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

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

BEWARE OF CHARITY SCAMMERS

Beware of Charity Scammers

While natural disasters, such as Hurricane Dorian, bring out the best in people who want to help, unfortunately it also brings out charity scammers.  People with good intentions are moved to want to help the victims of a disaster, while charity scammers are moved to take full advantage of the abundance of good will.

Charity scammers exploit disasters by posing as fake charities. Instead of collecting money to help disaster victims, they keep the money for themselves.

So – How Do They Do It?

In the aftermath of most disasters, charity scammers are hard at work sending out unsolicited emails, text messages, snail mail solicitations, social media advertisements and even come knocking at your door asking for donations.

Disaster Relief Charity Scammers
Choose Your Charity Wisely!

You can never be sure whether the person contacting you is legitimate or not!

Charity scammers are also very adept at creating phony, but legitimate-looking websites that appear to be real charities. They choose names of similar sounding charities to fool you into thinking they are legit. Charity scammers will provide you with a link to their fake websites. These fake websites capture unsuspecting victims who innocently enter their personal info including their SS#, address, phone # and credit card info.

Keyboard with Donate Button
Beware of Spoofed Charity Websites

FOLLOW THESE IMPORTANT TIPS:

  • Go directly to the charity yourself. You can find the address of a charity’s website and either mail them a check or go directly to the charity’s website (by typing in the website address yourself) and make your donation online.
  • Look for the padlock symbol and the website address to start with https, not just http. The “s” stands for a secure website. Also, realize that most charity websites will end in “.org”, not “.com”.  Be careful of making typos when entering web addresses too.
  • Never, ever click on links in an email, no matter how legitimate the email looks! The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) is reminding everyone that malware purveyors frequently use natural disasters and breaking news stories to trick people into clicking on malicious links or opening up booby-trapped email attachments.
  • Be careful of what you see on your ‘Caller ID’. Most phone numbers are “spoofed” to look like the call is coming from a charity, when in fact, it’s a scammer calling.
  • Telemarketers who call you, representing a charity, receive a commission for each donation they receive. So only about half of your donation actually goes to help the charity. Besides, how can you be sure that the person calling you is from a legitimate charity?  You can’t!
  • To check out a charity, you should go to either charitynavigator.org or www.charitywatch.org  Both websites help you determine if a charity is legitimate. If the charity is not on the list, then beware! You can also learn how much of the money a charity collects, actually goes to the people they are supposed to be helping.
  • Always contribute by check or credit card to have a record of your donation. Never make a donation with cash, a pre-paid debit card, bank wire, or especially an iTunes or Amazon gift card.
  • The IRS allows taxpayers to use their Tax Exempt Organization Search Tool to help find or verify qualified charities. Donations to these qualified charities may be tax-deductible.
  • Contact any organization you’re considering, and ask for the charity’s address, phone number and financial records. Consider how much of your donation will go to the program you want to support, and how much will cover administrative costs. Legitimate groups will gladly provide information about their mission and how your donation will be used. If the charity you contact is unwilling to provide you with such information, be suspicious!

You can read a previous article I wrote about charity scams here.

 

 

VOICE ACTIVATED ASSISTANTS

VOICE ACTIVATED ASSISTANTS POSE PRIVACY CONCERNS

Voice Activated Assistants, aka Digital Assistants, like “Alexa” and “OK Google” have become very popular. Over 20 million homes already have a voice activated assistant installed in their homes.

These digital assistants may be the latest rave in cool technology, but the devices have created new privacy concerns and security vulnerabilities. They could potentially expose personal data like your bank account info and your contact list. So, while it may be fun to own one, be aware that voice activated assistants pose a risk, if a cyber-criminal is able to hack into it.

The digital security firm Symantec released a report about voice activated assistants. The report states that “The range of activities that can be carried out by these speakers, means that a hacker or even a mischief-minded friend could create havoc, if they were able to gain access”.

Voice Activated Assistants
THEY’RE LISTENING!

WHY? IT’S ALWAYS LISTENING!

The user must first use a wake-up command such as “Alexa” or “OK Google” to activate the digital assistant. Therefore, the device must always be listening, waiting to be activated by that command. This can cause unintentional or accidental triggering. Even a radio, TV or streaming video, playing in the background, might inadvertently set it off.

Once the device is awake, it will record what is said and then sends that recording to a server, where it is stored. However, you do have the option to listen back to these recordings and delete them if you wish.

Symantec’s threat researcher sees a potential danger from these ‘always listening’ digital assistants. He states, “Someone could hack into these devices remotely and then turn them into a listening device”. “Some of them even come with cameras, so they can also see what you are doing”.

Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, cautions against allowing your digital assistants to store passwords, your contact info or credit card data. Additional dangers include the fact that the device may come with a purchasing option, which is usually turned ON by default. You should set a security PIN or disable the feature.

CRIMINALS CAN TAKE CONTROL

Voice Activated Assistants are designed to be hubs that can control other devices or appliances in your home. These other external devices are referred to as the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Gadgets like lights, cameras, thermostats, coffee makers, alarm systems and door locks are all part of the Internet of Things.

Be aware that the convenience of these IoTs, may create new vulnerabilities. For example: if you connect your door locks or alarm system to your digital hub, then a burglar could command your digital assistant to “open the door and turn off the alarm”.  Additionally, any device connected to the internet is vulnerable to Malware. Always be sure to change the default password and assign a stealth password to each of them.

TIPS TO KEEP YOU SAFE

  • Be careful which accounts you connect. Don’t connect things you don’t need to use, like your address book or calendar.
  • Always use long strong passwords and enable 2-step authentication if it’s available. Remember that anyone with access to your account can listen in remotely, play back recordings, change settings and access personal information.
  • Be sure that your voice activated assistant is linked to your private home or office Wi-Fi network. Password protect your Router.
  • Devices made by Amazon and Google both offer voice recognition, so use that feature. But realize it’s not foolproof.
  • Remember to put the device on Mute when you go on vacation.

To learn more about the danger posed by these gadgets, read my prior article about the Internet of Things.

Deceased Identity Theft – Victimizing the Dead

Deceased Identity Theft is on the rise. Identity thieves will go to great lengths to steal personal information. But how low are they willing to go? They will steal information from the recently deceased.

Assuming the Identity of a Deceased Person Can be a Profitable Venture

Victimizing the dead by stealing their identity is often referred to as ‘Ghosting’. Understand that Identity Theft happens in a variety of ways – including Tax ID Theft, Medical ID Theft, Financial ID Theft and Employment Fraud. Ghosting can encompass any or all of these different types of ID theft.

Deceased Identity Theft
You Must Protect Your Loved Ones

Here are some examples of what these criminals can do with the information stolen from a recently deceased person. File phony tax returns, apply for loans, establish fraudulent credit accounts, create fake driver’s licenses, apply for employment and file false medical claims. Ghosting can also result in creditors coming after the heirs of a deceased loved one or create problems with their estate.

How Do Thieves Get the Information?

Identity Thieves often glean a deceased person’s information from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a national file of reported deaths for the purpose of paying appropriate benefits. The Death Master File contains the following information: Social Security number, name, date of birth, date of death, State of last known residence, and zip code of last lump sum payment. This information is a virtual gold mine for an identity thief!

In addition, relatives and funeral directors also notify States of recent deaths and then the States notify the SSA. When the SSA receives a death notice, it will flag the deceased person’s Social Security number as “inactive.”

Keep in mind that thieves can also glean a deceased person’s information from hospitals, funeral homes, social media and obituaries.  Because it can take weeks or months to process a death, thieves have plenty of time to commit fraud before it is ever detected.

Signs of Deceased Identity Theft

Calls from a creditor or collection agency on an account opened or used in the deceased’s name after death. If you discover such signs, contact the affected creditor or collection agency in writing, explaining that the account was opened or used fraudulently. Surviving spouses and children can also be liable if they shared accounts with the deceased.

Deceased Identity Theft Stolen Info
Freeze Out the Thieves

Reduce the Risk of Deceased Identity Theft:  

  • Send copies of the death certificate to all three credit bureaus asking them to flag the person’s credit report with the following alert: “Deceased – Do Not Issue Credit”.
  • Request a copy of the credit report of the deceased person with all three credit bureaus. You’ll need to do this in writing. The report will list all active credit accounts. Be on the lookout for any questionable activity.
  • Place a credit freeze with each of the three credit bureaus to stop thieves from opening any new credit accounts in the name of the deceased.
  • Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate to prevent Tax ID Theft. The IRS will then flag the account to reflect that the person is now deceased. Go to irs.gov and enter “Deceased Taxpayers” in the search box.
  • Notify banks, credit card companies, loan holders, financial institutions and mortgage holders to close any accounts. Also notify medical professionals and health insurers too.
  • Notify the Motor Vehicle Department to take their Driver’s License out of circulation.
  • Avoid putting too much information in an obituary. Don’t give a birth date, current address, mother’s maiden name or other identifying information that could be useful to identity thieves. The same goes for social media.

It is devastating for a grieving family to have to go through the process of proving to various agencies that their loved one is indeed dead. The emotional impact of unwinding the mess, stalls the grieving process for the family. Therefore, once a loved ones passes away, it’s important to designate someone to take immediate action to help secure their personal information from these heinous criminals.

If you want to know more about how to place a credit freeze, read this