Consumer Protection | Business Protection

Top 9 Things to Avoid Online

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.
  • Visiting a Website that Requires You to Read a Privacy Policy or a Terms of Agreement Statement- You might not think that a privacy policy could increase your ID theft risk, but the study authors certainly do. They found that both required consent to privacy policies and terms of agreement were risk factors for being a victim of fraud. This doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t visit these sites, but you should be aware that this is a potential problem behavior. To be fair, one reason for this is the fact that websites requiring privacy policies and agreements to terms of use are sites that collect personal information that can sometimes become compromised.
  • 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.
  • Believing Everything You See- If you regularly read our blog, you probably know that banks won’t send emails asking for personal information. Just because you receive an email, doesn’t mean it is true. Likewise, don’t believe that a privacy policy means you’re safe from having your personal information shared with other companies.

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.

Check out the full study report here.

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Goodbye to 2014 Tax Season

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.

Here’s a great article about tax ID theft from ABC News.

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Is it Safe to Visit Shortened URLs?

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.

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Scam Alert: Don’t be Fooled by the Verizon Voucher Scam

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.

The Scam

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.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

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ID Theft a Top Complaint in 2013

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:

FTC ID Theft Site

Identity Theft Resource Center

Medical ID Theft site from the Office of the Inspector General

Tax ID Theft Info from the IRS

We also share ID theft tips, resources and information here on our blog, on Twitter and our Facebook page.

Keep yourself safe from identity theft this year!

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CFPB Tips: What to do After a Data Breach Notification

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.

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Scam Alert: Flappy Bird Scams are Flapping Around

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.

The Scam

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.

Research

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.

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Scam Alert: Fake Funeral Notices

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.

The Scam

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.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

 

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Resource for Parents: Teach Kids about Online Safety

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.

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Email Addresses as User IDs – The Risks of Combining the Two

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.

Safer Solutions

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.

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A Deeper Look into Identity Theft

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.

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Scam Alert: Tech Support Scam Revisited

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.

The Scam

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.

Learn more about this scam from the FTC.

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Is Your Child Increasing Your ID Theft Risk?

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:

Strong Passwords

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.

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NITVAN Seeks to Help ID Theft Victims

January 30th, 2014

Jackie here. Are you a victim of identity theft? While ID theft is a growing problem, it isn’t one that you have to suffer alone. Whether you are having problems with financial identity theft, tax identity theft or have general questions, help is available. One great resource to turn to is the National Identity Theft Victim Assistance Networks Program (NITVAN), a new organization started by the federal Office for Victims of Crime. With trained professionals working in coalitions around the country, this organization is focused on getting identity theft victims the help they need.

What is NITVAN?

Every ID theft victim has a different story. Financial ID theft can devastate finances, making it difficult to obtain loans and pay bills. Criminal ID theft has resulted in false arrests and legal battles. Tax ID theft can create problems with the IRS that include lost refunds and false employment records. With many different types of identity theft, there is no one simple way to resolve the problem. NITVAN understands that identity theft is a complex and growing problem and seeks to help victims receive better support.

Coalitions across the country coordinate with the National Network to provide victims with the help they need. Their website has a rich assortment of tools for identity theft victims. Use their Resource Map to find local resources that may be available in your state.

Identity theft is a growing problem, a fact that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Do your best to protect your information and catch the problem early and remember if you need help, NITVAN is a valuable resource to all identity theft victims.

Learn more about NITVAN here.

 

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Today is Data Privacy Day!

January 28th, 2014

Jackie here. Happy Data Privacy Day! How will you celebrate this year? Data Privacy Day is today (January 28th); it serves as an excellent reminder to take back control of our data and find ways to limit and control what we share. There’s nothing wrong with sharing data, but we do need to know what we’re sharing and make sure those we trust with our information will properly protect it.

The annual Data Privacy Day celebration is stacking up to be a good one this year. In addition to local events held across the country, there are several great (many free) webinars scheduled to help you learn more about privacy and what you can do to protect yourself and your family. Check out the list of events and attend one if you can.

If you can’t attend one of the Data Privacy Day events, you can still get in on the fun. At the Stay Safe Online Privacy Library, you’ll find privacy resources, videos and information. Learn why privacy matters, find out about cookies or study up on identity theft.

A fun way to help your kids celebrate is to send them a link to this Privacy Quiz. After they’re done, review their responses with them and take a few moments to teach your children about how to safely share online. (The quiz can be fun for adults too!)

To round out the celebration, check up on your privacy settings. This helpful guide will teach you to manage your privacy on top websites like Amazon, Pandora, Flickr and more.
Let’s make today the day we protect our privacy. Get in on the fun and share with friends so they can celebrate too!

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ID Theft is Changing, Not Going Away

January 22nd, 2014

Jackie here. Here on the AllClear ID blog we talk a lot about ID theft including ways to protect your family, trends, scams and identity theft resources. On other sites, though, ID theft isn’t as big of a focus. While you might not be seeing identity theft news on CNN or Yahoo! every day, it’s important to remember the problem still exists. Each year, ID theft generates economic losses similar to those incurred with natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy caused $20 billion in damage; ID theft creates losses of about $20.8 billion annually). While laws are being enacted to better protect us and law enforcement is getting better at catching thieves, identity theft still wreaks havoc on lives every day. If you haven’t been a victim, you probably know someone who is.

We talk a lot about data breaches, a problem that seems to be getting worse. For the last nine years there has been an average of more than one breach each day. Due to this increase in the availability of stolen information, it is estimated that the price of an identity is just $25, less than the cost of a steak dinner.

ID Theft is Changing

While ID theft is still a big problem, it is changing. Once credit card fraud was the big worry, now tax identity theft is rising and medical records are becoming a hot target for thieves. Enforcing the law is getting more difficult too, as thieves use the internet to hide their activities and identities.

The changing landscape of ID theft makes this problem no less disastrous than it once was, but much more complex. Will we someday see the same protections on our medical records as we have on our credit reports?
While identity theft is changing, it is important to realize that it is still a problem. What can we do? Remain vigilant. Check your credit reports and bank statements. If you find an inaccuracy, report it and correct it. Don’t think your children are immune from the problem; they are at risk too. Now is not the time to stop fighting against ID theft—just because it’s not making headlines every day, doesn’t mean the risk is no longer there.

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Florida KIDS Act

January 20th, 2014

Aaron here, AllClear ID Investigator. Becoming a victim of identity theft is not just something that happens to adults; children are heavily targeted as well. Recently, the Florida state legislature met about a new bill that they hope will prevent child ID theft, called the KIDS Act (S.B.242). Adam Putman, the Agriculture Commissioner of FL testified in favor of the S.B.246, bringing with him a former foster child who was a victim of identity theft, Ashtavia Maddox.

“I came here today to share my story with you because I want to help prevent other children from going through what I’m going through,” said Ashtavia.

“It is estimated that more than 50,000 children in Florida become victims of identity theft every year,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Identity theft can have a devastating impact on their futures. Bad credit as a result of identity theft will keep someone from gaining employment, obtaining a school loan and accessing credit. To think about the opportunities Ashtavia Maddox has missed out on because of what has happened to her is heartbreaking. The KIDS Act can prevent identity theft from destroying the lives of others.”

Ashtavia Maddox, now 22 years old, found out there was a problem with her identity when applying for her first apartment when she was 18. She filled out her application and found out she was denied. She also applied for other lines of credit onyl to be denied for those as well. She and her guardian found out this was because she was a victim of identity theft.

It is hoped that the KIDS Act, which will allow the parents or guardians of a child under the age of 18 to create a credit file, will help catch any cases of child ID theft before they get out of control. Once the file is set up, it can be frozen indefinitely, preventing thieves from gaining access to the stolen identity.

In Florida, it is estimated that more than 50,000 people fall victim of identity theft each year. It’s recorded that over a $100 million dollars is taken every year from children whose identities have been compromised.

While adults are able to protect themselves from identity theft by monitoring their credit or ordering a fraud alert or freeze on their credit, there are currently no proactive measures to protect minors from identity theft in many states. The KIDS Act could be a first step toward that sort of protection in Florida.

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Tax ID Theft Twitter Chat: 6 Tips to Keep You Safe

January 17th, 2014

Jackie here. As Tax Identity Theft Awareness week comes to a close, I wanted to share a few of the things I learned this week with you. The FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center co-hosted a great Twitter chat this week; check out the hashtag #IDTheftChat for more great tips!

Don’t Carry Your Social Security Card

We’ve told you before not to carry your SSN in your wallet, but many people still do. I thought this was a great reminder to check my wallet for things that shouldn’t be in there. Other things you shouldn’t carry include bank PINs, account numbers and passwords. If you’re a business, safe guard your EIN just like you would a SSN.

Shred. Shred, Shred

The three items thieves need to commit tax ID theft are your SSN, your birth date, and your name. If you don’t shred your trash and personal information some of these will surely end up in the trash. Shredders are relatively inexpensive and are a priceless tool in fighting all types of ID theft. If you don’t have a shredder of your own, check with your local Better Business Bureau; they often host shred days with free shredding services.

Watch for Scams

All year round, but especially during tax season, thieves impersonate the IRS to get information. Watch for websites, emails, tweets and phone messages that claim to be from the IRS. If you don’t know whether something is legitimate, double check before you share personal information.

Keep Important Documents

When filing taxes you may need to hang on to some documents for several years. If you’re storing these digitally make sure they are encrypted. If you store hard copies, keep them in a secure place away from prying eyes. This neat chart was shared during the chat to help you know how long to keep each record.

Businesses Fall Victim Too

Consumers aren’t the only ones that are at risk for tax related ID theft. Businesses have risks too. The FTC shared a blog post they’ve created to help businesses understand tax ID theft. If you own a business or help manage one, this post is a must read.

File Early

Tax season is upon us so start gathering those records and file early. The sooner you file, the lower your risk for tax ID theft. When you do file use a secure connection if you file online, never public Wi-Fi. If you mail in your taxes, take them to the post office directly.

The FTC’s Twitter chat for Tax Identity Theft Awareness week was a great one. Check it out now!

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Tax Identity Theft: My Story

January 16th, 2014

Jenna here. Tax identity theft is a topic that has recently become important to me after falling victim to it last year. You may be wondering how someone with so much knowledge of identity theft fell victim to the crime and the answer is that it can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of knowledge.

How It Happened

With the help of an accountant, I prepared all of the necessary paperwork to file my tax return, and left the office feeling very accomplished—I had knocked a huge item off my to-do list. A day or two later, I received a call from my accountant to tell me that he received word from the IRS that someone had already filed a tax return under my name. Initially, I couldn’t believe this happened to me. I was aware of tax identity theft, but thought I had taken steps to prevent it by safeguarding my personal information, filing early, and using a trusted accountant.

After the initial shock wore off, I began to worry about sorting things out. How was I going to file my return? What if the issue couldn’t be resolved? How did someone get my SSN and other personal information?

Getting Things Resolved

I am happy to report that the resolution process went much smoother than I expected it to. The first thing I did was to call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 to see what steps I should take. The steps were surprisingly simple. I went online and downloaded the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039 and filled it out. Next, I made a copy of it and mailed it in to the specified address. Within a week or two, I was notified that my identity had been restored with the IRS, and I was able to file my return successfully.

While I was waiting for the news, I made sure to pull copies of my credit report (full disclaimer, I use our service, so I was able to get assistance from a colleague) to see if there was any suspicious activity—someone did use my SSN to file the return, so I wanted to be sure I was safe. Fortunately, no other activity was detected, and things are back to normal for now. Just to be safe, I did change my bank account passwords and PIN numbers.

What I Learned

This experience taught me that no one is immune to identity theft; even someone who is surrounded by it every day isn’t immune. In addition, I learned that in some cases, identity theft can be resolved successfully by taking the proper steps to detect, report, and resolve the issue. The IRS has great identity protection resources on their website that I found very helpful.

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How To Spot Tax ID Theft

January 15th, 2014

Jenna here. As this is Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, and as we head into tax season, we think it’s important for you to know how to spot tax-related identity theft.

How to Spot It

Fortunately, tax identity theft isn’t like traditional identity theft in that it is usually discovered fairly quickly. In most cases, consumers don’t have to play detective in order to discover tax ID theft—The IRS will contact you via letter if they notice an instance of more than one person using the same SSN. Please remember that they will not contact you via email, text, or social media and that this sort of communication is likely a scam.

If someone else uses your SSN to get a job and their employer reports their income to the IRS using your SSN, the situation is a bit more complicated. Chances are, when the IRS notices that you filed your own return (which didn’t contain the fraudulent income), they will send you a letter stating that you received wages that you failed to report. If you ever receive one of these letters, do not simply disregard it and think it is a mistakecontact the IRS immediately via a verified number on their website. Be sure you keep record of your communication with them (date, time, name of the person you spoke with) to ensure the issue is resolved.

For more tips, visit this helpful FTC page.

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Prosecutions Increasing for Tax Identity Theft

January 14th, 2014

Jenna here. The IRS shed some light on the steps they are taking to crack down on tax identity theft last week and we found some of the information very interesting. Here are some key highlights from 2013:

  • The IRS launched 1,492 criminal investigations into identity theft in 2013, up 66% from the number of investigations in 2012
  • Prosecutions and indictments more than doubled
  • The IRS blocked more than $50 billion in fraudulent tax refunds
  • The IRS currently has more than 3,000 agents working to prevent tax identity theft

You can read the full article here.

 

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Video of the Week: Stealing a Tax Refund

January 13th, 2014

Jenna here. Each week, we will be posting an intersting video clip. In honor of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, we chose a video that offers a sneak peak into just how easy it is to steal a tax refund.

Stealing Your Tax Refund Is Easier Than You Think, USA Today

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Tax Identity Theft: The Basics

January 13th, 2014

Jenna here. This is our first post for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, so we wanted to start with the basics. Tax identity theft may seem like a simple topic to understand, but there can be a lot of misinformation out there and we don’t want anyone to fall victim simply because they didn’t get the right info. The following information was disseminated by the FTC specifically for this event, so rest assured it is reliable. Be sure to check back each day for a new tax identity theft post.

What Is Tax Identity Theft?

Tax identity theft happens when someone files a phony tax return using your personal information — like your Social Security number — to get a tax refund from the IRS. It also can happen when someone uses your Social Security number to get a job or claims your child as a dependent on a tax return. Tax identity theft is the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission. The IRS says tax identity theft is a top priority and says it has hired new staff, explored new technologies, and adopted new procedures to fight it.

What You Can Do

  • File your tax return early in the tax season, if you can.
  • Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically, or mail your tax return directly from the post office.
  • Shred copies of your tax return, drafts, or calculation sheets you no longer need.
  • Respond to all mail from the IRS as soon as possible.
  • Know the IRS won’t contact you by email, text, or social media. If the IRS needs information, it will contact you by mail.
  • Don’t give out your Social Security number (SSN) unless necessary.
  • Research a tax preparer thoroughly before you hand over personal information.
  • If your SSN has been compromised, contact the IRS ID Theft Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
  • Check your credit report at least once a year for free at annualcreditreport.com to make sure no other accounts have been opened in your name.

What To Do If You Do Fall Victim

Tax identity theft victims typically find out about the crime when they get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed in the their name, or IRS records show they received wages from an employer they don’t know. If you get a letter like this, don’t panic. Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

More information about tax identity theft is available from the FTC at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft, the IRS at http://www.irs.gov/identity-theft. We’ve also talked a lot about tax identity theft on our blog. You can find your state/local office contact information here: http://www.irs.gov/uac/Contact-Your-Local-IRS-Office-1

 

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FTC Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

January 9th, 2014

Jenna here. We have exciting news! The FTC is hosting their first ever Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week January 13th-17th. That’s next week! To do our part to raise awareness about this growing issue, we will be posting helpful information and links on our blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages every  day, so be sure to check them out for great information. To make the most out of next week, here are some helpful resources you should take a look at to ensure you don’t miss out on the action:

FTC Press Release about the event:
http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2013/11/ftc-announces-national-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week-jan-13

FTC’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week website:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week

Regional Events for Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029b-tax-identity-theft-regional-events

Check back next week to learn all about tax identity theft just in time for tax season!

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Where To Get Official IRS Information

January 8th, 2014

Jackie here. As we roll into the New Year, our thoughts turn to getting things in order for taxes. As tax identity theft is a big problem, it’s important to always turn to trusted sources when looking for tax information. Did you know the IRS has several different resources for you to use? Whether you like Tumblr, YouTube, iTunes, or Twitter, there’s an official IRS resource to help you get through tax season successfully. Which of these resources will you check out? Let us know which is your favorite!

  • Official Smartphone App- Interact with the IRS using your Android or IOS smartphone via the IRS2Go V3 app. With the app you can check refund status, get tax receipts, tax tips and advice and stay up to date with the latest IRS news.
  • Tumblr- If you’re on Tumblr, be sure to check out the IRS’ official page. The page was new for 2013 and already has received more than 200,000 views. One identity-friendly feature is the scam alerts and warnings posted on the site.
  • YouTube- Need help with your taxes? The more than 130 videos on the IRS YouTube channel might help. There’s even a video specifically created to help victims of ID theft.
  • Twitter- With five official IRS Twitter accounts, there’s one for every situation. For IRS news and tax related announcements follow @IRSnews or @IRSenEspanol.  Tax preparers might also be interested in @IRStaxpros and job seekers can find information at @RecruitmentIRS. The final Twitter page is devoted to the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service and is found @YourVoiceAtIRS.
  • iTunes- Love Podcasts? Check out the IRS collection of helpful audio files. We recommend “Protect Yourself from Identity Theft” and “Are You a Victim of Identity Theft?”
  • Facebook- Although not commonly updated, the IRS official Facebook page is available for those that want to interact with the agency; you’ll likely get more information, however, by accessing some of their other informational channels.

As you get ready for tax season, check out these helpful IRS resources; be on the lookout for ID theft warnings and scam alerts from us as well!

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S.C. Launches New ID Theft Unit

January 7th, 2014

George here, AllClear ID Investigator. In October 2012, the U.S. Secret Service detected a security breach at the South Carolina Department of Revenue. The attack exposed 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers. The stolen data also included consumer tax return information and businesses’ Tax ID numbers. South Carolina hired a cyber-security firm to stop the attack and install new hardware and software at the Revenue Department to strengthen their security. The state also paid for one year of credit monitoring and identity theft protection for those affected.

Consumer Affairs documented 84 security breaches before the DOR breach in October 2013, affecting more than 1 million state consumers, and 36 more security breaches since, affecting 77,000 South Carolinians. Consumer Affairs officials said South Carolina ranks 17th in the nation for identity theft complaints, it was ranked 36th in 2005.

After the attack, legislation was proposed to revamp security procedures at state agencies to prevent it from happening again. Lawmakers authorized and funded a new identity theft division at the Department of Consumer Affairs; the unit was officially announced on October 1st 2013. The four person team will educate South Carolinians in preventing ID theft, enforcing state identity theft laws, and guiding consumers through credit restoration. The Consumer Affairs ID Theft unit will help anyone in South Carolina, not just those affected by the DOR breach. Unit director Marti Phillips says, “We’re going to provide education and outreach to consumers across South Carolina about what identity theft is, the steps that consumers can take to protect themselves, and then what they need to know if they’re the victim of identity theft.” More information can be found at http://www.consumer.sc.gov/. The website also provided a toll free number, 1-800-922-1594.

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ITRC Twitter Chat- 6 Online Shopping Tips

January 3rd, 2014

Jackie here. If you think Twitter is only a place for celebrity selfies and favorite quotes, you’re missing out on some great identity theft advice. Recently, the Identity Theft Resource Center partnered with other organizations to put on an ID theft Twitter chat. Keep reading for some of our favorite tips from the event.

  1. Trusted Devices- One topic of conversation during the chat involved trusted devices for online shopping. The experts recommended using devices that you know and trust, and that others don’t have access to. One went so far as to say, “Personal devices only for me.” When you get ready to make a purchase, make sure you know the device you’re using is secure.
  2. Keeping Your Digital Wallet Secure- Shopping with your smartphone has risks, but there are ways to make your shopping experience safer. During the Twitter chat a link was shared to this slideshow presentation titled “Securing
    Your Digital Wallet
    ”. This is a must-watch for all of you with smartphones. It has great tips about choosing mobile payment options and protecting yourself when shopping online.
  3. Look for HTTPS- An easy way to stay safe when shopping online is to check for https in the URL. This indicates a secure connection.
  4. Online Shopping Credit Card- Another helpful tip was to use a low limit credit card just for online shopping. If the number is compromised it is easier to find problems and the amount lost will be much lower.
  5. Use Verified Apps- The experts agreed that telling which sites are secure can be tricky on smartphones. Their solution? Use verified apps instead. This makes it easy to shop while knowing you’re at a secure, legitimate site.
  6. Think About Security- I thought this tip from the chat was priceless: “Think about security proactively rather than reactively, more often than not you won’t find it as an inconvenience.”

Check out the Twitter chat yourself (you’ll find it on the ITRC Twitter page on December 5) for more great tips on safe online shopping. Also check out these ID theft tips from the FTC’s Twitter summertime Twitter chat.

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ID Theft Trend Predictions for 2014

January 1st, 2014

Jackie here. As we say goodbye to 2013 and welcome in the new year, it’s always interesting to look back on ID theft trends and make a few predictions for the coming year. Let’s take a quick look at our list of threats and predictions
for last year
… did they pan out? Then I’ll give you a few predictions for the ID theft trends that may be coming in the future.

  • “Child ID Theft Will Continue to Rise”- Although the numbers aren’t out yet showing the number of child ID theft victims in 2013, a 2012 report found that the problem was certainly prevalent. The study found that 2.5% of U.S. households with children had experienced child identity fraud at some point. Legislators have been passing child ID theft laws as well. This year, several states either passed or are working on laws to allow parents to freeze their children’s credit, requiring foster agencies to help clean up children’s credit reports and creating child ID theft prevention programs.
  • “Monetization of Social Networks”- Social networks certainly expanded their money making efforts this last year. Twitter went public with their stock, generating a few IPO related scams along the way. Social media scams are still big business for scammers, so keep an eye open for offers of fake gift cards, airline miles, etc. in the coming year too.
  • Tax ID Theft- Tax ID theft continues to be a problem. As the numbers roll in for 2013, we are seeing fairly large increases in the tax ID theft rates across states. In all of 2012 there were 1.2 million taxpayers with tax id theft problems. In just the first 6 months of 2013, there were 1.6 million victims.

Now that we’ve reviewed a few of last year’s predictions, let’s move on to what we see coming as we roll into 2014.

  • More Companies Shift to the Cloud- Industry leaders predict that companies will continue to shift their data storage needs to the cloud. What does this mean for you? It means increased risk. When information is stored online it can be accessed from anywhere, both by the companies themselves and by hackers. Sure, it’s convenient, but it also means an increased risk of data breaches and security incidents related to data stored in the cloud.
  • Mobile Malware- The days of not having to worry about viruses on your mobile phone are coming to an end. It’s likely that we will see increases in mobile malware, especially on Android phones. If you haven’t secured your phone yet, do so. Thieves always like an easy target.  This fact sheet from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has some great tips for securing your smartphone.
  • Passwords That Aren’t Passwords- People are notorious for creating bad passwords (think “password” or “1234567”). As companies seek to create more secure devices and accounts, this means finding solutions to the password that aren’t as easy to compromise. Biometric technologies are one possible solution. Maybe in 2014 we will see a smartphone that uses a heartbeat for identification or an online bank account that uses fingerprints to log you in.
  • Increased Medical ID Theft- As medical records continue to shift online, the odds of a medical record breach continue to increase. Medical professionals have been warned to expect increased data security risks for 2014.
  • Increased Mobile Payment Fraud- It is expected that the mobile payment industry will grow by more than 30% a year for the next several years. As this payment method grows, thieves will likely get in on the action too, leading to an increase in mobile payment fraud.

May your 2014 be filled with health and happiness and, of course, be ID theft free.

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New Phishing Trend: Attachments

December 31st, 2013

Jackie here. We’ve warned you numerous times not to click on links in unknown emails (here, here and here recently), but this scam proves that phishing doesn’t always involve email links. Emails can still be malicious even if there isn’t link in the text. Keep on the alert for link-free phishing and protect yourself from ID theft and fraud.

The Scam

We’re all familiar with the traditional phishing scams. You receive an email that appears to be from a legitimate company or person that encourages you to follow a link contained in the email. Some phishing emails promise a great deal on a new TV, others alert you to a problem with an account, but they all lead to malicious content. Some lead you to look-alike websites that get you to enter usernames and passwords, while others lead to malware that will track and capture your personal information.

This twist on the traditional phishing scam doesn’t include links in the email body, but instead hides them in unexpected places. When checking your email, remain alert. Scams can be lurking in places other than the email body.

Beware of Attachments

One new tactic is to embed malware in email attachments. You click on the attachment and the file causes your browser to crash while installing malware. This approach is fairly common, and you may already be aware of it.
If the attachment opens successfully however, most people assume they’re safe. But, danger can be lurking inside of the attachment—some scammers use innocent looking attachments to hide malicious links. That link in the PDF file you just opened is just as risky as a link inside of an email.

Don’t click on links in emails, even if they come hiding inside of an attachment. As always, we will keep you updated with any new scams that pop up!

To learn more about this scam and to see some examples of the scam in action check out this article.

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Scam Alert: Fake Credit Line Increase Emails

December 30th, 2013

Jackie here. I recently learned of a new scam fraudsters are using to steal personal information. This scam is a tricky one and could easily fool even the most cautious of consumers into sharing information they shouldn’t. Be on the lookout for spammy emails and remember that banks and credit card companies won’t typically use email to messages that ask for sensitive information.

The Scam

This scam uses excitement to draw victims in by sending an email indicating they are eligible for a credit line increase. This offer can be especially exciting around the holidays when a little extra spending power is certainly welcome. The email encourages the recipient to click on an email link to activate the new spending limit. Don’t do it; clicking the link could lead to malware, requests for personal information, and a host of other problems.

Avoiding the Scam

While this scam might seem convincing at first, there are ways you can protect yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Be Cautious of Emails- Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions rarely send account-related information via email. Usually they’ll send an email notification of an update to your account which you can view by logging into their website. If you have questions about your accounts, contact the company directly. They can tell you if you’ve received a credit line increase, etc. without you having to follow a fishy email link.
  • Common Signs of Spam- Another way to avoid scams is to look for signs of spam and fraud. Does the email use your name or does it simply address you by email address? Most reputable companies will use your name in an email while scammers may only use your email address. Misspelled words and awkwardly worded text are other common signs of scam emails. In addition, reputable emails will often contain links to the company’s full site, social media accounts, and other legitimate resources.
  • Skip the Spam Folder- My email accounts are quite adept at finding and moving scams to the spam folder. While this isn’t a surefire method for identifying scams, I know to be extra cautious of emails I find in my spam folder. Take a look at your spam filter settings to make sure you are making the most of this resource.

Learn more about this scam from the Better Business Bureau.

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