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.

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.

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

IRS TAX SCAMS

Taxpayers CAN protect themselves from IRS Tax Scams – If they know what to do…

Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to avoiding IRS Tax scams. Here’s what taxpayers need to know to determine whether an encounter — in person, over the phone, by text or by email — is an imposter or an actual IRS employee:

IRS TAX SCAMS
Be Suspicious of IRS Calls, Texts or Emails

The IRS Does Not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method, such as a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer.
  • Demand taxpayers pay taxes without the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Threaten to bring in local police, immigration officers or other law enforcement to have someone arrested for not paying.
  • Threaten to revoke someone’s driver’s license, business licenses or immigration status.

The IRS Does:

  • In general, first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Normally initiate contact with taxpayers through mail delivered by the United States Postal Service.
  • Present official identification when visiting a taxpayer. Taxpayers have the right to see these credentials, and – if they would like – the representative will provide them with a dedicated IRS phone number for verifying the information and confirming their identity.
  • Call or visit a home or business under certain circumstances. This includes when a taxpayer has an overdue tax bill, to secure a delinquent tax return or a delinquent employment tax payment, or to tour a business as part of an audit or criminal investigation. Even then, taxpayers will generally receive several letters from the IRS in the mail first.
  • Assign certain cases to private debt collectors, but only after written notice is given to the taxpayer and their appointed representative.
  • Offer several payment options. Payment by check should ALWAYS be payable to the U.S. Treasury and sent directly to the IRS, instead of a private collection agency.

IRS Tax Scams Use PHISHING Attempts:

Phishing Emails
Don’t Click on Email or text links!

Thieves often pose as IRS employees to get victims to turn over their personal information using Phishing techniques. Phishing is typically carried out through unsolicited emails or calls. Just remember that the IRS does not call, text, or email you. They communicate via a letter sent to you in the mail.

IMPORTANT TIPS:

  • Never click on links in emails or text messages from anyone claiming to be from the IRS.
  • Hang up the phone if someone claiming to be from the IRS calls you and don’t believe what you see on your caller ID. The # can be spoofed.
  • You can forward suspicious IRS emails to phishing@irs.gov
  • Forward text messages as-is to the IRS at 202-552-1226. If possible, in a separate text to the IRS, forward the originating number of the sender to the same IRS # 202-552-1226.
  • Visit the IRS identity protection page for more info on steps to take to protect your info.
  • You can read a prior article I wrote about IRS Phone Scams here.

Tis the Season…For Holiday Scams

The holiday shopping season is underway and Scammers are already gearing up to exploit innocent victims with holiday scams. They love this time of year, when they have even more opportunities to separate you from your money.

Holiday Scams Warning

Here’s a list of Holiday Scams to help  keep you safer & smarter!

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. They 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 for gift cards. Chances are the cards are fraudulent or stolen cards from third-party vendors.

Fake websites will pop up all over the internet offering fantastic bargains. Beware of copy-cat websites or sites that 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 will now be used to make illegal purchases.

A good place to evaluate websites selling retail goods is http://www.resellerRatings.com  where you can find reviews about merchants and see if they’re legitimate. If they’re not listed there, chances are it’s a holiday scams website.

Fake online Ads will appear on social media sites and even on legitimate News websites. They exist to entice you to click on links that will either contain keystroke-logging Malware or lure you into providing personal information that will make you a victim of Identity Theft.

Public WiFi is neither private nor secure. You can never be sure whether you’re using the authorized WiFi of the retailer or actually the WiFi of the thief, sitting a few tables away. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when using WiFi, for better online security. Make sure to NEVER use your debit card while shopping online. Your debit card is tied to the money in your checking account. You have better consumer protection when using your credit card. Better yet, use a gift card or prepaid debit card for all your online purchases.