit. Some scam scholarships will ask for bank information to confirm eligibility and will then charge accounts without authorization from the student.
- Do Your Research- Before accepting an aid offer, do your research. Find out all you can about the company offering the scholarship. Often legitimate scholarships have websites and other information posted online. Past scam victims may share stories of their struggles if you look.
- Be Wary of Scholarships You Didn’t Apply For- Everyone loves free money, but if you didn’t apply for a particular scholarship, grant, or contest, odds are you didn’t win it. Be very cautious as you proceed.
- Ask Questions- Asking questions (and lots of them) is a great way to spot potential scams. Ask questions and watch for answers that don’t seem quite right. Don’t feel rushed; take your time and do your research.
For more information check out this great article about financial aid scams from the Better Business Bureau.
April 21st, 2014
Jackie here. We’ve talked many times about the importance of regularly reviewing your free annual credit reports, but today I’d like to share some of the other resources you can use to discover ID theft. I recently ran across an article shared by AARP that highlights a few of the lesser known reports available to consumers. I personally haven’t used any of these, but now that I know they are available, I may need to pull a few reports.
Many of the reports are free, but some may require a fee unless you have proof that you were harmed by the information in your file.
Check Writing History
If you have a history of writing bad checks, you may have trouble opening bank accounts or using checks in the future. There are several
companies that track your check writing history. Here are a few to check out.
- ChexSystems- Order your report online (it will come via postal mail in about a week) or call 800-428-9623.
- TeleCheck/First Data. Mail in a written request for a report or call 800-366-2425.
- Certegy- If you had a check declined based on information in your Certegy check writing report, you can look up the details online. Enter the purchase amount, date, and check number in their online form for more information.
Health Care Information
Errors in your medical records can cause problems with insurance companies and health care providers. If you have a major medical condition or have applied for various health and life insurance policies in the past few years you may have a record with the MIB Group. Request a free copy of your record here.
If you’re trying to get an apartment, your rental history might hold the key. These companies are a good place to start your search for your tenant records:
- CoreLogic- Call 888-333-2413.
- Experian Rent Bureau- Send in a written request for a copy of your record.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse also maintains a comprehensive list of specialty consumer reports. Check out their listing and order copies of the reports that might apply to you.
April 15th, 2014
Jackie here. Do you click on pop-ups or sign up for free trial offers online? These two behaviors, along with many others, may increase your risk of ID theft and online fraud. In a report published by AARP called Caught in the Scammers Net, several activities were shown to increase your risk of being an identity theft victim. How do your browsing habits stack up? Check out this list of the top 10 things NOT to do online. Avoiding these potentially dangerous behaviors could help keep you and your family safer.
- Clicking on Pop Ups- You see an interesting pop up, what should you do? Don’t click on it! Clicking on pop ups is a risky online behavior. Instead, close the pop up immediately and access websites by visiting them directly. You can even install or enable a pop up blocker on your web browser to eliminate the temptation to click. Not all pop-ups are harmful, but it’s often better to be safe than sorry.
- Selling Products on eBay- While there are a lot of great opportunities for buying and selling products on auction sites like eBay, there is also some risk. The AARP study found that selling items on auction sites increased your risk of fraud. If you do choose to sell, be careful and be on the lookout for fraud—check your credit reports and bank statements carefully.
- Opening Emails from Unknown Senders- Do you open emails from people you don’t know? This can be a risky behavior, especially if you follow links or open attachments. When opening an unknown email can’t be avoided, use caution and never share personal information with the sender.
- Downloading Apps- I love a good app just as much as the next person, but each time I download a new one, I carefully review it. Choose apps only from a reputable marketplace and carefully analyze user reviews before downloading. If you want a great app that will actually help you protect your identity, check out the AllClear ID app.
- Being Impulsive- Do you click before you think? Take time to analyze before you do things online. Many scams can be avoided with a little caution.
- Signing Up for Free Trial Offers- We all love getting things for free, but is the freebie worth sacrificing your identity for? Be cautious of limited time free trial offers.
- Purchasing Through a Payment Transfer Website- When it comes to spending money, be very cautious online. Avoid sites that ask you to transfer money to a third party or to an unknown recipient.
While you can’t avoid every item on this list, reducing the number of risky behaviors you help you stay safe from online fraud. The study authors found that of 15 risky behaviors, nearly 1 in 5 American respondents had engaged in at least 7. More than half of the respondents (65%) had received at least 1 online scam offer during 2013.
April 14th, 2014
Jackie here. Have you filed your taxes yet? As tax season comes to a close we wanted to share one last post with some tax identity theft tips. We are all at risk for this ever growing problem; being aware and remaining educated is one of the best ways to protect ourselves from tax ID theft and fraud.
Finding Out You Have a Problem
How do you know if you’ve fallen victim to tax ID theft? Most people discover the problem when they go to file their taxes. You may be unable to file since a return has already been submitted with your name and SSN. Other people receive a notice that they underreported their income after they have filed (this often happens when someone is using your SSN to work illegally).
If you do discover a problem, don’t despair; there are things you can do. In January Jenna shared her story of tax ID theft which can give you a good starting point for resolving your own problem. Here are some other tips to try:
- File a police report- A police report is often the first step resolving ID theft. While your local police probably won’t be able to do much in fixing your problem, the police report is a valuable tool you can use to prove that you are a victim when talking to credit bureaus and other agencies.
- Review your credit- If someone uses your SSN to file taxes, they might use it for other things too. Check your credit reports carefully and look for signs of fraud. You may want to initiate a credit freeze and put fraud alerts on your credit reports as well.
While there is extra attention focused on tax identity theft during tax season, many of the things you should do to protect yourself are ongoing practices that happen all year long. Make sure you regularly check your credit report, and keep an eye on your bank statements for anything suspicious. Remember, even small amounts can idicate trouble. In addition, be cautious when clicking on links and don’t share information that isn’t absolutely necessary.
April 8th, 2014
Jackie here. If you’re on social media, odds are you’ve seen a shortened URL or two (or twenty… they are everywhere). These services take a long link and shave it down to just a few characters paired with the shortening URL. Are shortened URLs safe or should you think before you click?
How Shortened URLs Work
Shortened URLs act as a portal of sorts, capturing the location of a link and redirecting visitors to the intended site. Much of the time a long URL isn’t a problem, but on social media sites (especially ones like Twitter that limit characters), shorter makes it easier to share. Do you want to use three lines of text sharing a long URL?
Many legitimate businesses, celebrities, and others use shortened URLs. But, you should be aware that scammers do too. They can camouflage malicious websites this way, tricking people into clicking on links they shouldn’t. Some will use this technique to direct you to sites that install malware, phish for information, and increase your ID theft risk. With a shortened URL you don’t know where you’re headed until it is too late.
What Can You Do?
While some people may choose to avoid shortened URLs altogether, this approach may keep you from a lot of great content. For example, we regularly share shortened URLs from the AllClear ID Twitter page; skip them and you might miss out on some great information about avoiding ID theft. Short URLs aren’t bad in and of themselves; you just need to use a little extra caution.
Here are some tips for keeping yourself safe when using shortened URLs:
- Source Matters- Before you click on a shortened URL, consider the source. Is it shared by a company or person you trust? Bear in mind that scammers may create fake websites or profiles (or hack legitimate ones) to share their malicious links. Before you click, ask yourself, “Do you trust the source?”
- Use a URL Expander- Shortened URLs leave you in the dark about the website you’re trying to visit; a URL expander turns on the lights. CheckShortURL.com and LongURL.org are two of several sites that show you the full URL for a shortened one. Some of these sites will even check the link for malware before you click. You may also be able to install a browser plug-in that checks short URLs without having to visit another site.
For more information and tips see this great article from the Better Business Bureau.
March 24th, 2014
Jackie here. Are you a Verizon customer? Be on the alert for this Verizon voucher scam. Scammers are using the promise of a voucher to fool customers into sharing their personal information. Not only will you not receive a voucher, you will increase your ID theft risk.
This scam starts with a phone call. Scammers use Caller ID spoofing to masquerade as “Technical Support” from Verizon Wireless. They explain that they are offering bill credit vouchers to various customers. All you have to do to claim the voucher is fill out a short form on a website. The web address provided usually includes “Verizon” and possibly the amount of the promised voucher. A recent version of the scam directed victims to “verizon54.com”.
The website will look like an official Verizon site. It includes the company logos and color scheme. Visitors are encouraged to verify their accounts by entering their phone number, user name, password, and the last 4 digits of their SSN. Don’t do it! This is a clever phishing scam designed to trick you.
Tips for Avoiding this Scam
Phishing scams are always changing, targeting different people and different companies. The easiest way to protect yourself is to use caution before sharing personal information. If you are in doubt, contact the company in question directly and ask them. It’s important to remember that things aren’t always as they seem; just because a website looks like Verizon (or any other company for that matter) doesn’t mean it is an official company site. As a general rule, be wary of people offering you money or a refund for no apparent reason.
March 14th, 2014
Jackie here. If you think identity theft is no longer a serious problem, think again. Once again it topped the list of consumer complaints made to the FTC in 2013. This is the 14th consecutive year that identity theft ranked #1. Identity theft is still a major problem; how will you protect yourself and your family?
The FTC’s recent report shows that it is still essential to watch for the signs of ID theft. Finding problems sooner often makes them easier to resolve. Some red flags to watch for include:
- Unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
- Charges you didn’t make on your credit card
- Not receiving expected bills in the mail
- Debt collection calls about debt that isn’t yours
- Errors in your credit report
- Medical bills (or explanation of benefits forms) from doctors you didn’t visit
- Receiving a data breach notification
For more information about staying safe from ID theft, check out some of these great resources:
Keep yourself safe from identity theft this year!
March 10th, 2014
Jackie here. What do you do if your credit card information is compromised in a hacking event or data breach? Here are some tips for from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for keeping yourself safe from ID theft and fraud after your information is compromised.
Check Your Accounts…. And Check Again
After you’ve been notified of a credit card breach, check your accounts for any unauthorized charges, daily if possible. If you don’t have internet or mobile access, carefully review your paper statements for any charges you didn’t make.
Report any discrepancies you find, even if they are small. Although a $1 or $2 charge might not seem like a big deal, thieves often start small and build up to larger charges if the smaller charges go through. It may take a while for fraudulent charges to start showing up; keep checking. In fact, you should carefully analyze your statements all of the time, not just when you’re worried about a recent data security incident.
Report Fraud Immediately
If you find a fraudulent charge, report it immediately. First, call customer service at your card provider and report the problem. Then, follow up with a written letter. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter you send; send it with delivery confirmation so you have proof it was received. Also keep a record of the dates and times you make phone calls, what you discussed and who you spoke with.
Don’t Give Out Information in Response to Phone Calls or Emails
Breaches give scammers a great opportunity to trick people into sharing personal account information. Don’t share your account numbers, SSN, birthdates, etc. with callers claiming to be from your bank or credit card company. If you need to talk with them, contact them yourself using a known phone number from their website or your bank statement.
What Should I Do If My Bank Isn’t Resolving the Problem?
If you have trouble with your credit card company or bank after reporting fraud, you have options. Banks should investigate any reports of debit fraud, generally within 10 business days (credit card transactions can take longer, but you don’t have to pay the amount in question while you wait). Once the investigation is complete, you have the right to obtain a copy of results. If you have a problem with how a fraud case is handled, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau online or by calling (855) 411-2372.
More information about handling a breach is available here.
February 27th, 2014
Jackie here. Like every internet trend, Flappy Bird has generated a trove of scams as scammers seek to cash in on the now forbidden app. Don’t find yourself a victim of a flappy bird scam and possibly identity theft; learn how to spot and avoid potentially dangerous apps. A few minutes of fun isn’t worth compromising your identity.
Released in May 2013 Flappy Bird was a hugely popular app until it was removed from the app marketplaces early this year. The controversy surrounding its removal made the app even more popular. In fact, some people who had the original app installed on their smartphones tried to sell them on eBay for thousands of dollars.
Now that the app is unavailable scammers are cashing in, creating look-a-like apps that secretly rack up phone charges and steal information. Be aware that the original Flappy Bird is no longer available; if you are downloading something called Flappy Bird, it is not a legitimate app. Flappy Bird has been removed by its developer and is not available for sale.
Spotting Malicious Apps
Before you install an app on your device make sure you know what you’re installing. Trend Micro has created a great guide for spotting illegitimate apps. Here are a few tips:
Check the Ratings
User ratings provide great insight into the legitimacy of an app. Popular apps should have many reviews and ratings, so if the one you’re considering does not, it might an imposter. Look at some of the reviews and look for potential problems before you install.
Before you select an app, check it out. Research the app not only in the marketplace, but also online. A quick search may reveal potential problems and scams you should be aware of.
Keep yourself safe from this Flappy Bird scam by choosing your apps carefully and by avoiding malicious ones.
February 20th, 2014
Jackie here. Be on the lookout for a new scam involving fake funeral notices. This scam preys on emotion by enticing victims to click on malicious links for more information about a departed family member or friend. If you see a notice like this one, play it safe and click delete. You don’t want to risk ID theft or computer viruses by indulging your curiosity.
Fake funeral notices are popping up in email boxes around the country. The notice usually bears a subject line with something like, “Funeral Notification”. Once they open the email recipients see an official looking email that looks like it comes from a funeral home. While the reported emails at this point all claim to be from a Texas funeral home, this could change as more people become aware of the scam. The email invites the viewer to a celebration of life for a dear friend (name not included in the body of the email) and encourages clicking on the link for more information.
If you receive an email like this one, don’t click on the link. It will direct you to a foreign website that will install malware on your device. The email is not what it seems and is just a clever trick to get people to click on the malicious links within.
February 18th, 2014
Jackie here. Several weeks back we shared an article with you on the AllClear ID blog about kids increasing the ID theft risk of their parents through unwise online behaviors. To help you protect yourself and your children, we’ve found a great new resource. The FTC just finished a revision of their guide “Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online”. If you have kids, take a few minutes to review this guide with them and ensure the whole family is educated about identity theft and its dangers.
What Does the Guide Cover?
This informative guide from the FTC is packed with educational resources and is perfect for anyone that deals with children (parents, teachers, relatives, etc.). The new revision updates the information to make it more applicable to today’s online world (it was originally written in 2009 and a lot has changed since then).
Here are some of the sections you’ll find in the guide:
- Talking to Your Kids- How do you address the dangers of the internet with your kids? This can be a complicated topic to start discussing. This guide helps parents to broach online safety with kids, with tips for starting conversations and communicating clearly.
- Ages and Stages- At different ages children use the internet differently. The guide shares information about communicating risks for young children, tweens and teens. It also features advice on using parental controls wisely.
- Social Media- Children and teens often use the internet to interact with peers, family and others online. Learn how to use social media wisely and how to avoid some of the common risks of socialization in an online world.
- Mobile Devices- Do your kids have a smartphone or tablet? Learn how to protect them from online risks even when you can’t monitor their every move.
- Being Smart About Connecting- Just as adults can run into problems when using unsecure internet connections, kids can too. Learn how to teach your kids about smart connecting and sharing when using things like public Wi-Fi.
Keeping your kids safe online is just as important as protecting yourself from ID theft. Check out this new revision of the FTC’s guide and use it to teach your kids about online safety.
February 17th, 2014
Jackie here. Think about your online banking account for a minute. What is your user ID? If you are like many, it might be your email address, but according to an article from Consumer Reports, this can be a mistake. If you can, consider using a different user ID and a strong password to better protect your accounts.
Why Using Your Email is a Problem
Thieves use many tactics to obtain sensitive information. One trick they use is known as multi-purposing. This strategy is similar to social engineering; it uses one piece of known information to try and obtain other details. In the case of email addresses, this strategy takes a known email address and uses it to try and crack passwords on financial and other accounts.
When thieves get your email address, they then have one piece of the puzzle, making it that much easier to obtain your personal information like birth dates, SSNs, account numbers, etc. If the amount of spam I receive is any indication, scammers can get email addresses pretty easily. The more information thieves have, the higher your ID theft risk.
While there are certainly times when an email address is the only option for creating a user ID, try to use other alternatives when you can. Just like passwords, user IDs should be complex and hard to crack. The more complicated your login credentials, the less likely thieves are to have access to your personal information.
In addition you can better protect your information, even when you must use an email as a user ID, by creating strong passwords. We’ve talked about this many times here on the blog; if you need a refresher this article is a good one.
February 12th, 2014
Tamara here, AllClear ID Investigator. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes to date. It is very likely that you or someone you know has become a victim. There are many aspects of identity theft that are widely known, such as phishing emails, Nigerian scams, and card skimmers. Here I am going to touch on some of the lesser known areas of identity theft.
Military personnel and members are particularly vulnerable.
Every day, in a multitude of ways, members of the military use their Social Security number. The number is used for everything from labeling one’s laundry bag to checking out sports equipment. Being conditioned to provide one’s social security number can lead to inadvertently disclosing it to an unfavorable party. It also increases the risk of it getting into the hands of identity thieves.
Former Army intelligence officer, now West Point professor, Lt. Col. Gregory Conti called for a change in the policy regarding personal information use by service personnel in a report he coauthored, The Military’s Cultural Disregard for Personal Information. In December of 2010, the Department of Defense stated Social Security numbers would no longer appear on new military ID cards.
Medical identity theft is a reality.
Even if you haven’t had your personal information stolen and used to open fraudulent acounts, there’s another area where your information may be used: for medical treatment. A thief may make a fake ID and use it to obtain treatment, and you may not become aware of it until it hits your credit report or is reflected on an Explanation of Benefits. If you discover you have become a victim of medical identity theft, the FTC has a number of tips to help direct you on the path of clearing it.
Computer games and consoles are also susceptible to attack.
As the population becomes more aware of phishing attacks via email, the attackers are taking another route: video games and consoles. Be aware of notices claiming there are issues with your account information requesting you either click on a link, which may download malware, or provide your personal information. The best bet to avoid falling victim to a phishing attempt is to go to the legitimate compnay website if you need to interact with them and go from there.
Search engine poisoning is deceitful.
As you research what you suspect to be a scam or a phishing attack, be careful in your review of the results that are populated by your search engine. Identity thieves have been manipulating the search results so their fake site appears higher. There are a number of things to look out for to help determine whether or not the website is real, including spelling and/or grammatical errors, slight differences to the company’s logo, or an incorrect UR (hover your cursor over the URL to see where it routes you).
Fake Wi-Fi hotspots are a trap!
Generally, one should exercise caution when using public Wi-Fi hotspots, though they tend to be safe. But, there is a chance you could inadvertently be logging into a fake Wi-Fi hotspot that appears to be the airport’s, hotel’s, or coffee shop’s hotspot. Though it is not blaringly obvious as to whether or not it is fake, there are a few things to watch out for. One item to check for is the name of the hotspot. Make sure it matches the one the facility has advised you to use. Another would be to check the URL of the first page. If it matches the name of wherever it claims to be, it usually is safe.
These tips should help you avoid falling victim to ID theft from one of the less commone methods. As always, please contact us if you have a question or are in need of assistance.
February 3rd, 2014
Jackie here. Last year we warned you about a tech support scam that was going around. Scammers were contacting people by phone pretending to be from major companies like Microsoft. They would then remotely access the victim’s computer, stealing information and charging for their “services”. While this scam was scary, I recently learned of a new variation on the tech support scam that is even trickier and that has the potential to claim many more victims. Be on the lookout for this scam and never share your financial information or computer login credentials with an unknown caller.
This scam is a follow up to the tech support scam we saw in 2012 and 2013. This time the callers will ask if you’ve recently received tech support. They claim that if you received services you could possibly receive a refund. There are several variations to this scam, including ones where they offer to refund those that were unsatisfied and ones where they claim the company is going out of business and refunding those that have already paid.
The scammer claims they need bank account or credit card information to process the claim. They may ask for remote access to your computer, possibly under the guise of helping you fill out paperwork. This scam has the potential to create double the trouble for those who fell victim to the last scam, as well as reaching new victims.
Avoiding this Scam
Don’t fall victim to this scam or ones like it. If you have paid for phony tech support services, file a complaint with FTC and dispute the charges with your credit card company. Legitimate companies will not call and offer to reverse the charges for you. Never provide your bank account or credit card information to an unsolicited caller.
January 31st, 2014
Jackie here. We’ve talked a lot about protecting your kids from identity theft. Have you ever considered the impact your kids might have on YOUR credit score? Children and teens use the internet a lot and if they aren’t careful they could potentially expose people in your house to identity theft. Teach your kids how to stay safe online. This important lesson won’t just protect them, but will protect your identity as well.
To keep your identity safe and teach your kids good online behavior, make sure they understand these essential internet safety rules:
Do your teens know how to create a password? A strong password should be a combination of letters (upper and lowercase), numbers and symbols. Teach your kids to avoid words found in the dictionary, names of pets and nicknames. Any ‘common knowledge’ information that can easily be discovered online by a savvy ID thief (think birthdays and maiden names) should also not be used as passwords. For more password tips, check out these articles on our blog; we talk about password safety often.
Never Download Without Approval
That free game might be a lot of fun, but it could be exposing your computer to spyware and capturing sensitive important entered on your computer. To help you kids to master the art of smart downloading, have them ask you for approval first. You can teach them which downloads are safe and which are identity theft traps—reading the data usage policies of the apps is a good place to look for information about if and how your personal info will be tracked.
Be Careful Who You Friend
Facebook and other social media sites are big draws for teen users. Make sure your children only accept friend requests from actual friends they know in-person. Accepting friend requests from unknown people can expose personal and family information to strangers. Take time to go through your children’s social media accounts with them, making sure that they are using good practices when selecting friends. You may also want to review privacy settings with your teen occasionally.
Don’t Share Personal Information Via Email
Does your child know how to identify a phishing email or a scam? Teach your child how to recognize email scams as children may be more likely to fall victim or to share personal family information that could lead to identity theft.
Teaching your teen good internet practices won’t just protect them; it could also keep you safe from identity theft.