Posts Tagged ‘Identity theft’

Don’t believe these 5 myths about identity theft

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Nov. 16, 2014, at 9:46 a.m.

Click image to access Komando post

This column is about things that go “bump” in the night. The subtitle is “our biggest fears.”

The top few, according to one survey, include public speaking, walking home alone and identity theft. Since the last one has such serious and expensive consequences, it’s been the subject of plenty of sound advice … and more than a little nonsense.

A recent posting on the website of Kim Komando — who also hosts a radio program about all things digital — points out five major myths involving identity theft. The first is that recovery is easy; virtually anyone who’s been a victim will tell you otherwise. Extended fraud alerts, credit freezes and a detailed plan to repair one’s credit will likely consume hundreds or even thousands of hours.

The second myth is that you’ll get your money back. It’s true that many banks and credit card companies will reimburse you for purchases made fraudulently. However, you must meet certain deadlines to protect your rights. There are also limits on what a bank will cover, so check your bank’s policy.

Myth No. 3 is that credit and debit cards are created equal. While protections exist for many fraudulent credit card purchases, a thief with a debit card may as well have a pipeline into your bank account. The thief can withdraw money at will; until you work things out with your bank, that money is gone.

Liability rules are different, too. Report a credit card stolen before it’s used and you have no liability; if thieves do use the card, your liability is limited to $50.

With a debit card, there’s no liability if loss is reported before it’s used. Report it stolen within two days and the limit is $50; from two to 60 days the liability shoots up to $500. After 60 days, you’re liable for all transactions.

Another myth involves the way identity theft occurs. Many consumers mistakenly think it happens only through online trickery. Major data breaches at retailers have exposed at least some personal data of hundreds of millions of customers.

More often than we’d like to think, friends or family members steal identities. Even contractors you allow into your home might make off with credit cards, bank statements or other potentially damaging documents.

The final big myth is that law enforcement can deal decisively with the perpetrators. Unless you know exactly who they are and the police can build a solid case, there’s little chance of bringing these thieves to justice. You should file a police report, mainly to create a record of the theft for your dealings with credit card and other companies. The report could also head off debt collectors.

You can buy identity theft insurance. The Insurance Information Institute says coverage might include lost wages, phone bills, costs of notary services and certified mailing, maybe even attorney fees.

Your homeowner’s insurance may include an ID theft rider already. Adding such coverage might cost another $25 to $50 per year.

Companies that sell ID theft insurance sometimes advertise that they will cover large dollar losses. Read the fine print before buying, so you will know what is covered and what isn’t.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

 

 

Russian hackers might have your info — now what?

You may have heard about it in the news: reports that Russian hackers have stolen more than a billion unique username and password combinations, and more than 500 million email addresses, grabbed from thousands of websites. What should you do about it? We asked our resident expert, Maneesha Mithal, director of our Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.

Q. How do you know if your information was part of this hack?

A. You really don’t, so don’t take any chances. Change the passwords you use for sensitive sites like your bank and email account — really any site that has important financial or health information. Make sure each password is different so someone who knows one of your passwords won’t suddenly have access to all your important accounts. We have some tips for creating strong passwords — strong, as in hard to guess.

Some online services also offer “two-factor authentication.” To get into your account, you need a password plus something else, like a code sent to your smartphone, to prove it’s you. We recommend that people use this service when it’s available.

If you think your email account might already have been affected by a hack, here’s what you can do.

Q. Is creating new passwords enough?

A. Once you have strong passwords, you need to keep them safe. Think twice when you’re asked to enter usernames and passwords, and never provide them in response to an email. For example, if you get an email or text that seems to be from your bank, visit the bank website directly rather than clicking on any links — which could contain malware — or calling any numbers in the message. Scammers impersonate well-known businesses or the government to trick you into handing over your information.

Q. Is there anything else you can do?

A. It’s unlikely this will be the last time you’re affected by a hack or data breach. One way to increase the chance you’ll catch someone trying to misuse your information is to review your credit card and bank account statements regularly. If you see charges that you don’t recognize, contact your bank or credit card provider right away and speak to the fraud department.

You also can check your credit reports for free every few months at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. Your credit report includes information about your credit card accounts and other bills you pay, so it’s a good way to find out if someone has opened credit in your name. You’re entitled to a free report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If it turns out you are a victim of identity theft, you can find the steps you should take to deal with it at ftc.gov/idtheft.

Last but not least, send this post to your family and friends to make sure they know what to do, too.

Q. How can someone make sure this doesn’t happen to them again?

A. Unfortunately, you can’t. But by taking these steps, you can lessen the odds scammers will get a hold of your information, and also minimize the consequences if they do.

Reliable information offers best scam prevention

Have health insurance questions?
Click images for more information.
We are getting alerts from various agencies about telemarketing calls targeting seniors and other under the guise of assistance with the Health Insurance Marketplace.  Most recently a caller insisted that a consumer provide not only name, address, Social Security number but also bank tracking numbers to receive her new Medicare Card. THERE IS NO NEED FOR A NEW MEDICARE CARD.
Enrollment begins October 1, 2013 and coverage begins January 1, 2014.
We will continue to add resources.

Don’t take the bait: Avoid phishing scams

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 18, 2013, at 1 p.m.
 

There’s a kind of social engineering designed to part consumers from their hard-earned money.

It’s called phishing, and it’s become one of the most common scams. It was the fourth most common scam reported to the National Consumers League fraud center last year, and — when lumped in with all “imposter scams” — it ranked No. 8 in the top 10 frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

Phishing involves a number of ways that con artists gain people’s trust and thereby gain access to their personal and/or financial information. Once that’s done, it’s a short step to stealing someone’s identity, cleaning out their bank account or otherwise wreaking havoc on their financial lives.

The director of consumer protection at the Consumer Federation of America says new phishing schemes are popping up every day.

“We want people to realize that it should be no different when someone approaches you online or by phone asking for that information,” Susan Grant said in a news release last week.

For whatever reason, some of us are more trusting of nameless, faceless people who hit us up by email or over the phone. Most of us would not think twice about refusing a request for personal information from someone who rang our doorbell; when that person makes an electronic approach, we might think twice.

That’s what the con artists want. They pretend to be someone they’re not: an employee of your bank, a government official or an officer of the company where you work. They call or email you with what sounds like a legitimate request for information; instead, it is a (sometimes) cleverly disguised way to get you to reveal your Social Security number, bank account number or other personal data that they can use.

The approach by telephone might be the easiest phishing attempt to ward off. You can simply say, “Sorry, I don’t do any business over the phone,” and hang up. It may be a little tougher when the come-on appears in your email.

It might say that you’ve left something off your income tax return: “Don’t delay your return — click here.” Or you may be asked for an account number “to pay the administrative fee on this prize you’ve won.” The variations are endless … and so is the phishing.

A common theme among phishing attempts: They are not what they seem to be. If you’re asked to click on a link, picture or anything from a source you don’t know, DON’T DO IT. You might be downloading malicious spyware onto your computer. You also could be redirected to another, unknown website where trouble awaits. A request to “join my social network” might really be a hook that someone is using to try to reel you in.


The Consumer Federation has a new video summarizing these and other helpful hints at www.consumerfed.org/fraud. If you think you have been a victim of identity theft, visit www.IDtheftINFO.org to find out what to do. There’s more information about scams and protecting your identity at the FTC website, www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

Thieves target children as easy victims of identity theft – Bangor Daily News

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, Executive Director, Northeast CONTACT
Posted May 12, 2013, at 12:46 p.m.

Here’s a quick quiz: Which of the following scenarios means your child has become a victim of identity theft?

• You receive a notice from the Internal Revenue Service that your child did not pay income taxes, or that the child’s Social Security number was used on another person’s income tax return.

• You or your child are turned down for government benefits because benefits are being paid to another account bearing the child’s SSN.

• You get bills or collection calls for goods or services that you did not order.

The correct answer is: “All of the above.” Each scenario could be an example of a child’s identity being stolen.

A study by Carnegie Mellon CyLab in November 2011 found that 10.2 percent of more than 40,000 juveniles who were studied experienced some kind of identity theft or fraud. The comparable rate among adults was 0.2 percent.

Why the big difference? Children are routinely issued SSNs as infants; if a child’s number is stolen, the theft may not become apparent for months or even years. Those numbers are prime targets for thieves, who look for SSNs with clean histories. With them, thieves can commit financial fraud, do an end-around bad credit ratings and get around constraints placed on illegal immigrants.

Theft can also occur within families. A driver whose license is suspended or revoked might “borrow” the child’s SSN to establish a new identity and regain a license. A person might assume the identity of another family member to repair credit, apply for a job or to avoid arrest.

When a parent discovers that the child’s ID has been stolen, he or she bears the burden of proving that the child is in fact a child, and that the child did not run up the bills that someone else is trying to collect. The parent becomes lead investigator, trying to figure out how the child’s personal information got into the wrong hands while setting the record straight.

When a person turns 18 and applies for financial aid for college or tries to rent an apartment, only then might he or she discover that his or her identity was stolen years before. The investigation becomes a cold case, with a fraudulently obtained credit history in shambles and no way to find out exactly what happened. The thief often uses the identity until the credit history is destroyed and the thief can no longer get credit using that identity.

Parents are urged to check their child’s credit history when the child is no older than 16, to make sure that history is clear (access the three major reporting agencies for a free annual report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com).

The nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (www.idtheftcenter.org) says sometimes parents who get in financial trouble use the SSN of their own child in an effort to rebuild their financial lives. They may think they will pay off their bills in time, so that their child’s credit history won’t be damaged; that may or may not be the case.

Identity theft was the Federal Trade Commission’s leading complaint last year (the 13th straight year the crime ranked number one), with over 369,000 complaints. The FTC has step-by-step help at its website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft. The Maine Attorney General’s website ( http://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/index.shtml) has a checklist of action steps as well. Victims may also contact the Identity Theft Resource Center at 888-400-5530.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

National Consumer Protection Week – March 3-9, 2013

Consumer Topics

 Every day, we make important decisions about finances, health, privacy, technology and more.

NCPW.gov offers consumers a wealth of tips and information from federal and state government and non-profit partner organizations. You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you’re planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

Stay on top of your credit history

CONSUMER FORUM

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact

Posted Feb. 24, 2013, at 6:41 p.m.

A consumer from Penobscot County reached out to us recently, saying she was afraid she might have let herself become a victim of identity theft.

Last year, the woman cashed in an annuity. Knowing she would have to report the transaction on this year’s income tax filing, she tried to email the pertinent information to her accountant. However, by missing one keystroke, she sent the message somewhere other than to the accountant. She worried about who might have received her personal and financial information and how it might be used.

A check with Maine’s Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection reaffirmed our initial reaction: get a credit report from one of the three major reporting agencies, and do it FAST (at www.annualcreditreport.com — this is the truly free one). You’re entitled to one free report from each agency every year, and rotating your requests every four months keeps you abreast of your credit history and any errors or misdeeds that might affect that history.

The state credit protection folks also strongly encourage visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website ( http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft). Info there can help repair your damaged credit. But guess what: It’s not just the big three reporting agencies that keep track of your credit history.

There are at least several dozen companies that keep track of other things. Some collect information about medical conditions and data that consumers provide on insurance applications. Others track rental performance, including lease violations, damages, skips and unauthorized pets. Still others compile information on check writing, employment histories, criminal backgrounds and other personal information. A firm called The Work Number provides employment and income verification, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which says the company compiles data from large private sector payroll processors.

The CFPB is just beginning to get a handle on such operations, which comprise part of what’s known as alternative credit. For consumers without a traditional credit history, alternative credit can be a way to establish a good credit history, for example, by repeatedly paying multiple utility bills on time.

For people concerned about their info in a growing number of trackers’ hands, the CFPB offers some reassurance. The bureau requires companies that collect information about you to make that information available to you. Some offer a free report every year; others will give you a free report only if the information in the report has had some adverse effect on you. If you have to pay for a report, it can’t cost more than $11.50.

The CFPB says you may want to check with one or more of these specialty bureaus:

  1. If you think your identity has been stolen or someone has fraudulently cashed a check using your bank account.
  2. Before you apply for insurance.
  3. Before you apply for a lease.
  4. If, when applying for a job, your potential employer asks for your written okay to get a report.

For more information, visit www.consumerfinance.gov and search “you have a right to see specialty consumer reports, too.”

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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