Free Weekly Credit Report

GET A FREE WEEKLY CREDIT REPORT UNTIL APRIL 2021

Did you know that consumers now have the option to get a FREE weekly credit report until April of 2021? All three credit reporting agencies are offering consumers a free weekly credit report online, until the April 2021 deadline.

With multiple COVID-19 scams going on right now, it’s even more important than ever to remain vigilant. Consumers should be keeping track of what information is contained in their credit report files. Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are the names of the three credit bureaus. Federal Law requires each of them to provide you with a free credit report each year, upon request. So, this new policy of being able to obtain a free weekly credit report is a rare luxury. Take advantage of it.

Free Weekly Credit Report
Check Your Credit Report Often

WHERE TO GO TO GET IT

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only recommended website to visit to request your credit reports. Mandated by Congress, the website must keep track of whether or not you were provided a free credit report (within a year) and from which credit bureau the report was obtained.

It is recommended that consumers check their credit report at least three times a year. This is best accomplished by staggering each request, from a different credit bureau, once every four months. When submitting your credit report request, you can choose which credit reporting agency you want to get the report from.  Therefore, if you stagger the requests, once every four months, you get to keep an eye on things throughout the year, as opposed to all three reports at once.

The information contained in your credit report will not vary much from credit bureau to credit bureau. AnnualCreditReport.com does not charge a fee for the report, but you will have to pay a small fee if you want to know your credit score. To get started – go here

But WHY Should I Bother?

It’s important to check your credit report, not just for mistakes, but also because the Federal Trade Commission has said it is seeing a significant rise in identity theft complaints, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Scammers are professionals and are referred to as “Artists” for a reason. They know how to target their victims with tried-and-true tactics. They also follow the headlines and tailor their scams to current events. By examining your credit report, you can make sure that all open accounts listed are legitimate. Read my article about Coronavirus Scams here

Armed with stolen personal information from data breaches, scammers attempt to apply for new credit cards and loans in your name. So be sure to comb through your credit report to be sure all of the accounts listed were opened by you.

If you find an error in your report or an unauthorized account that you didn’t open, you should send a written dispute to each of the three credit reporting agencies. List any incorrect information and/or any account that appears to be fraudulent. Either file your report on the company website or send the written dispute by certified mail.

DETERRENT – PLACE A CREDIT FREEZE

If you don’t plan to open any new lines of credit in the next year, it’s a good idea to place a Credit Freeze with all three credit bureaus. Placing a credit freeze is one of the best ways to protect yourself from criminals. The credit freeze locks out the bad guys and prevents them from applying for new credit in your name. The process is FREE, but you’ll have to contact each credit bureau individually and request they place the credit freeze on your file.  To learn more about Credit Freezes, read a couple of my prior articles on this topic here and here

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) websites contain extensive information about credit reports, your rights and the laws that guarantee these rights. You can learn more about your free reports at FTC here  and the CFPB here

With everything else going on in the world right now, don’t add fighting identity theft or a damaged credit score to the list. Take advantage of being able keep a close eye on things, by getting your free weekly credit report.

SHOPPING SAFELY ONLINE

Shopping Safely Online is Important! 

Shopping safely online is more important now than ever before. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online sales have been skyrocketing. More and more of us are opting to get our basic necessities via online shopping.

There are dangers lurking anytime you are required to provide personally identifiable information (PII), such as passwords and payment information online.  You need to be cyber smart to reduce the risk of becoming a cyber crime victim.

Shopping Safely Online
Don’t Use Your Debit Card

Credit Cards vs. Debit Cards

When it comes to shopping safely online, one of the best tips I can give you is to use your CREDIT card instead of your debit card. If you have the choice, you should always use your credit card instead of your debit card when making online purchases.

Debit Cards Are Tied to Your Bank Account

We often forget that every time we make a purchase using a debit card, the funds are withdrawn directly from our checking account. When making purchases with a credit card, you’re using the bank’s money. It’s a line of credit, not real money from your checking account.

With a credit card, it’s the bank’s money that’s on the line. Therefore, you’re not going to be held liable for fraud. The bank will need to deal with it.  When it comes to credit card fraud, the most you could be liable for is $50 and the majority of banks waive the fee.

Debit cards however, do not offer the same fraud protections as a credit card. With a debit card you should be able to get your money back when and IF you report fraud promptly, but it could take 10 days or more to get it back. While the bank is investigating the fraud, your account is frozen, so you will have no access to the funds in that account. This could be a huge problem, if you need that money to pay your bills, and even more so, if you have bills that are set up for auto-pay.

There are Different Rules for Debit Cards

If an unauthorized transaction appears on your bank statement (but your card or PIN has NOT been stolen) you won’t be liable for the debit if you report it within 60 days after your account statement is sent to you.  BUT – if the charge goes unreported for more than 60 days, your money could be lost. When you report the theft, the bank will investigate and decide if you they are required to credit the money back to your account.

Alternatively, the time frame is much shorter if your card or PIN was lost or stolen. You only have 2 business days in order to limit your liability to no more than $50 of unauthorized charges. After those 2 business days have passed, you’re liable for $500 of the amount lost, between 3 and 60 days. After 60 days, you are liable for the entire amount of your losses. You must, therefore, be sure to make a report as soon as you learn that your card is missing or that your PIN has been stolen.

How to Report a Suspicious Debit Charge

If you spot a fraudulent transaction, immediately call the card provider’s toll-free number on the back of the card. Ask them if you need to follow up with written correspondence. You can also read your monthly statement or error resolution notice for how and where to report any suspicious transactions. Lastly, if you get a replacement card, with a new number, remember to update any automatic payments that were linked to the original card.

More Tips for Shopping Safely Online

1.) Even when using a credit card, be careful where you shop online. Scammers have already set up millions of bogus online website shops. Especially since the Coronavirus pandemic began, fraudsters are trying to sell everything from COVID-19 DIY testing kits, to cleaning disinfectants and medical supplies.

2.) Only shop on websites that you know and trust and type the URL of the website yourself, instead of clicking on any links or attachments in emails. Be careful of your spelling too! Scammers often set up websites with incorrectly spelled names of common websites.

3.) When logging on to a website, utilize two-factor authentication (2FA) to ensure that the only person who has access to your account is you.

4.) Use long strong, stealth passwords or use a password manager. Always, use a separate stealth password for important sites you log on to. For example, be sure to use a separate password when logging into your online banking account than the one you will use to log on to your Facebook or Amazon account.

5.) Never use your debit card for recurring charges on the internet. Use a prepaid card with a limited amount of money available on it.

6.) Do not use public Wi-Fi at an airport, a hotel, a restaurant, etc. for online purchases. If you have no choice, then be sure to confirm the exact name of the network and login procedures to ensure that the network is legitimate.

7.) Use only websites that begin with “https://” when shopping online.  Watch out for website extensions.  Most online shopping website addresses end in “.com”

8.) Privacy is important too. Here’s a link to your privacy settings on Google.

You can read a prior article I wrote about shopping safely online here

 

Where is My Stimulus Check

Where is my stimulus check, you ask?  The IRS has started automatically directly depositing stimulus checks – referred to as “Economic Impact Payments”. Keep in mind, these payments need to be made to nearly 140 million eligible Americans.

Where IS My Stimulus Check

Some of you may have already received your payment. Lucky you! But, if not, don’t fret. Remember that this is going to be a process to get these payments out to all 140 million Americans. According to CNN, about 60 million Americans are still waiting for their money.

Some people, who don’t usually file a tax return, will need to submit basic information to the IRS before they will receive their payment. The IRS is regularly updating the Economic Impact Payment and the Get My Payment tool frequently asked questions pages on IRS.gov  as more information becomes available.

Answers to the Most Common Questions:

How are payments calculated and where will they be sent?
If taxpayers have already filed their 2019 tax return and requested direct deposit of their refund, the IRS will use this information to calculate and send their payment. Those who didn’t provide 2019 direct deposit information or owed tax, can use the Get My Payment tool to provide account information or a payment will be mailed. For those who haven’t filed their 2019 return, the IRS will use their 2018 tax return to calculate the payment.

Payments will also be automatic for those who receive Social Security, railroad retirement or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI and SSI) and veteran’s benefits who don’t normally file a tax return.

However, to add the $500 per eligible child amount to these payments, the IRS needs the dependent information before the payments are issued. Otherwise, their payment at this time will be $1,200 and, by law, the additional $500 per eligible child amount would be paid in association with a return filing for tax year 2020.

What if the IRS doesn’t have the taxpayer’s direct deposit information?
If the IRS has not processed the taxpayer’s payment, the taxpayer  may be able to use the Get My Payment tool to provide their banking information to the agency so their payments can be directly deposited. If no banking information is provided, IRS will mail a check to the taxpayer’s address on record. The direct debit account information used to make payments to the IRS cannot be used as the account information for the direct deposit of your payment.

Can taxpayers who aren’t required to file a tax return receive a payment?
Yes. People who don’t normally file can use Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info tool to give IRS basic information to get their Economic Impact Payments. This includes low-income or no income taxpayers.

Can taxpayers who haven’t filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 still receive a payment?
Yes. Anyone who is required to file a tax return and has not filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019 should file their 2019 return do so as soon as possible to receive a payment. They should include direct deposit banking information on their return.

WATCH OUT FOR SCAMMERS!

The bad guys are out there phishing with renewed fervor. Phishing sites have increased 235% since the COVID-19 outbreak. Scammers have set up over 180,000 fake Coronavirus-themed websites to steal data or misinform taxpayers. Don’t take the bait.

According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, (TIGTA) the agency has already begun to see IRS Imposters playing every trick in the book to get personal information they can use to steal money. While the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit is doing all they can to combat this problem, people are still falling victim to these scams. Scammers are preying on vulnerable individuals who are not sure how best to get their stimulus payment.

TIPS TO NOT FALL VICTIM

  • Do not respond to anyone contacting you if they claim to be from the IRS. The IRS will never ever call you.
  • You may receive emails, text messages or contacted via social media by someone asking for verification of personal and/or banking info. They’ll claim the information is needed before you can receive your stimulus payment. Never give out your personal information.
  • NEVER click on links or open attachments in emails or text messages. Always go directly to the website using your internet browser.
  • You are not required to pay a fee to receive your payment, nor will paying an upfront fee result in you receiving your stimulus check faster.
  • Pay attention to web address extensions. The IRS website ends in “.gov” NOT “.com” or “.org” or “.net”.
  • Watch your spelling when entering a website address. Scammers register websites with misspelled names or similar names of legitimate websites  in hopes of tricking you.

If you receive an unsolicited email from someone claiming to be from the IRS, forward the email to phishing@irs.gov.  If you are looking for information about the COVID-19 pandemic you can go here.

To read a prior article I have recently written about IRS scams, go here

Pandemic Related Hazards Tsunami

Pandemic Related Hazards

I am urging all of you to be aware of an escalating number of pandemic related hazards. There is a full menu of scams, fraud and financial challenges lurking. Fraudsters are having a field day exploiting the uncertainties caused by the Coronavirus outbreak – COVID-19. They are using your fear and vulnerability as a weapon.

Here’s some examples of what these criminals are up to: From price gouging that’s preventing purchases of critical supplies, to fake products – promising cures; from loan payments to travel cancellations, from work-at-home schemes to Government Imposters seeking your personal information. AND – that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Surviving Pandemic Related Hazards
In the meantime – Educate Yourself

How to Protect Yourself from the Coming Pandemic Related Hazards

  • Hang up on robocalls. Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from fake coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations and home test kits. At this time, there is no cure or vaccination for COVID-19, and there are no FDA-authorized home test kits. Visit the FDA’s website to learn more.
  • Do not respond to texts or emails about checks from the government from contacts you do not know. If someone tells you they can get you money immediately, it is a scam.
  • Do not click on web links from unfamiliar sources. These links could download viruses onto your computer or device.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or experts saying they have information about the virus. For reliable and up-to-date information and updates, it is always best to visit the CDC’s website or the World Health Organization’s website.
  • Do your research before donating to charities claiming to help with COVID-19 efforts. Be wary of donations that require payment in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money.

If you think you are a victim of any of these pandemic related hazards involving COVID-19, you can report it without leaving your home through a number of platforms:

Some Additional Tips

Please know that government, the IRS and businesses have policies in place that are rapidly changing. Therefore, if you are seeking the latest policy of a particular entity, it is best to directly check their website rather than clicking on links in emails or attachments.

Government imposters have begun calling about COVID-19 relief. Imposters will call victims and suggest that you may qualify for a Government grant, but you have to verify your identity to process your request. Variations of the scheme involve contacts through text messages and social media posts.

Scams Coming About Stimulus Checks

IRS Pandemic Related Hazards
DON’T TAKE THE BAIT

The IRS is warning taxpayers of a tsunami of calls and phishing attempts about COVID-19 Stimulus checks. These contacts can lead to tax-related fraud and identity theft.

Scammers will suggest that you can get your Stimulus check faster if you share personal details like your Social Security number and banking information and also require you to pay a “processing fee”. DON’T TAKE THE BAIT!

Stimulus checks are free money provided from the Government. You do NOT need to spend money to receive your check. There are no short-cuts – even for a fee. The IRS will deposit your check into the direct deposit info you entered on your tax return or alternatively they will mail you a check.

The IRS will never call you or ask you to verify payment details.  Do not give out your bank account information, your debit or credit card number, or your PayPal payment details to someone who contacts you unsolicited.

The IRS has a webpage with information about the COVID-19 Stimulus payments that is updated quickly whenever new information is available. Here is the link

It’s impossible for me to cover all of the upcoming pandemic related hazards. However, the details listed above are a good refresher, especially for those who have been reading my prior articles. Remember that recognizing the red flags is one of the best weapons against scams and fraud.

You can read my prior article about Coronavirus Phishing Emails here.

I wish you and your loved ones all the best. BE SAFE OUT THERE.

Coronavirus Phishing Emails on the Rise

Coronavirus
WASH YOUR HANDS

A global health disaster like coronavirus is a golden opportunity for criminals looking to steal your personal information or money through Coronavirus Phishing Emails.

Portions of this article were reprinted from the website of consumer advocate, Herb Weisbaum, also known as Consumerman. His website is here: https://consumerman.com/

If you got an email from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization about the Coronavirus outbreak, would you read it? Maybe click on a link? Cybercriminals are counting on it!

The outbreak is a dream come true for criminals who will use it as basis for email attacks designed to snag personal information, steal money and infect computers with malware.

Coronavirus phishing emails are on the rise. Malicious emails linked to the Coronavirus first appeared in early February, making it one of the first big phishing campaigns of the year.

“A global health disaster like this one, creates a golden opportunity for fraudsters, as there is no population or demographic that is not paying attention. As a result, the potential for impulse clicking is higher than normal,” said Adam Levin, a digital security expert who is chairman of CyberScout, a data security firm, and the author of “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves.”

The bogus emails look legit

Coronavirus Phishing Emails may look legit, but they’re not! Those who click on the provided link in the email will wind up on a site created by criminals to steal the victims’ email credentials.

With the current Coronavirus phishing emails, fraudsters are designing their emails to look like they’re coming from the CDC or the WHO. They typically have an attention-grabbing subject line, such as “Coronavirus outbreak in your city (Emergency)” and often include the agency’s logo — cut and pasted from the real website — to add credibility.

At first glance, the sender’s email address appears to be legitimate, for example cdc-gov.org or cdcgov.org. The crooks create domains that are very close to the real CDC site — cdc.gov — making the deception easy to miss.

Even though the link looks like it will take you to the CDC.gov website about the Coronavirus, it will not.

You will instead, land on a fake Microsoft Outlook login page, created by the crooks to steal user names and passwords. Criminals control this fake Outlook page. There is no reason to provide login credentials to visit a public website, such as the CDC.

“Once they capture your login credentials, they can use them to get access to your email account and look for anything worth stealing.

BUT IT GETS WORSE

The bad guys have taken things to the next level, using the Coronavirus to infect computers with Malware!

Emails impersonating the CDC include attachments to click on that proclaim the need for the reader to open it to get advice on how to protect yourself. If you open this attachment, it will download Malware or Ransomware onto your computer.

Ransomware locks out all of your computer files and demands a ransom payment to unlock your files. I have written more extensively about Ransomware in a prior article that you can read here.

Just remember that health agencies are NOT sending out mass emails about Coronavirus. There are plenty of legitimate news websites and the CDC website, CDC.gov  itself with important updates and everything you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus scams

You need to be skeptical of any email that asks you to click on a link or open an attachment — even when the email seems legitimate.

In most cases, you can probably get the information you need by typing in the URL yourself. For the latest on the Coronavirus outbreak go directly to the CDC website.

TIPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF:

  • Don’t be taken in by the sender’s name.Scammers can put any name they like in the “from” field.
  • Look out for spelling and grammatical errors.Not all crooks make mistakes, but many do. Take extra time to review messages for telltale signs that they’re fraudulent.
  • Check the URL before you type it in or click a link.If the website you land on doesn’t look right, steer clear. Do your own research and make your own choice about where to look.
  • Never enter data that a website shouldn’t be asking for. A site that’s open to the public, such as the CDC or WHO, will never ask for your login credentials.
  • If you realize you just revealed your password to impostors, change it as soon as possible.The crooks try to use stolen passwords immediately, so the sooner you change your password, the more likely you are to stop them for doing anything malicious.
  • Never use the same password on more than one site.Once crooks have a password, they’ll try it on every website where you might have an account, to see if they can get lucky.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication (2FA), if you can. Yes, it’s a slight inconvenience to enter a six-digit code when you want to log on, but it’s a huge barrier for the crooks. With 2FA, a stolen password, by itself, is useless to them.

Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment of COVID-19

There’s currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The CDC recommends preventive actions every day to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask. (see below)
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing or being out in public.
  • If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

MORE TIPS FROM THE CDC:

The CDC doesn’t recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.

Face masks should ONLY be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings.

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for COVID-19 cases, the CDC said. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and include fever, cough and shortness of breath.

There’s no specific treatment recommended for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 should get care to help relieve symptoms. For severe cases, treatment should include care to support vital organ functions, the CDC said.

People who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

IRS TAX SEASON SCAMS

IRS TAX SEASON SCAMS

It’s Tax Time again!  Be on the lookout for IRS Tax Season Scams. Thieves want to trick people in order to steal their personal information, scam them out of money, or talk them into engaging in questionable behavior with their taxes.

Phishing scams – like imposter emails, calls and texts — are the No. 1 way thieves steal personal data. Don’t open links or attachments on suspicious emails. Con artists will attempt to trick you into providing your social security number and date of birth. That info allows them to file a fraudulent tax return and get a big refund – before you even get around to filing your own return.  Always try to file your tax return as early as possible.

IRS tax season scams also come by way of con artists, posing as IRS agents. They will demand money for unpaid back taxes owed. They will use fear and intimidation to convince you to send them money. Oftentimes, these imposters will instruct you to pay your fake tax bill through the purchase of gift cards.

IRS Tax Season Scams

Here’s How Many IRS Tax Season Scams Go Down:
  • Someone posting as an IRS agent calls the taxpayer and informs them their identity has been stolen.
  • The IRS imposter claims that the taxpayer’s identity was used to open up fake bank accounts.
  • Alternatively, the IRS imposter may simply claim that you owe the IRS money and then demand immediate payment.
  • The caller tells the taxpayer to buy gift cards from various stores and await further instructions.
  • The scammer then contacts the victim again telling them to provide the gift card’s access numbers.

Once a scammer has been given the access numbers from a gift card, they can anonymously collect the money loaded on the card. You, the victim, have no recourse to reverse the transaction and get your funds returned to you.

IRS USES SNAIL MAIL NOT EMAIL

Be aware that the IRS will never call or email you. If you really legitimately owe the IRS money, the IRS will always first mail you a bill. The written letter from the IRS will state how much you owe and instructions on how to remedy the amount they say you owe. You are always given the chance to agree or disagree with the stated amount owed. You are also given 30 days to respond to their letter.

Most importantly, whenever you mail a payment to the IRS, you will always make the check payable to the United States Treasury. It will need to be mailed to one of just a few locations in the U.S.  You can go online and verify where the payment needs to be mailed. The address will vary, depending on your geographic location.

IF YOU BELIEVE YOU’VE BEEN TARGETED:

  • Contact the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration to report a phone scam. Use their IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting web page or call them at 800-366-4484.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the FTC Complaint Assistant on FTC.gov.  Be sure to add the words “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.
  • Report an unsolicited email, claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) by forwarding your email to the IRS at: phishing@irs.gov. Remember to change the subject line in your email to “IRS Phone Scam”.

You can read prior articles I wrote about IRS scams here and here

ANTI-ROBOCALL BILL

Finally, an Anti-Robocall Bill

As we celebrate the New Year, we can add another thing that is cause for celebration. Last Thursday, lawmakers passed the Anti-Robocall Bill!  It now awaits the President’s signature to become law.

“The U.S. Senate today sent Americans a holiday gift on everyone’s list: stopping the plague of robocalls,” said Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who introduced the legislation with Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican.

All I can say is: Its About Time!!!

Americans received a staggering amount of robocalls in 2019. There were 49 billion calls placed. More robocalls have been placed in the first 10 months of 2019, than in all of 2018!

Anti-Robocall Bill

It’s been a five year battle to take back our phones from these incessant robocallers. The new law will hopefully put a larger dent in the number of calls received. It will decrease millions of ‘spoofed’ robocalls and crack down on spammers who intentionally violate the rules against calling us.

The organization, Consumer Reports (read more here) played a big role in the movement to make the Anti-Robocall Bill finally become a reality. They were instrumental in rallying millions of consumers to send emails, sign petitions, initiated letter writing campaigns and they even held a consumer lobby day.

Consumer Reports Anti-Robocalls Bills

GOOD NEWS & BAD NEWS

The Good News: The bill will make it easier for consumers to identity robocalls using a number-authentication system. The Bad News: It will still take awhile for the number of intrusive calls to decline.

The Anti-Robocall bill requires all telephone systems in the U.S implement a coordinated authentication methodology to improve the accuracy of the caller-ID displayed on our phones. In other words, the bill requires phone companies to offer free call-blocking apps that will verify that the number calling you is real. That’s been an issue, because fraudsters now use fake ‘spoofed’ numbers to look as though they’re coming from the IRS or others to trick you.

Robocaller
DON’T ANSWER IT! SEND IT TO VOICEMAIL

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that phone companies can now block unwanted calls without getting customers’ permission first, which could help increase the use of phone-blocking apps. The agency has said it expected the deployment of a new phone-number system to begin this year. Many major phone companies have already begun rolling it out, but to work well, all carriers must adopt it.

The Anti-Robocall bill also strengthens enforcement tools against robocallers, by giving the FCC more opportunities to fine them. It also brings together different government agencies and state attorneys general to help combat the problem.

The phone industry trade group, USTelecom, applauded the bill’s passage, saying it “will supercharge” the fight against robocallers.

I have written prior articles about Robocalls that you can read here and another one here.  My advice is simple. Never believe what you see on your caller-ID, only answer calls from numbers you recognize, hang up on robocalls or let them go to voicemail.

Wishing a Happy 2020 to all my readers.

Holiday Shopping Safety

Tis the Season…to learn about Holiday Shopping Safety!

Scammers love this time of year, because there are many opportunities for them to separate you from your money. To be a smarter and safer consumer, you need to educate yourself, so you can avoid falling victim. Here are holiday shopping safety tips to help keep your holidays merry.

Holiday Shopping Safety

Spam Phishing Emails will be finding their way into your inbox. These emails have urgent messages or will contain offers for bargain prices or discount coupons. These spam emails will always include a clickable link or an attachment to open. If you click on the provided link or attachment, you will infect your device with Malware. It is advisable to never click on email links or attachments.

Package Delivery Scams are a Fraudster’s favorite trick. They know that most of you are either sending or expecting to receive a package during the holidays. Many millions of spam emails, pretending to be from known shippers (like the Post Office, FedEx or UPS) will be sent out to unsuspecting victims. The emails will include a link to click on that lets you “track” a problem with a package you recently mailed or “track” a package that’s on its way to your house.

E-cards are a fun, easy & inexpensive way to send holiday cheer to family and friends. Make sure any e-card you receive comes from a well-known reputable e-card company. Do NOT open it if the sender is unknown to you.  Many fake e-cards contain spyware and viruses.

Gift cards make popular holiday gifts. Be sure to only purchase them from official retail stores or websites that you know and trust. Beware of websites or ads offering steep discounts to buy their gift cards. Chances are the cards are fraudulent or stolen cards from third-party vendors.

Fake websites are set up all over the internet, that sell stuff that doesn’t even exist. They will offer fantastic bargains that are truly too good to be true. Also, beware of copy-cat websites that appear to be the real shopping site.  Some fake websites use similar or misspelled names of legitimate retailers. You may not realize that you’re on a fake website and enter your password or credit card information. You think you actually made a purchase, but your merchandise will never arrive and your credit card information gets sent straight to the criminal and will be used to make illegal purchases.

Fake online Ads will appear on social media sites and even on legitimate News websites. The ads exist to entice you to click on links that will ask you to provide personal information. If you see an Ad for something you like, instead of clicking on that Ad, go to the retailer’s website directly. If you don’t know the web address, use Google to search for it. The real legitimate website will be at the top of the Google results – about 99% of the time.

Public Wi-Fi is neither private nor secure. Never ever use public Wi-Fi to shop online. You can never be sure whether you’re using the authorized Wi-Fi of the retailer or actually the Wi-Fi of the thief, who is likely sitting a few tables away. When using public Wi-Fi, it is advisable to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) for better online security.

Debit Cards should NEVER be used while shopping online. Your debit card is tied to the money in your checking account. You have better consumer fraud protections when using your credit card. Better yet, use a gift card or prepaid debit card for all of your online purchases.

STAY SAFE OUT THERE AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO YOU AND YOURS!

Here’s a good website to learn more about Shopping Safely Online

Here’s an article I wrote about Online Shopping

OBJECT TO THE EQUIFAX SETTLEMENT BY NOVEMBER 19TH

We should all collectively object to the Equifax settlement.

November 19th is the deadline date if you want to object to the Equifax settlement. So please do it TODAY – as soon as you finish reading this. Why?  This settlement is an insult to the millions of consumers who had their data compromised. This settlement is not only completely inadequate, but also barely a slap on the wrist for Equifax.

This Puts it in Perspective:

  1. The consumer cash portion is less than 5% of the total settlement pool.
  2. The proposed credit monitoring supplier (Experian) has had recent and large-scale data breaches of their own.
  3. The payment is likely to be magnitudes less than what was advertised.
  4. The attorneys representing the class are getting double the total cash portion of their consumer client base.
Object to the Equifax Settlement
SHAME ON YOU EQUIFAX!

I was among the millions of unfortunate victims of the Equifax Data Breach.  Equifax recently announced that a settlement to the class action against them had been finalized. Remember that nearly 148 million consumers were violated in this totally preventable breach. Our most private sensitive data was hacked and exposed. Equifax makes a handsome profit selling our data. Yet, they failed miserably when it came to protecting that data.

Here’s What Happened

When the class action settlement was first announced, many of us signed up and chose the option for the $125 cash payment – instead of the offer for free credit monitoring.  Shortly thereafter, the lawyers sent out a follow-up email. The email informed consumers that because so many people chose the cash payment option (instead of the free credit monitoring) that the cash settlement amount would be decreased from $125 to just $5.00.  Wait…WHAT???

INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

There was only a meager $31 million set aside in the settlement for those who chose to opt for the cash payment. Apparently, they greatly underestimated the number of consumers who would opt for the cash payment, instead of the free credit monitoring.

Presently, that $31 million is insufficient to grant the full $125 to everyone who chose the cash option. Therefore, those who still wish to receive a cash payment, should only expect to receive a mere $5.00 or perhaps even less than that!

It was revealed that while nearly 148 million Americans were impacted by the Equifax breach, only 3 million consumers had signed up for the free credit monitoring. Most consumers chose the cash payment option instead.

Adding insult to injury, the lawyers involved in this class action settlement have already been awarded $77 million and are now asking for even more money.

CONSUMERS CAN AND SHOULD OBJECT

Today I visited a website that walked me through the steps needed to object to the Equifax Settlement.  (See my second choice option below)

Remember, you have the right to file an objection to this absurdity. BUT – the objection must be completed by the deadline date of November 19th. Consumers have two choices on how to go about filing an objection.

The first choice – is by sending a letter to the Equifax Data Breach Class Action Settlement Administrator. The instructions are available at the Equifax Breach Settlement website on its FAQ page here:  Then see Question # 25. Warning: they don’t make it easy.

THE SECOND CHOICE IS AN EASIER WAY!

Begin by reading an article written by consumer advocate Bob Sullivan on his website here

In his article, Bob Sullivan explains that Reuben Metcalfe, founder of Class Action Inc., has made filing an objection with the court a lot easier – using a bot he created. His website is named ‘NoThanksEquifax.com’. Here’s the link

The website features a bot that semi-automates the objection letter-writing process. The bot, named Clarence, also has a sense of humor. He cheers you on as you walk through the steps of filing your objection.

The ‘NoThanksEquifax’ bot helps consumers opt-out for FREE. He thinks massive objections or opt-outs would force negotiations and hopefully result in a better deal for consumers. He states “I believe a mass opt-out campaign for the Equifax settlement would result in an additional $2 to $3 billion in… consequences”.

Once the objection date (November 19th) expires, the judge overseeing the settlement must legally consider all objections at a fairness hearing scheduled for Dec. 19.  FYI – Objections do NOT remove consumers from the class. If the settlement is approved, claimants can still receive payment or credit monitoring services offered to other class members.

To find out if you were one of the victims of Equifax’s data breach and an eligible class member, call 1-833-759-2982 or go here:

IMPORTANT NOTE: if you wish to join the class action and file a claim in the Equifax class action settlement, you must do so by January 22, 2020.

REMEMBER: THE DEADLINE TO OBJECT TO THE ABSURD DECREASE IN THE CASH OPTION AMOUNT IS NOVEMEBER 19th.  SO HURRY!  DO IT TODAY. THE MORE OBJECTIONS, THE BETTER!!!

FYI: I wrote an earlier article about the Equifax breach settlement in August. It provides many of the details about the settlement. You can read my article by clicking here. 

ROBOCALLS AND PHONE SCAMS

The US Senate and the FCC has finally taken up the battle against Robocalls and Phone Scams. This federal intervention should provide much needed relief to consumers. Estimates of robocalls and phone scams have grown from 29% of all calls in 2018 to as much as 45% of all phone calls in 2019.

THE TRACED ACT

In May the US Senate approved the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrance (TRACED) Act by a 97-1 vote.  Don’t you just love how they come up with these nifty names?  Also, I wonder which Senator was the only one who didn’t think this legislation should be passed. The TRACED Act grants the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stepped-up enforcement power to levy heavy penalties and fines against violators.

Additionally, the FCC voted unanimously to finally grant telecommunications companies the authority to use technology to proactively identify and block Robocallers.  A summit was held in July with carriers to identify a framework for implementing these new guidelines. The FCC says it is committed to pursuing “aggressive enforcement action” against Robocallers.

Robocalls and Phone Scams
STOP CALLING ME!!!

MOST ALL ROBOCALLS ARE ILLEGAL

Robocallers often place their calls using internet technology that hides their location. When these calls come in, your Caller ID usually displays a “spoofed” (fake) phone number. Tens of millions of these calls are blasted out each day. Most robocalls and phone scams are automated voice messages.

Industry stakeholders are working to implement a caller ID authentication system. Once implemented, it should help the accuracy of caller ID information and help consumers determine which calls are authenticated.

EXAMPLES OF 2 NEW ROBOCALL TACTICS

‘Neighborhood Spoofing’ and the ‘One Ring Scam’ are two of the newest tactics being used to get you to pick up or call back. Neighborhood Spoofing is when a fraudster alters their phone # to look like a phone number with the same area code as yours. The One Ring Scam involves a Robocaller hanging up after only one phone ring, hoping you’ll be curious enough to call back.

THWART ROBOCALLS AND PHONE SCAMS

  • Don’t Engage: Don’t pick up if it’s a number you don’t recognize. Let it go to voicemail.
  • Don’t Answer: Don’t pick up or return any calls you don’t recognize
  • Don’t Encourage Them: If you are instructed to press a “key” to be taken off their list or to speak to an operator you are, in essence, logging your number as a working number. You will be targeted for even more annoying calls. Hang up without pressing any keys!
  • Block Them: Block Robocall phone numbers on your phone, but realize that telemarketers change phone numbers often.
  • Use Technology: Use call blocking options for your cellphone
  • List: Add your number on the Do Not Call Registry  If your number is already registered and you still get unwanted calls, report them  to help expose and catch these fraudulent callers.
  • Forward: SPAM text messages to 7726 (or SPAM)
  • Report: File a Complaint to help investigators detect and track patterns in Robocalls. Call the Federal Trade Commission at 888-382-1222.

Read my prior article about Robocalls here.

FCC Consumer Resources