Posts Tagged ‘Identity theft’

Identity thieves try to cash in during tax filing season

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Feb. 01, 2015, at 9:53 a.m.

click image to report scams, waste and abuse

Two headlines top the news near the start of this income tax season.

Thieves who steal Social Security numbers and other personal data do so in order to file phony tax returns and claim rebates they’re not owed.

And crooks posing as Internal Revenue Service officials are calling people and, in many cases, bullying them into sending money they don’t owe.

They use common names and all kinds of tricks. They may say they’re calling from the IRS criminal division. They might have technology that will spoof a caller ID, making it appear they’re calling from a real IRS office. They threaten those they consider easier targets — such as older people and recent immigrants — with fines, jail terms, job loss, even deportation.

The crooks do their homework before calling. They might know a person’s Social Security number — or at least the last four digits — and other personal details that lend credence to their pitch. Demanding immediate payment is a tipoff it’s a scam — the real IRS first would notify you by letter of any official action — and the agency never would demand payment by a debit card or wire transfer.

Losing a one-time payment is bad enough. Thousands of taxpayers have filed their income taxes only to find a crook has stolen their identities, filed fraudulently and collected their refunds illegally.

The IRS says after such discoveries, it takes an average of four months to get a refund to its rightful recipient. That person also needs to go through the hassle associated with identity theft. Perhaps ironically, prisoners’ Social Security numbers often are tempting targets, because inmates are less apt to be on top of their tax or banking activities.

The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, says it has received reports of 290,000 scam calls since October 2013, and nearly 3,000 victims have lost a total of $14 million. The IRS has been working to curb these crimes, saying it spotted 19 million suspicious returns since 2011 and prevented more than $63 billion in fraudulent returns. Read about ways to spot impersonators and report scams at Treasury.gov/tigta.

Consumers can and should take all the usual steps to prevent fraud: use firewalls and antivirus software, use strong passwords and change them often on all online accounts and reveal your Social Security number only when it’s absolutely necessary.

If you become a victim, the IRS says it wants to help. Read about the agency’s prevention and detection efforts at IRS.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection.

The IRS is also warning consumers about unscrupulous preparers who push filers to make inflated claims. Often, these preparers will demand an up-front fee; they may also refuse to give the taxpayer a copy of the return. Both are things that legitimate tax preparation pros don’t do.

You may qualify for free help preparing your income tax filings. Seniors can check with AARP or the local agency on aging. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA, program gives free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, have disabilities, are older or who speak little English and need help preparing their returns.

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 necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

The best New Year’s resolution: No new resolutions

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Jan. 04, 2015, at 1:28 p.m.

The lion’s share of New Year’s resolutions many of us made have to do with better health. The online health adviser WebMD has a common-sense suggestion in this regard: Resolve not to make any more resolutions.

Doing so lessens the unhealthy cycle of denying yourself, then binging to satisfy your craving. Instead, the one-day-at-a-time approach of 12-step and other lifestyle changing programs works on a more realistic theory: achieve one small success, then do it again.

This practice eliminates the need for a self-improvement laundry list on Jan. 1. You could pledge to lose weight, exercise more and volunteer 10 hours per week, all with the aim of feeling better. Or you could pledge to do one thing every day to feel better.

You could start now. Put down the paper (or push away from the screen), get up and take 100 steps. Walk around the house, find something that’s out of place and put it away. Or go outside and get the mail. You’ve moved, gotten a bit of exercise and put something material in its place; you haven’t expended that much effort, but you probably feel better.

Contrast this with those of us who have bought year-long gym memberships and not used them.

Many gyms count on this phenomenon — they can sell thousands of memberships at bargain prices when their facility holds a few hundred people at most. What behavioral economists term “pre-commitment” acts serve to subsidize the truly motivated members; those who don’t go are just poorer by the membership fee.

Make similar plans to lose weight, if that’s among your goals. Losing 1 pound every 10 days will leave you 36 pounds lighter by next New Year’s Day. That one-pound-at-a-time goal makes sense; visualizing the removal of 36 pounds all at once is neither medically advisable nor realistic.

While we’re focused on health, avoid products that claim quick fixes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has articles about scam products at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/default.htm.

Use your internal radar on flimsy claims including “quick results,” “no-risk trial” and “money-back guarantee.”

Take small steps to feel better about protecting your identity. When you need to provide a password — on secure websites only, please — use a strong series of letters, numbers and symbols that you haven’t used anywhere else and which only you know. Check for computer system updates and patches often, and keep your security software updated. Don’t click or download anything from any unknown source, and delete suspicious looking emails without opening them.

Read the Federal Trade Commission’s list of what to do and what not to do in keeping your identity safe at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0272-how-keep-your-personal-information-secure.

Review the list frequently and try one new tool every time you read it. Find out how to get your truly free credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com. You’re entitled to one annually from each of the three reporting agencies; get one now, one in early May and one in early September.

Being a smart consumer involves much more than looking for deals. It means taking single steps on our long journeys through the marketplace.

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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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 https://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 https://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 https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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