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.