Step Three: Start Fighting Back

This is my third and final post about “Protecting Your Identity Online.” As you’ll recall from the previous posts, the number one way to protect yourself is a “credit freeze,” and knowing your rights and options if you are victimized is vital (since there is a very high probability that most people will be hit at some point). Beyond those tips, there are several other things you can do to add additional layers of security to your personal data and finances.

 

Think about hiring a Credit Monitoring Service

It’s important to realize that Credit Monitoring Services cannot prevent you from being the victim of fraud. However, they can help you detect the fraud earlier and also help you with the laborious process of restoring your good name. There are several Identity Theft Monitoring services out there, and they have been growing in popularity over the last few years. They offer a wide range of services, such as:

  • monitoring known criminal websites and file-sharing services for your personal info,
  • canceling and reissuing credit/debit cards if your wallet is stolen,
  • search public records for activity related to your info,
  • searching criminal records in case someone commits a crime and uses your info,
  • putting you on the “Do Not Call” lists,
  • insurance in case you are a victim (they pay attorneys, etc to get restoration on your behalf)

Because of the wide range of services, it can be difficult to know which one, if any, is best for you. To see and compare them all in one place, you can go here.

While hiring one of these companies is, in my opinion, more of a personal preference than a “must-have,” it could provide extra peace of mind for those who are particularly vulnerable or nervous of identity theft. Fees range from FREE for very basic monitoring to $25-30/month.

 

Beware of Telephone Scams — They are On the Rise

While telephone scams aren’t new, the fraudsters are stepping up efforts as our collective lives get more and more computerized. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Laura Saunders reports that

“Phone calls by fraud artists posing as Internal Revenue Service employees and demanding money have surged in recent months—enough so that the IRS named phone scams the No. 1 item on its 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams.

In the past, these scammers have targeted the elderly or recently arrived immigrants, threatening them with imprisonment, revocation of drivers licenses, or other punishment if they don’t pay immediately with a pre-paid debit card. However, more recently they have begun to target more broadly, so that just about anyone can receive on of these scam phone calls. The thing to remember is that according to IRS spokesperson Eric Smith, “the IRS never initiates contact with a taxpayer by phone, email or text message.”

But its not just scammers pretending to be the IRS. According the National Consumers League, included in the top scams of 2013 were prize/sweepstakes scams, phishing scams, fake check and refund scams. Most of these begin with a call from a friendly-sounding criminal who just needs to verify your account number, help you take delivery of a prize you’ve won, or buy something you’re selling for over the asking price (as long as you send him a quick refund). They recommend looking for these red flags (from fraud.org):

  • A promise that you can win money, make money, or borrow money easily;
  • A demand that you act immediately or else miss out on this great opportunity;
  • A refusal to send you written information before you agree to buy or donate;
  • An attempt to scare you into buying something;
  • Insistence that you wire money or have a courier pick up your payment; and,
  • A refusal to stop calling after you’ve asked not to be called again.

The common thread that runs through all telemarketing scams is the demand for payment upfront. Remember that:

  • It’s illegal for companies that operate contests or sweepstakes to ask you to pay to enter or claim your prize or even to suggest that your chances of winning will improve if you buy something;
  • It’s illegal for telemarketers to ask for a fee upfront to help you get a loan if they guarantee or strongly imply that the loans will be made;
  • There is no reason to give your credit card number or bank account number to a telemarketer unless you are actually making a payment with that account; and,
  • If you have to pay first before getting detailed information about the offer, it’s probably a scam.

 

Other General Tips for Staying Safe Online (from Clark Howard)

There’s obviously a lot more that could be said about this issue, but to keep this post readable, I’ll simply relay some of Clark Howard’s tips:

  • Be careful which emails you open. Turn off any feature that automatically opens emails for you.
  • Be wary of any hyperlink in any email.
  • Beware of phishing attempts from your bank or other financial institution. If you believe the email is legit, call your bank back at a telephone number you know to be legitimate for them from the back of a billing statement.
  • Run a free antivirus program on your computer, but know that this is not foolproof; it’s just another step in the nuclear arms race with the criminals.
  • A huge number of tweens on Facebook gave false birthdays to get on. Parents overwhelmingly have no idea their tweens have a Facebook account. If your tween is allowed to be on Facebook, make sure they friend you so you can monitor what’s going on, and be sure to lock everything down with the tightest privacy setting possible.