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IDENTITY THEFT AND HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Being contacted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can cause concern for any taxpayer, but imagine receiving a telephone call and hearing this:
"This prerecorded message is to notify you that the IRS has found fraud and misconduct on your tax return. This needs to be resolved immediately, and it's very important that I hear from you as soon as possible or a legal action will be taken against you."
Most people are quick to spot the call as a fake since the IRS doesn't threaten taxpayers by telephone, emails, or text messages—or issue arrest warrants. But any scam can work if you aren't paying close attention.
Remember these guidelines:
out what to watch for and what to do if you think you're a victim of a
financial fraud in these 6 common scams.
1. Tech support scam
You may get a call alerting you to a problem with your computer, or a message may pop up on the screen saying your computer is infected with a virus. If you follow the instructions of the caller or the screen message, your computer may be taken hostage and your personal information stolen. You are then asked to pay a fee to restore access to your computer or data.
What to do:
2. Tax refund fraud
A criminal, having illegally obtained your Social Security number, files a fraudulent tax return in your name and collects a refund. When you submit your legitimate tax return, it is rejected because the IRS has already processed a return with your Social Security number. In some cases, you may receive a notice prior to filing your return that the IRS has received a suspicious return using your identity.
What to do:
3. Employment or health care fraud
A person uses your identity to obtain a job or receive health care services. You may get a letter from the IRS after filing your taxes saying that you appear to have underreported your income. Or, in the health care version of the scheme, you get a bill for medical exams, procedures, and prescription drugs that you never received. The pandemic has provided scammers with opportunities for fraud, and the Office of the Inspector General in Health & Human Services has issued a fraud alert connected to COVID-19 related health care scams.
What to do:
4. Unemployment benefits scam
Scammers who apply for unemployment benefits in your name could prevent your legitimate claim from going through—while they collect the benefits you're entitled to. This scam became more prevalent in 2020 as unemployment benefits were temporarily expanded due to COVID-19. If you have a job, your employer may alert you to a fraudulent claim in your name or you may find out when the unemployment office sends a letter about a recent claim.
What to do:
5. Credit card fraud
Someone using your identity signs up for a credit card and racks up large charges. A crook who obtains a new card could use it extensively before being discovered. Sometimes, a stolen identity is used to obtain personal loans or open unauthorized financial accounts. You will likely learn about this when bills are not paid and you are contacted by collection agencies looking for payment.
You may notice either you are not getting any postal mail (due to address fraud or theft) or you start receiving confirmation or decline letters for credit cards or loans that you did not initiate.
What to do:
6. Fake charities
You are solicited by email, phone, or in person to contribute to an organization that sounds like a good cause but is actually a scam. Such schemes may be general in nature, often using a name very similar to a well-known charity, or they may be more targeted, attempting to prey on people who are victims of a natural disaster or known to have a personal interest in a particular disease or social cause. These days, charity scams are also being circulated through social media posts on sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and LinkedIn.
What to do:
7. MAIL FORWARDING FRAUD
What you aren’t going to find on basically any research that you do is the newest, latest greatest type of identity theft. We only know about it because it happened to me. First the thieves hack your email, but only to put in a stop on your informed mail delivery, if you have it. That is where pics of your incoming mail shows into your email box. Then they forward your mail while that is off.
Once your mail is being forwarded, bank statements, credit cards, etc, they now have access to all of your personal information. Then they apply for new credit cards under your name. And since they turned off 2FA, you don’t get the notification on that either. When I first saw a new credit card number on my online banking, I thought they were changing one of my card numbers. Which has happened previously, so I called the bank.
More Key takeaways
Identity theft can be scary but there is good news. You can protect yourself, in most cases, by being aware of the threat and following certain practices for safeguarding your information.
1. Don't take the phishing bait
Phishing is a technique used by criminals to trick victims into providing personal information that can be used for identity theft. Most phishing attempts are carried out by email, text messages, or phone.
2. Protect your phone service
Your phone has become an important part of security protocol and is the "master key" to accessing online accounts and information.
Criminals and scam artists are actively using stolen identity information to port your mobile phone number or forward your phone calls and text messages. They do this by calling phone service providers. If you use Voice over IP (VoIP) phones, then your voice phone portal accounts are also at risk. (like google phone numbers)
Cyber criminals do this to steal your 2-factor authentication codes and text messages to get into your financial institution accounts.
3. Monitor and secure your accounts
Many companies, go to great lengths to safeguard customers' information and provide security tools. For instance, most banks and credit card companies offers 2-factor authentication, designed to prevent someone from accessing your account, even if they have your password.
Here are a few actions you can take to reinforce those safeguards.
4. Secure your mobile devices and personal computers
Any device you use that is connected to the internet can become a mechanism of attack by cyber-criminals. Hackers can get in through newly discovered security holes in these devices and systems.
Take security seriouslyProtecting your information and online accounts can help avoid the hassle and heartache of ID theft. Take advantage of all security measures offered to you from your Banks, Credit Cards and any accounts you have that offer it. And also remember to use strong passwords—remember the best way to prevent identity theft is with a strong defense.