4 Ways Scammers Can Steal Your Tax Refund

48d9f43eab68404d0dc0def19d14ba6dIdentity thieves LOVE tax season.

Any thief who has your personal information can easily file a tax return, collect the fraudulent refund and leave you waiting months to get your own refund back and clear up the issue. Unfortunately, it’s only getting worse – last year the IRS launched 1,492 investigations into tax-related identity theft, where criminals used stolen personal information like Social Security numbers to claim fraudulent refunds. That’s up 66% from 2012 and more than 200% from 2011.

Here are some of the ways scammers use to steal your identity and how to avoid becoming a victim.

1. Fake calls from the IRS. Last month, the IRS said a nationwide phone scam had swindled $1 million from consumers in what the agency called “the largest scam of its kind.” As part of the scheme, callers impersonating IRS agents told victims that they owed taxes and needed to pay by wire transfer or a prepaid card. Other scams are carried out through email, and ask for personal information like a Social Security number or birthdate — which can later be used to claim tax refunds.

To protect yourself, be wary of any correspondence from someone claiming to be from the IRS. The agency says it usually reaches out by mail, and it will never ask for personal information via email or phone. If you receive something questionable, reach out to the agency yourself and verify that it’s legitimate.

2. Rogue employees. Be careful about giving out your personal information. Don’t ever give away more personal information than you need to and don’t be hesitate to ask someone why they need any of your personal information.

Some tax preparers could potentially be a scam artist. To avoid being fooled, be wary of any preparers who charge fees based on the size of your refund and never let a preparer ask for the refund to be deposited into an account in their control rather than sent straight to you. To help you detect if you’ve been scammed, be sure to regularly monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements for any suspicious charges.

3. Data breaches. Data breaches occur when hackers break through a company’s privacy walls and access private customer information and scarily enough, it’s becoming increasingly common. Once that information is in a fraudster’s hands, it’s easy for them to file a tax return in your name. If you know or suspect that your information was compromised during a data breach, consider signing up for identity theft protection (see below) or start regularly monitoring your accounts on your own. Be sure to investigate any charges you don’t recognize, no matter how small they are.

Most of the time if someone has a stolen card, the thief will often test it with a small transaction first in order to see if the card is activated, to make a bigger purchase. And because there’s a good chance you will be more susceptible to identity theft after a data breach, make sure to strengthen your passwords utilizing at least 8 characters, including upper- and lower-case letters as well as numbers and special characters (!@#$%).

4. Snail mail. It’s not as common as online identity theft these days, but many fraudsters still use the old-school strategy of stealing mail from mailboxes to piece together the information they need to file a tax return in someone else’s name. Other times, thieves will go as extreme as dumpster diving – it’s a low-tech way to easily retrieve your information, so make sure you ALWAYS shred any personal documents.

Another easy way to protect yourself is to file early. Many scammers are able to get fraudulent refunds because they file before the victim does. If you file first, the IRS will be forced to investigate when a second return from the same person arrives.

LifeSizePennyDon’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Click here to view the article source by Blake Ellis of CNN Money.

Recent Data Breaches Should Be a Wake-Up Call for Your Finances

identity_theftIn terms of the recent data breaches, the data thieves were likely motivated by money. With credit and debit card information for tens of millions of cards, they could buy items with the credit cards and drain cash out of people’s accounts with the debit cards prior to being found out.

While, as a consumer, you won’t ultimately be held responsible for false charges on your account from a breach, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll be free from any effort associated with the losses. While your card company probably had fraud monitoring capabilities that blocked much of the thieves’ charging, if your account did get wrongly charged, you still have to make sure it gets cleaned up.

When Credit Beats Debit

Cases like these — in which people’s card information gets stolen and used for nefarious purposes — illustrates one way that credit cards clearly beat debit cards. If you were shopping with a credit card during a data breach, all it would likely take is one phone call to your card company to get the charges reversed and the card replaced. In some cases, card issuers have been proactively replacing cards that were used during the breach window.

If, on the other hand, you were shopping with a debit card, it gets a bit more challenging. You must contact the financial institution that issued your debit card within two days of noticing the theft, to be covered by its maximum guarantee. If the money came out of your checking account, your financial institution generally has 10 days to investigate the theft before deciding whether it has to refund the money.

That’s 10 days after you report that your cash is missing from your account. That’s potentially 10 days of bounced checks, late payments, overdraft fees, returned check fees and all the other personal headaches associated with not having your money in your account.

Still, Be Responsible With Credit

While credit cards are safer than debit cards when it comes to the fairly rare event of fraud, they can still be financially dangerous tools in everyday use. If you are going to use credit cards, be smart with them. Pay off your balance in full every month to avoid interest charges. You might even want to act like the money is coming directly out of your checking account as if it were a debit card by deducting it from your checkbook with each transaction. That way, you’ll know how much you really have available to spend on everything else to reduce your risk of overspending.

As recent data breaches remind us, our digitally interconnected world can be a dangerous place for you and your money. While you can’t eliminate all financial risk from your life, you can mitigate the damage by staying vigilant and on top of your spending — no matter how you spend your money.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out First Financial’s ID Theft Protection products – with our Fully Managed Identity Recovery services, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

Article Source: Chuck Saletta of The Daily Finance
http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/target-data-breach-wakeup-call-personal-finance/

How to Protect Your Credit Card From a Data Breach

hackedEven if you’re not one of the 40 million Target shoppers whose credit or debit card information was stolen Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, 2013, you’ve most definitely heard of the data breach by now. With the list of hacked companies, websites and apps growing longer, it’s time to take a serious look at credit card security and what you can do to stay safe online. Let’s run through the basics of credit card companies’ fraud prevention methods, and what you can do to protect yourself.

How credit cards work:

Your credit card has a lot of information that can be used to verify its authenticity: an expiration date, a three-digit security number and your name. There’s also a magnetic strip on the back of the card that contains all of that information and more. When you swipe your credit card, the information on the magnetic strip gets transmitted to a third party, who then verifies with your financial institution that all your information is correct, and approves the transaction.

There are other authentication methods, such as checking your signature or asking to see an ID, but not every merchant takes these steps. Additionally, if you’re making an online purchase, you might be required to input the three-digit number called the card verification value, or CVV, as well as the card number and expiration date. Merchants aren’t permitted to store the CVV in their databases in an effort to keep that information away from hackers. Therefore, merchants ask you to enter your CVV to prove that you actually have the physical card.

What about the rest of the world?

America lags behind the rest of the world in terms of credit card security techniques. We use magnetic strips to hold our data, whereas other countries use EMV chips. These chips use a different (some say better) method of encrypting data. While magnetic strips have the same encryption method, the method for EMV chips varies, making them harder to hack. This has produced dramatic results on point-of-sale transactions. For example, the United Kingdom rolled out EMV technology in the 2000s and saw fraud rates drop by 63 percent between 2004 and 2010, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. The United States is moving closer to widespread EMV adoption, but for now, we’re still using our old magnetic strip cards.

How can I keep my data safe?

Here are a few ways to protect your credit card data beyond the encryption methods offered by merchants:

  • Make sure you sign the back of your credit card – if you don’t, your fraud liability might be higher.
  • When making online purchases from your computer or phone, make sure the web address starts with “https://” instead of “http://.” The “s” means the site is secure.
  • Use a personal finance service like Mint.com to instantly see which transactions have been made on which card.
  • Shred credit card statements and anything that has your credit card number or personal information on it.
  • Be wary of making online purchases on a public Wi-Fi connection – they’re easy to hack. If you find yourself using public Wi-Fi often, consider getting a VPN, which is more secure.

But don’t worry too much.

While credit card fraud is a hassle to deal with, your liability is limited. By law, you’ll never be on the hook for more than $50 if your credit card is stolen and the thief racks up charges. You’re also not liable for any purchases made after you report the card lost or stolen. In the wake of the Target data breach, it’s reassuring to know that you have no liability if your card information, rather than the card itself, is stolen. Finally, many credit cards offer zero-liability policies that provide better protection than the law requires.

If you ever fall victim to a Target-like data breach, call your financial institution right away to report the incident. Don’t panic, though – federal law gives you quite a bit of protection!

After the recent credit card data breaches, this is the perfect opportunity to enroll in First Financial’s ID Theft Protection Services. Our ID Theft Protection services can easily be obtained, there are options for setting up a credit score tracker, as well as a virtual vault to store your important documents and passwords online, and should an ID Theft incident ever occur – you’ve got an advocate on your side assisting you every step of the way. Ask us how to get started today by calling 866.750.0100 or emailing info@firstffcu.com!*

Article by Anisha Sekar of US News. Click here to view the article source.

*Identity Theft Insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informal purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

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Debit vs Credit Cards: Which is safer to swipe?

holiday-credit-or-debitWhile the tens of millions of Target shoppers who had their credit and debit card information stolen likely won’t be on the hook for any fraudulent transactions that may occur, debit card users could face much bigger headaches than credit card users.

That’s because debit and credit cards are treated differently by consumer protection laws. Under federal law, your personal liability for fraudulent charges on a credit card can’t exceed $50. But if a fraudster uses your debit card, you could be liable for $500 or more, depending on how quickly you report it.

“I know people love their debit cards. But man oh man, they are loaded with holes when it comes to fraud,” said John Ulzheimer, credit expert at CreditSesame.com, a credit management website.

Plus, if someone uses your credit card, the charge is often credited back to your account immediately after it’s reported, Ulzheimer said. Yet, if a crook uses your debit card, not only can they drain your bank account, but it can take up to two weeks for the financial institution to investigate the fraud and reimburse your account.

“In the meantime, you might have to pay your rent, your utilities and other bills,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. The organization recommends that consumers stick to credit cards as much as possible.

Whichever card you decide to swipe, here are ways to protect yourself from scammers.

Be vigilant with your accounts: The Target hack is just the latest in a long history of data breaches, and it likely won’t be the last.

As a result, you should check your debit and credit account activity at least every few days and keep an eye out for any unfamiliar transactions. If you notice anything fishy, notify your financial instituion or credit card company immediately.

“Waiting until the end of the month to check out your credit card statement for fraudulent use is a relic of the past,” Ulzheimer said. “Fraud is a real-time crime, and we as consumers have to be constantly engaged.”

Set your own fraud controls: Financial institutions have their own internal fraud controls, but some transactions can slip through the cracks, said Al Pascual, senior analyst of security risk and fraud at Javelin Strategy & Research.

Many financial institutions will let you set alerts for account transactions. Even better, some allow you to block transactions that are out of the ordinary for you, such as for online purchases at a certain kind of retailer or for any purchases over $500.

“We believe that consumers are going to know best as to how to protect their account,” he said. “They know their own behaviors.

Did you know that First Financial has ID Theft Protection services? When you enroll in one of these services, one of the benefits you’ll receive is an automatic alert sent to you via email and text message, allowing you to confirm whether or not any recent activity is fraudulent. With Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored. Click here to learn more and get started today!

Watch out for fraud hotspots: You should be especially wary of using a debit card online and at retailers more vulnerable to fraud.

Gas stations and ATMs are hotspots for so-called “skimmers,” or machines that scammers install to capture your card information. Watch out for ATM parts that look unusual and always cover your hand when typing your PIN in case a camera is watching, said Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst with the Aite Group.

Don’t let your guard down: If you think your information has been compromised, don’t assume everything’s fine after a few months. Stolen card information is often sold to a variety of groups on the black market who may hold onto it for months or even years.

“Many times these fraud rings will wait until the news dies down and people have forgotten about it before they use that data,” Inscoe said. “It may not be used until next winter, so it really is a good idea for people to monitor their activity.”

If you fall victim to ID Theft, don’t panic – First Financial is here to help! Report the incident regarding any of your First Financial accounts immediately, by calling us at 866.750.0100 or emailing info@firstffcu.com

*Article by Melanie Hicken of Yahoo Finance – click here to view the article source.

1 in 14 Fell Prey to Identity Theft in 2012

identity-theftThe government says 1 out of every 14 Americans age 16 or older was a target or a victim of identity theft, a crime imposing a heavy emotional toll on many of its victims in 2012.

According to a national household survey of 70,000 people issued by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, identity theft resulted in $24.7 billion in financial losses last year.

The crime affected 16.6 million people and fell most heavily on households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. In that income bracket, 10 percent of such households were victimized. The survey counted both attempted and successful incidents of identity theft.

Two-thirds of identity theft victims experienced financial losses, which averaged $1,769.

For many victims, the size of the loss was eclipsed by concerns that someone had stolen their identity and that it might take weeks or months to repair the damage.

Among victims who spent six months or more resolving financial and credit problems stemming from identity theft, 47 percent experienced severe emotional distress, compared with 4 percent who spent a day or less resolving problems.

Victims experienced a wide range of issues having to do with credit, banking, debt collectors, even cutoffs in utility service. In general, victims whose personal information, such as a Social Security number, was misused were more likely to experience financial, legal or other difficulties, according to the bureau.

Ten percent of victims spent more than a month clearing up associated problems. A majority spent a day or less. Victims whose personal information was used to open a new account or for other fraudulent purposes spent an average of about 30 hours resolving problems. Victims of existing credit card account misuse spent an average of three hours resolving problems.

According to the report, 1 in 10 identity theft victims reported the incident to police, while 9 in 10 victims contacted a credit card company or financial institution to report misuse or attempted misuse of an account or personal information.

“What we’re seeing here is the exponential growth of information technology, and with that comes the ability to be hacked,” said Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, a research organization.

Bueermann said that “at one point in the past, people lived in places where they didn’t lock their doors.”

“Over time, they started to lock them,” he said. “We’ll come to the same place in our digital life, hopefully sooner.”

Less than 10 percent of victims bought identity theft protection or used an identity theft security program on their computer after being victimized, according to the survey. Of people interviewed in the survey, 85 percent took one or more preventative actions such as changing passwords on financial accounts or examining bank or credit statements.

Theft involving existing credit cards and bank accounts made up for the vast majority of the 16.6 million victims. Some 7.7 million victims reported the fraudulent use of a credit card, and 7.5 million reported the fraudulent use of a bank account such as a debit card, checking account or savings.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Check out our ID Theft Protection products – with Fully Managed Identity Recovery services from First Financial, you don’t need to worry. A professional Recovery Advocate will do the work on your behalf, based on a plan that you approve. Should you experience an Identity Theft incident, your Recovery Advocate will stick with you all along the way – and will be there for you until your good name is restored.

Our ID Theft Protection options may include some of the following services, based on the package you choose to enroll in: Lost Document Replacement, Credit Bureau Monitoring, Score Tracker, and Three-Generation Family Benefit. To learn more about our new ID Theft Protection products, click here and enroll today!*

*Identity Theft insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

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*Article by Pete Yost of ABC News. Click here to view the article source.

5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Identity Theft

WideModern_IdentityTheftComposite_121813620x413In 2012, 16.6 million people fell victim, amounting to financial losses of $24.7 billion

We’re all experts on identity theft.

Not by choice – but live your life, and it’s hard not to pick up something on the topic. And odds are, you or a friend or family member has been a victim. According to a 2012 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of 70,000 people, 1 out of every 14 Americans ages 16 or older has been a target or a victim of identity theft. Last year, 16.6 million people fell victim to the crime, which resulted in financial losses of $24.7 billion, paid by consumers, companies and credit card companies.

So in the interest of protecting yourself and learning even more about identity theft, here are some things you probably didn’t know.

Military members are particularly at risk. Military veterans file more complaints about identity theft than any other group, according to Scott Higgins, CEO and founder of Veterans Advantage, a national program that partners with corporations, offering discounts on various goods and services. The Federal Trade Commission even designated July 17 as Military Consumer Protection Day to help educate the military about the dangers of identity theft.

What is it about being in the military that makes members such prime targets? Higgins says servicemen and women are conditioned to provide whatever personal information is asked of them throughout their service. “Unfortunately, this ‘conditioning’ often stays with them beyond their careers, leaving them susceptible to both ID theft and data grabbers who bird-dog veterans – offering a small perk and then selling their personal data wherever they can make the biggest buck.”

Medical identity theft is becoming a problem. Just because someone isn’t using your credit card illegally doesn’t mean you’re safe from identity theft. Someone could be using your name to get free medical services at a clinic or hospital, “possibly sticking you with the bill,” says Van Zimmerman, compliance and solutions architect at DataMotion, an email encryption and health information service provider in Morristown, N.J.

According to the Ponemon Institute, a research center devoted to privacy, data protection and information security policy, medical identity theft has increased 20 percent within the past year, and almost two million Americans have fallen victim. How does it happen? A thief with access to your personal information can create a fake ID with your name on it, and suddenly they’re you – at least as far as a hospital or doctor’s office staff knows.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid this since, as Zimmerman says, so many of consumers’ medical files are managed by third parties. But it may give you yet another reason to be careful when it comes to giving out personal information.

Identity theft via computer games is a growing trend. According to Rob D’Ovidio, an associate professor of criminal justice at Drexel University in Philadelphia, video game accounts “are increasingly coming to the attention of identity thieves as they realize that these accounts hold real-world monetary value. Trends in phishing show attacks against financial services, online payments services and online auction brands decreasing, while attacks against video game and social networking brands are increasing.”

Phishing, in case you’re not aware, occurs when scammers construct a fake website with the goal of luring consumers to provide their personal and financial information. For instance, an email hits a gamer’s inbox, stating there is a problem with their account information. The gamer clicks on the link and provides information to the scammer posing as the legitimate service. Or a consumer might receive an instant message, seemingly from a friend, with a link to a gaming website – but clicking on the link brings malware, a type of software that can disrupt your computer or steal your personal information.

D’Ovidio says criminals who manage to access video game accounts through phishing and other methods can also steal virtual money and virtual goods and sell them for real-life dollars. “As well, video game and video game console community accounts are, at times, tied to the account holder’s or their parents’ credit card,” D’Ovidio says.

Click here to view our previous blog post on “Record Breaking Phishing Attack Attempts.”

Search engine poisoning is more popular than ever. “Identity thieves are increasingly using a technique known as search engine poisoning to manipulate the results that show up and bend reality,” says Hugh Thompson, a Columbia University computer science professor and the program committee chair of RSA Conference, an annual information security conference.

Thompson says identity thieves, hackers and attackers can manipulate search engines so that their fake websites “appear higher in the search results than the real thing.”

Then, if it works, you’ve just been phished. Fortunately, there are ways you can spot a fake, and some of them are pretty obvious. If there are a lot of grammatical errors on the site, for example, that may be a danger sign. Many of the rules in the next section can help you realize you’re about to be had.

Criminals like to put fake Wi-Fi hotspots up at public Wi-Fi hotspots. If you go to a hotel or airport and log onto the official Wi-Fi hotspot, generally speaking, you’re perfectly safe. The problem is that you may wind up logging onto a fake Wi-Fi hotspot that simply looks like it belongs to your hotel or the airport, says Thomas Way, associate professor of computing sciences at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa.

He says there’s no sure-fire way to identify a criminal’s hotspot, but there are red flags to look for. First, look for the SSID (service set identification), the “name you see in the list of hotspots, and see if it is the one that the hotel, airport, et cetera, has told you to use,” Way says. “Second, when you get the typical approval page, where you usually click on a button or checkbox to agree to the terms of use, you should never have to enter identifying information, only, at most, a hotel room number and last name. If it asks for more, don’t do it.”

Way adds that just to be safe, look at the URL of the first page. “It should match whatever the page claims to be,” he says. “If it is a hotspot provided by the hotel, it should either be the hotel Web address or it should match the company that is providing the hotspot. If it is a spoof page, it’ll be noticeably different.”

Despite all the talk about online identity theft, you still need to watch your wallet. According to Phrantceena Halres, CEO of Total Protection Services Global, a Charlotte, N.C.-based security services company, only a fraction of identity theft cases are related to online fraud. “The majority is made up of stolen credit cards, checkbooks and wallets,” she says.

That’s because plenty of criminals aren’t computer geniuses. Most of them are hoping you’ve been careless enough to leave your wallet, filled with cash and credit cards, lying on the passenger seat of your unlocked car.

Are you aware of our latest ID Theft Protection Services? First Financial’s latest ID Theft Protection products can easily be set up, there are options for setting up a credit score tracker, as well as a virtual vault to store your important documents and passwords online, and should an ID Theft incident occur – you’ve got an advocate on your side assisting you every step of the way. Ask us how to get started today!*

*Article by  of USNews. Click here to view the article source.

*Identity Theft Insurance underwritten by subsidiaries or affiliates of Chartis Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informal purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.

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