Identity theft is one of the most common types of criminal fraud affecting consumers today. It refers to crimes in which someone unlawfully obtains another’s personal information or data, and then uses it for fraudulent purposes. Identity theft scams often result in financial losses, not to mention emotional stress.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft scams is to safeguard your personal information and know what to look out for.
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Identity Theft Scams to Watch
While identity theft scams are always changing and evolving, there are a few common threads among them. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
The Phishing Scam
This popular identity theft racket occurs when scammers send you an email disguised as a legitimate business or organization in hopes that you will provide them with personal data such as account numbers, passwords or your Social Security numbers. These emails are often very cleverly crafted, using exact logos and return email addresses that seem legit.
How to avoid this scam: Never click through links on emails unless you know the sender. Do not ever send secure personal data in an email. If a business is claiming they need to confirm your personal information, close the email and log into your account through the official website to update your info.
IRS Refunds and Winning Lottery Scams
You’ve heard the saying, “if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” Keep this in mind when you get emails or phone calls suggesting that you’re about to be rich. Scammers will send out official-looking letters or emails with news of huge IRS refunds or winning lotteries – all you have to do is send them your bank account number so they can deposit the funds. Once criminals have your bank account number, they can do all kinds of financial damage.
How to avoid this scam: The IRS will only contact you with a letter sent to your direct address. Never give your bank account number to anyone you don’t know.
Medical Identity Theft Scams
A thief can steal your personal information and use your identity to see doctors, obtain prescriptions or file claims with your health insurance provider. Not only does this scam cost insurance companies millions of dollars each year, it could also affect your own medical records, treatment plans and possibly your credit score.
COVID-19 is the latest hook used to draw in unsuspecting victim, with scammers pitching free vaccines, home testing kits and other fraudulent promises to steal medical and financial identities. Learn more.
How to avoid this scam: Check to see that your doctor’s office keeps medical records in a secure area. Ask for an insurance card without your Social Security number on it. Read insurance and medical statements regularly for any signs of abnormal activity.
Confirming Your Information Scams
Scammers pose as officials from your bank or credit card company and ask for your account numbers, passwords, or pin numbers in order to update their records. Sometimes they will ask for the three or four-digit security number from the back of your credit card. Calls or emails requesting this information should never be trusted.
How to avoid this scam: If you suspect a call is fraudulent, immediately ask the person’s name and phone number. This may be enough to scare them off. Regardless, hang up the phone without giving them your personal data, and call your bank or credit card company right away.
How to Protect Yourself From an Identity Theft Scam
You can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones from identity theft. Here are a few more tips to evade scammers.
- Never give out personal information over the phone or through email. If someone calls you claiming to be your doctor, bank, credit card company, etc., ask for their phone number and tell them that you will call them back later. If they suggest calling you back at a more convenient time, hang up, and immediately call the company and ask if they were trying to reach you.
- Keep tabs on your credit report. If your personal information has been stolen, you will almost definitely see signs of it in your credit report. Many credit cards offer credit report monitoring free of charge. You are also entitled to one free credit report annually from AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Report potential scams to the FTC. The Federal Trade Commission may not investigate every individual claim it receives, but it will document them to look for trends and signs of large-scale fraud. Use this link to file a fraud complaint with the FTC.
- Discuss identity theft with your family members. Children, teens and the elderly are the most vulnerable to identity theft scams. Discuss the latest scams with your family, and remind them not to share their personal information with callers or over email.
Identity theft can happen to anyone, but scammers will often focus on easy targets. By keeping your personal information safe and secure, you will make it much harder for scammers to single you out.
Have you ever been the victim of an identity theft scam? What tips do you have for our readers?
This post was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.