Identity Theft & Scams
Identity theft can happen to anyone, but there are ways to reduce the risk of your identity being stolen and to protect yourself from fraud and scams.
- How can I protect myself from identify theft?
- How can I protect my passwords?
- How can I protect myself when I use social media?
- What are warning signs that my identity may have been stolen?
- Are there tips to help me and my family avoid identity theft and scams during these uncertain financial times?
- What do I do if I think my personal information and/or identity has been compromised or stolen?
- How can I report a scam or fraud?
- What if I have been targeted by a scam involving my mail?
- What can I do to avoid becoming a victim of Medicare fraud?
- What do I do if I think someone filed for unemployment insurance (UI) payments in my name and committed fraud?
Identity theft can happen to anyone, but there are some things you can do to help reduce the risk of your identity being stolen and to protect yourself from fraud and scams.
- Monitor checking and credit accounts monthly and your credit report quarterly.
- Do not share your Social Security card or number.
- Protect your trash by shredding all documents with personal information.
- Protect your mail—incoming and outgoing.
- Be careful on the internet with information you provide.
- Protect ALL your passwords.
- Limit what you carry in your wallet/purse.
- Consider a credit freeze with the three credit reporting agencies.
- Protect your smartphone and use a strong password with numbers, letters and symbols.
- Safely dispose of all old electronics.
- Beware of scams and frauds.
It seems like everything requires a password these days, and it is very important to keep your passwords protected to avoid identity theft or fraudulent activities on your accounts. There are some ways to help protect and manage your passwords.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible and available. This adds a second level of verification to an account log-in by requiring a pin, text or email code or even a biometric feature such as a thumbprint or face ID.
- Use different passwords for different accounts. If you are reusing a password on multiple accounts and a hacker cracks one of them, they may try the recovered passwords on your other accounts, too.
- Do not include personal identifiers like your phone number, name, child or pet’s name, or birth date.
- Do not use repetitive characters or patterns (“0000,” “1234,” “1010,” etc.)
- Set up remote tracking features, when available, for your phone, computer or tablet.
- Consider using a unique passphrase that is easy to remember or picture in your mind, but difficult to guess.
- Make sure that your phone, computer, tablet or other device with personal information is always protected by a pin or password.
- Try using a password manager to maintain different and complex passwords for all your accounts.
Those who use social media are among the most likely to experience fraud. Individuals who have an active social media presence had a 30 percent higher risk of being a fraud victim than those who weren’t active.
However, there are ways you can help protect yourself when using social media.
- Don’t post or provide sensitive personal information such as Social Security numbers, your address and credit card details.
- Be careful what you post. Mentioning personal information such as anniversary dates, birthdays and hometowns can also leave you vulnerable to identity theft as information such as this may be used in setting up new accounts or password reset questions. Providing your location publicly and telling everyone you are out of town could leave your home vulnerable to break-ins.
- Know your privacy settings. Private vs. public profiles and posts, make sure followers/friends require your approval, restrict posts from searches, etc.
- Be cautious of tests and other links that ask personal information that could lead to hacks.
The impact of identity theft can be dramatic and long-term. It can cause denial of credit, loans and even public benefits, not to mention stress, anxiety, time and expense, that could be spent on recovery. So, it is important to be diligent and aware of warning signs that may alert you that your identity could have been stolen so you may take the necessary steps to quickly protect your identity and limit theft once your information has been compromised.
A few warning signs may include:
- You find unfamiliar accounts or changes on your credit report
- Withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain
- You don’t get your bills or other mail
- You don’t receive a recurring deposit which is due
- Medical providers bill you for services you did not use
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for
- You receive a notice of unemployment insurance that you did not claim
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
Unfortunately, there are people out there trying to take advantage of individuals during these times of financial uncertainty. Scams cover a wide spectrum including covid testing, vaccines and treatments, stimulus payments, medicare enrollment, IRS refunds and more. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Identity Theft Resource Center have put together numerous tips and resources available to help you as a consumer or a business to identify and avoid scams.
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal, private or financial information. Fraud is when the stolen information is used without your permission. If you think your identity has been compromised, act quickly to protect your money, benefits and access to services such as health care!
- Close accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- File a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT.
- Review and place a Fraud Alert on your credit reports by contacting any one of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The credit bureau you contact must tell the other two to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
- Contact your smartphone plan if your smartphone is stolen.
- If your bank card or credit union card or credit card are involved, contact that provider to close the card and obtain a new card for transactions. Most importantly, file a report with local police in the community where you believe the theft took place.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched a website where consumers can easily report fraud and all other consumer issues directly to the FTC. Consumers will find a streamlined and user-friendly way to submit reports to the FTC about scams, frauds and bad business practices. The FTC has long encouraged consumers to report these issues when they encounter them, whether or not they lose money to the fraud.
If the scam or fraud is related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline to report any fraud related to COVID-19 (Coronavirus). You can contact the NCDF Hotline by phone or submit through the NCDF Web Complaint Form.
The NCDF is a national coordinating agency within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division dedicated to improving the detection, prevention, investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct related to natural and manmade disasters and other emergencies, such as the coronavirus (COVID-19). Hotline staff will obtain information regarding your complaint, which will then be reviewed by law enforcement officials.
NCDF Hotline number: 1-866-720-5721
You can get help by contacting your local post master, reporting online or by calling: 1-877-876-2455.
Review your Medicare Summary Notices for errors and report anything suspicious to Medicare. If you think a charge is incorrect, and you know the provider, you may want to call their office to ask about it. The person you speak to may help you better understand the services or supplies you got, or they may realize a billing error was made. If you contact the provider and suspect that Medicare is being charged for health care you didn’t get, or you don’t know the provider on the claim, find out how to report fraud.
Employers and claimants can both commit fraud under state unemployment insurance laws.
Employer fraud can include certain actions to avoid tax liability or establishing a fictitious employer account to enable fraudulent claims against that account. Claimant fraud can include someone knowingly submitting false information; continuing to collect benefits when knowing oneself to be ineligible; not being able and available to work while certifying for benefits under state law; or intentionally not reporting wages or income while collecting full benefits. Additionally, identity theft may result in unemployment insurance fraud that is not the fault of the employer or the identity theft victim. Did you get an unemployment insurance statement to file with your taxes, but you did not receive unemployment insurance?
Each state is required and expected to enforce its own unemployment insurance laws.
Learn about unemployment insurance fraud and call your appropriate state contact to report unemployment insurance fraud.
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The Financial Resilience Center was developed by National Disability Institute with generous funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation.