Identity theft is one of the most common types of fraud affecting consumers today. After obtaining another’s personal information or data, thieves use it to rack up credit card charges, apply for documents and even transfer property. Besides the financial losses, victims face months of stress as they clear their names, change passwords and resecure their personal information.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft scams is to safeguard your personal information and know what to look for. While identity theft methods are always evolving, there are a few common threads. One certainty: Scammers focus on easy targets.
Here are some identity theft ploys to be aware of and ways to protect yourself all year.
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Online Shopping Scams
Online shopping scams can consist of fraudulent websites, credit card fraud, gift card scams and hacking public Wi-Fi to get sensitive information. They are especially common during the holiday season when online shopping is at its height, and when shoppers typically overlook red flags.
How to avoid these scams: Always make purchases on secure Wi-Fi networks or use a virtual private network (VPN) when one isn’t available. Only shop from trusted and familiar retailers whose website URLs begin with “https” to indicate they securely encrypt your information. Review your accounts and statements regularly to ensure no fraudulent action has taken place. If you see an unfamiliar charge, report it to your bank immediately for dispute.
It’s generally safer to use credit cards rather than debit cards for online purchases since credit card purchases aren’t tied to your personal funds. And as an added measure of safety, avoid storing your credit card information on shopping websites. Manually entering your account information may feel like a chore, but it’s worth the extra effort. If you lose a device, a cybercriminal could have easy access to stored account details to make fraudulent purchases or sell your account information.
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The Phishing Scam
This popular identity theft racket occurs when scammers send you an email disguised as a message from a legitimate business or organization in hopes that you will provide them with personal data such as account numbers, passwords or your Social Security number. These emails often are very cleverly crafted, using exact logos and return email addresses that seem legitimate.
How to avoid this scam: Never click through links on emails unless you know the sender. Never send secure personal data in an email. If a business claims it needs to confirm your personal information, close the email and log into your account through the official website to update your information. You may also want to contact the business to confirm it did not send the email and alert staff to a potential scam.
IRS Refunds and Winning Lottery Scams
You’ve heard the saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” 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 lottery winnings – 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 only will contact you with a letter sent to your home 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, but it could also affect your own medical records, treatment plans and possibly your credit score.
How to avoid this scam: Ensure 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 for 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.
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Have you ever been the victim of an identity theft scam? Share your tips for avoiding scams in the comments.