Are You Protected?
It can be tempting to tune out the news when it feels like all we hear are warnings of the next thing we should be worried about, but unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of dropping our guard when it comes to protecting our personal information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
- In 2018 there were 444,344 cases of identity theft, but that number skyrocketed to 1,387,615 people in 2020.
- In 2020, 4.7 million consumer complaints were filed that included cases of identity theft, fraud, and issues involving bankers, lenders, and credit bureaus, with financial losses of more than $3.3 billion.
- In 2022, 5.1 million consumers reported losing nearly $8.8 billion to scams!
With numbers like these on the rise, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant in protecting yourself. Any type of fraud can be frustrating to deal with, but some scenarios have been increasing and are potentially more damaging than others. You should especially watch out for the following:
Credit or Debit Card Fraud
Criminals have developed elaborate methods to steal credit or debit card information. Card skimmers are hard to detect and can be on gas pumps, ATM machines, ticket kiosks, parking meters and anywhere you might swipe your card. Chip cards are designed to be safer, avoiding the need to swipe the magnetic strip, but chip technology isn’t always used, and thieves are working to stay a step ahead. In addition to “skimmers” there are “shimmers” that can steal your information. A shimmer is a small chip that criminals slip inside a card reader, making it much harder to detect. The shimmer then reads the data from your chip card.
- What You Can Do: If your credit or debit card information is stolen and an attempt is made for an unusual or large purchase, it’s possible that your bank or credit card issuer will contact you to verify that the transaction is legitimate. However, it’s good practice to regularly monitor your credit card statements and bank account activity to ensure that no unauthorized activity is taking place. Within your online banking platform or credit card app you can enable alerts that send you either an email or text notification whenever there is any spending using your account. If you discover purchases you did not make, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to report the activity. The cards which may have been compromised can then be canceled and replacement cards issued. The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) limit your liability for unauthorized charges depending on the type of card and when you report the loss. If your credit card is stolen, the maximum amount you can be liable for is $50. If your ATM or debit card is stolen and you report it within 2 business days of learning about the loss or theft, the maximum you can be liable for is also $50. However, with debit and ATM cards, your liability increases the longer you wait to notify your bank.
A scammer pretends to be someone in authority, or someone you trust, and convinces you to send them money. This con takes many forms that are all variations of a high-pressure situation demanding your immediate attention. These callers are well-rehearsed criminals who create a sense of urgency. They may claim to be a representative of the IRS giving you a “chance to pay your overdue taxes before you are arrested” or they may pretend to be your grandchild in peril, in need of only your help – which always involves your money. Given that the FTC states this category of imposter scams is the most commonly reported, it’s clear that criminals who play on emotion can be effective.
- What You Can Do: Do not allow anyone to rush you into giving them money. Identify what could be going on. If a caller claims to be representing a business, such as a power company threatening to turn off your electricity for an overdue bill, hang up and immediately contact the customer service number on your invoice. Do not engage with unsolicited online requests and immediately disconnect any phone calls you receive asking for money, regardless of who they may say they are. As convincing as a scammer can sound, you may find that your grandchild is sitting in their dorm room at college and is not the one who called pleading for your help.
Fake Internet Shopping Sites
Fake shopping sites offering designer or hard-to-find items may look like legitimate online stores but placing an order with them can result in problems ranging from purchases not being delivered to theft of your information.
If you make a purchase through one of these sites it might not seem fake at first. You’ll get a confirmation email and a (fake) USPS tracking number. Many victims of these “stores” discover that their purchased items never show up, tracking numbers don’t work, and attempts to contact the seller either result in excuses and false promises to “investigate” what may have happened to your shipment, or no response at all. What’s even worse than the aggravation of undelivered products is the potentially greater harm of this scam site collecting a good amount of your personal information during the checkout process.
- What You Can Do: If you are considering a purchase from a website you are unfamiliar with, research it for red flags first. A quick search of the site’s name followed by “scam” or “reviews” could alert you to a problem. Double-check that there is a physical address and complete contact information including a phone number for the company on the website. Some sites don’t have this, and consumers place their order before realizing. You can also see if the Better Business Bureau has any information or complaints.
- If you feel that you have mistakenly made a purchase from a phony site, contact your credit card company or bank immediately, and consider updating the passwords for your online accounts.
Using personal details such as social security numbers, birthdates, employment information and addresses, criminals may steal or sell your identity for the purpose of opening fraudulent accounts and making purchases. What is most concerning about this type of fraud is that the victim may not even learn of the crime until they are notified of a debt by a collection department, notice the information on their credit report, or are contacted by their banking institution. Identity theft victims are typically not held responsible for accounts that can be proven as having been opened fraudulently but undoing the damage from this type of crime can take months or even years.
- What You Can Do: Make a habit of monitoring your bank accounts and your credit reports on a regular basis. Review your bills and watch for purchases you did not make. If you feel that your identity may have been stolen, place a freeze on your credit and contact creditors and debt collectors immediately.
Practice Good Habits
- Be extremely cautious about giving out personal information. Unless you have initiated contact and know exactly who you are dealing with, do not give out birthdates, mother’s maiden name, social security numbers, etc.
- Be leery of emails or phone calls asking you for information. Never respond to a query asking you to “verify a few details” because your account with a known merchant is supposedly closed or locked. It’s likely a scammer attempting to obtain your information. Even if they have some of your information, they may be fishing for more.
- Check your credit reports for accuracy. Watch out for new accounts, larger balances or anything that looks unfamiliar.
- Monitor your bank accounts regularly. Online apps make it easy to check your account activity and catch anything out of the ordinary.
- Update your passwords and pin numbers. Use unique, long and hard-to-guess passwords with a combination of letters, numbers, capitalization, and special characters.
- Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service that can help you detect signs of fraud early. There are free services such as Creditwise® from Capital One or paid services like IndentityForce®.
- If you do fall victim to a scam, report it to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. The government uses this data to keep you and others protected.
With criminals working hard to find new ways to steal from us, we must remain proactive in guarding our information and staying alert to any unexpected changes in our finances. If you would like more information on how to protect yourself, please contact us.