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Top identity theft scams on the rise
Did you know that in 2020 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received nearly five million fraud reports from consumers? And while we hate to be the bearer of (more) bad news, that statistic does not include those consumers who may not have realized they had experienced fraud, meaning the number is probably even higher. One of the top categories of reported fraud is identity theft, which is becoming more of an issue as we venture further into the digital age. So how do you avoid becoming an identify theft scam’s next victim? In this case, information is power—so read on to learn how to recognize some common identity theft scans.
Prizes, lotteries, and contests
We’ve all gotten those spam texts that congratulate us for entering a contest we don’t remember signing up for, complete with a link to click on to claim our prize. Read carefully: never click on strange links.
Even if you just click on one of these fraudulent links without entering additional information, many of these website and services have the ability to gain valuable information that is stored elsewhere—like on your Google Chrome account or from your Facebook app. If you do click on a link by mistake, exit ASAP and monitor your credit and other activity to ensure your personal info stays safe.
It’s hard to keep up with all your passwords—between social media, email, job-related resources, and even your home alarm keycode, you probably feel the need to keep your passwords simple and easy to remember. But you should know that using these simpler passwords makes it easier for scammers to gain your personal info—especially if you don’t change your password often.
Create passwords that don’t include your birthday, kids’ names, favorite pet, or your mother’s maiden name—this is all info that anyone can look up online. Instead, create passwords that are difficult to guess and include a lot of variables, like capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Bonus: you can use an online password storage system to help you out… just be sure to change your password to whatever service you use.
Unsolicited calls or emails
Raise your hand if you have gotten at least three calls today about your car’s supposed warranty expiring. The rate of spam calls has risen dramatically over the last few years, and while many of us know better than to trust the person talking about a nonexistent warranty, you should also know that many spam callers are working smarter to get you to take their call.
For instance, many spammers now use a local number that will increase the odds of you answering the call. Spammers also use email to personalize messages to you that seem legit enough to stay under the radar of your system’s spam filter. Use your common sense for these—if you didn’t purchase a “car warranty,” it can’t have expired. Send those calls to voicemail and then block the number or hit the “mark as spam” button and delete any weird emails you receive.
You’re on LinkedIn when you get a private message asking you to consider a job opportunity. The person’s profile seems legit, Googling the company yields some results, but something about the message doesn’t ring true. Before you can answer, the person messages again, telling you that you must decide quickly. This is a red flag situation—legitimate potential employers will not ask you to decide on a job online within a matter of seconds.
These high-pressure tactics are also used by some spam callers who try to convince you that your social security number has been compromised or that you are under arrest and the police are on the way. If you’re not sure about the legitimacy of a caller or messenger, ask for their info to call them back (which they will probably not give) and do some research on your own. If it feels wrong, trust your instincts.
Ignoring data breaches
As much as we wish it didn’t happen, data systems can fail, sometimes leaving your information vulnerable. When this happens, the company who was breached will contact you or post a public announcement, but it’s up to you to update and secure your information, usually by changing a password. Even reputable businesses can experience data breaches, so don’t think you don’t have to take a threat seriously just because you feel confident in the business.
While you may not think that a data breach from your favorite pizza place matters, consider how many times you have ordered online from this restaurant, and whether your credit card info may be stored in their data. Small issues can turn into big ones when it comes to strangers having access to your finances.
Scams designed for kids
It seems especially wrong to scam a child, but, unfortunately, it’s been known to happen. Even older kids don’t always understand that a nice person asking them for personal information may have bad intentions, so it’s important to talk to your kids about what kind of info they should share with strangers.
If your child enjoys playing online games where purchases can be made, lock down the accounts as much as possible to avoid being defrauded by another player. Even features like the chatrooms available on many games can be used as avenues to gain personal info, so monitor your kids’ chats (or turn the feature off) to make sure they are not oversharing.
It may seem like identity theft is inevitable—but it doesn’t have to be. You can take steps to ensure the safety of you and those around you by implementing some simple safeguards. Change your passwords often, don’t answer sketchy calls, always double check that your emails are from a legitimate source, and get into the habit of treating your personal information like the invaluable resource it is. Not saving passwords on websites might seem unnecessary now, but the potential of undoing a web of financial fraud makes these extra steps worth it.
Are you high risk for identity theft?
Young adults ages 18-24 are most at risk for identity theft and often targeted by people they know. But, it’s vital to understand and recognize that identity theft can happen to anyone—even you! Identity theft may not seem like a big deal until it happens to you. It can damage your credit report and financial history as a young adult. Knowing this, it’s crucial to safeguard your financial information—but what does that mean? Here are five ways you can keep yourself from being at risk for identity theft:
Don’t leave out credit or debit cards
It’s as simple as it sounds—don’t leave your credit or debit cards lying out, whether you’re at home or in public. For example, you’re at a restaurant and pay for the check. You leave the table for a few minutes to run to the bathroom—in that short period, someone could easily and quickly snap a photo of your credit or debit card and use that information to their advantage. You’d never know, either, until you check your bank account, your account is drained, and there are dozens of unfamiliar charges. An easy way to combat that is by putting your credit or debit card in your wallet as soon as you’re finished using it.
Don’t leave your wallet in an unlocked room or office
You may think your office is one of the safest places to leave your wallet, and that could be the case—but only if your office is locked. Anyone could walk by while you’re gone and grab your wallet that contains sensitive information, from your credit and debit card numbers, driver’s license number, and more. It seems tedious, but if you’re leaving your office, even for just a second, be sure to lock the door if you can. If you can’t, bring your wallet with you.
Safeguard personal documents
Lock up and protect any documents that contain personal information like bank account, Social Security, and personal identification (PIN) numbers. Your best bet is to store them in a safe deposit box at your financial institution or credit union. If you have copies of those documents or want to keep the original documents with you, purchase a fireproof safe for at-home storage. You can purchase a fireproof safe with a locking mechanism for less than $50. Not only does it protect you from identify theft, but it also safeguards those documents in the event of an emergency, like fires or floods. And, be sure to shred receipts, credit card offers, and bank statements at least once per month.
Keep your guard up
Never provide financial information over the phone, via text, or email. One scam on the rise, called spoofing, allows fraudsters to fake the number they’re calling from by making a fake number appear on your caller ID. It can be easy to fall for, as the number could appear to be your bank’s phone number. They may say there’s a charge on your account you need to verify, or you may receive a fake text message. Remember, financial institutions (or any legitimate organization) will never ask for your Social Security number, card number, PIN, CVV, or expiration date.
Monitor your accounts
In addition to protecting your information, it’s necessary to monitor it, too. Checking your bank account or credit card activity often can help you recognize identity theft sooner. If you notice any suspicious activity, it’s a good idea to freeze or lock your debit or credit card so no one can use it, and contact your credit union or financial institution immediately. They can ensure you aren’t penalized for these transactions, help you get your money back, and ensure your card is replaced promptly. You should also periodically check your credit report to ensure no one opened any new accounts in your name. As a Georgia resident, you can request free copies of your credit reports through each of the three credit bureaus for free up to three times per year.
It may seem scary, but protecting yourself from identity theft is a necessary measure in today’s world. Your financial history is crucial in nearly every aspect of your life, and it’s critical to ensure no one gains access to personal information to potentially damage that. By implementing these measures, you’re taking control of your finances and preventing yourself from becoming someone’s next target.
Fraud alerts: COVID-19 scams to look out for
With so much uncertainty in our world right now, the presence of COVID-19-related fraud and scams is an unfortunate reality. Now, more than ever, it’s important to be vigilant about your protected information and, as your financial institution, we’re committed not only to providing the utmost security for your accounts, but also to increasing awareness around common schemes. We’ll keep an updated list of known scam attempts and tips to stay safe, so check back often to remain in the know. And remember: we will never call you and ask for your account information, social security numbers, or other sensitive material.
The FTC is a great resource for consumers during this time. See below for their recommended best practices and visit their website to learn more.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails, or calls about checks from the government. Here’s what you need to know.
- Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There are no products proven to treat or prevent COVID-19 at this time.
- Be wary of ads for test kits. The FDA recently announced approval for one home test kit, which requires a doctor’s order. However, most test kits being advertised have not been approved by the FDA, and aren’t necessarily accurate.
- Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from low-priced health insurance to work-at-home schemes.
- Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO. Use sites like coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus to get the latest information. And don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.
- Do your homework when it comes to donations. Never donate in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.
Be on the lookout for some of these trending scams being reported from the FTC. This blog post is a great way to stay in touch with what other consumers have seen as well.
- The top complaint categories relate to travel and vacations, online shopping, bogus text messages, and all kinds of imposters.
- While reports of robocalls are way down overall, we’re now hearing about callers invoking the COVID-19 pandemic to pretend to be from the government, or making illegal medical or health care pitches, among other topics.
- If you’re getting calls, emails, or texts, or you’re seeing ads or offers online, keep a few things in mind: First, the government will never call out of the blue to ask for money or your personal information (like Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers). And second, anyone who tells you to pay by Western Union or MoneyGram, or by putting money on a gift card, is a scammer. The government and legit businesses will never tell you to pay that way.
- The big states have, not unexpectedly, the biggest number of reports. You can check out how many people are reporting what in Georgia.
Below are some additional tips from the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a scam or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home by calling their hotline at 866.720.5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
- Be cautious of unsolicited healthcare fraud schemes of testing and treatment through emails, phone calls, or in person. The U.S. have medical professionals and scientist working hard to find a cure, approved treatment, and vaccine for COVID-19. Learn more about what to avoid
- Be the lookout for an increase in cryptocurrency fraud schemes including but not limited to blackmail attempts, work from home scams, paying for non-existent treatments or equipment, or investment scams. Read more on how to report these scams
- Be wary of unsolicited telephone calls and e-mails from individuals claiming to be IRS and Treasury employees. Remember, the IRS’s first form of communications is by mail—not by phone. Learn more about fraudulent schemes related to IRS
New Venmo scam targets payment app users
“A new Venmo scam is making the rounds nationally, one that can lead to massive financial losses in your Venmo account.
Payment apps are a fairly new invention, especially peer-to-peer apps that are connected to your bank account or a credit card. Unfortunately, what is not new is phishing scams.”
Continuing reading this article at idtheftcenter.org.
Cyber Security Tip: Who’s that friend request from?
Social Media friends or foes?
Cyber criminals often create fake profiles to befriend you. The ultimate goal is to get you to leak confidential data to them (either about you or the company you work for). Be careful of the friend requests you accept on any Social Media sites (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).
Trust no Social Media “friend” (unless you know them in real life and you’re absolutely, positively sure they can be trusted).
Beware of Wire Fraud
Protecting our members from fraud is always a top priority at Georgia’s Own. One of the areas in which financial institutions are seeing an escalation of fraud relates to wire transfers. Unsuspecting members are deceived into transferring or receiving funds electronically to/from fraudsters. Wire fraud is an intentional act to defraud another individual or entity of his/its money and this is a federal crime.
Fraudsters use a variety of tools including phishing emails, compromised websites/emails, and fake friend requests on social media sites to commit these crimes.
Examples of Wire Fraud:
- Wire request sent to an individual’s name for a real estate closing, instead of an Attorney’s office.
- An email is sent from “a family member who is in jail”, or a person “getting a divorce and they don’t want the rest of the family to know, and they need help”, so the money has to be sent to the lawyer representing them.
- An email is sent from “a member who is travelling overseas and needs some money wired to them because they got robbed in a foreign country and they have no cash.”
- A social media friend sent an email that they received an inheritance and they want to transfer the funds to the United States. The recipient is then asked if the money could temporarily be deposited to the recipient’s account and an offer is made to pay a percentage of the money to the recipient, once the money is transferred to a safer bank. The victim would provide their account number for the transfer to be completed.
Always verify where the money is supposed to be wired to — especially if you get wire instructions by email. Hackers can alter emails (even from people you’ve been working with for several weeks) and instruct you to send money to the wrong place. Be vigilant; always call the recipient to verbally verify the wire instructions. Anyone can be a victim of this type of fraud and should take every precaution to protect themselves.
When you receive funds into your account it’s important to verify you actually received a “real wire deposit” into your account. Fraudsters like to take advantage of their victims when they sense the victim is somewhat confused by promising to send a wire transfer but actually sending the funds using a different (reversible) method. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who sent the funds?
- What were the funds for?
- Where did the funds come from?
Preventing Wire Fraud:
Here are some general rules you should follow to guard against becoming a victim of fraudulent wire requests.
- Confirm email requests from a known party by phone or in person, in case their email has been hacked.
- Be wary of email-only wire transfer requests and requests involving urgency.
- Never wire money to people whom you don’t know – regardless of how convincing or legitimate their wire request looks and sounds.
- Ignore any offer from someone you don’t know who asks you to deposit a check in your account and then instructs you to wire that money to someone else.
- Never open attachments in unsolicited email.
- Frequently update anti-virus and anti-malware programs.
- Closely monitor your bank accounts on a daily basis.
What should a Georgia’s Own member do if they become a victim of a wire fraud? Please contact [email protected]. We also recommend that members contact local law enforcement, as well as the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3) at www.ic3.gov.
With fraud scams becoming more sophisticated and more prevalent, Georgia’s Own is not only ensuring our policies and procedures are thorough and practiced, but we also want to educate our members on what they can do to avoid being victims of fraud. That’s why we remain committed at Georgia’s Own to protecting our members from being victims of fraud. We also want to raise awareness as to what our members should do to stop these fraudsters. After all, prevention is the best protection when it comes to fraudulent activity.