A Credit Freeze Won’t Help With All Equifax Breach Threats

If you’ve placed a security freeze on your credit reports at Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis, that will help prevent fraudsters from opening new credit accounts in your name.

Freezing your credit report specifically at Equifax will also prevent crooks from registering as you at the government website “my Social Security,” and block them from attempting to steal your Social Security benefits. *Note: Setting up a credit freeze with Equifax will stop identity thieves from setting up a “my Social Security” account in your name.

But taking these steps won’t protect you against every identity fraud threat arising from the Equifax data breach.

With the information that hackers got, including access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, and an unspecified amount of driver’s license numbers, you need to take other steps to help lock down your finances.

Here are three important ways you can protect yourself.

Tax Refunds

With your Social Security number, crooks can file false income tax returns in your name, take bogus deductions, and steal the resulting refund. More than 14,000 fraudulent 2016 tax returns, with $92 million in unwarranted refunds, were detected and stopped by the Internal Revenue Service as of last March.

Though you are generally not liable for such fraud, if a criminal manages to change your tax records and receive your refund, it can take months to straighten out the mess.

How to protect yourself. The best defense is to obtain an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS, which is a code that must be filed with your legitimate return for it to be accepted. An identity thief can’t file the fraudulent return without your PIN.

But you can get a PIN only if a fraudulent return has previously been filed in your name, if the IRS determines that you’re an ID fraud victim, or if you live in a high tax-related identity theft locale such as Washington, D.C.; Florida; or Georgia.

The IRS did not yet say whether those affected by the Equifax breach would qualify for a PIN.

Andrew Mattson, a tax partner at the Moss Adams tax firm in Silicon Valley, recommends that taxpayers who don’t officially qualify for a PIN request one anyway, by filing a Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit (PDF). “Even if the IRS says no, your account will generally be flagged for additional monitoring for suspicious activity,” he says.

Mattson also recommends that you periodically view your IRS account information, which shows when returns were filed and which refund payments were made. Activity there—if it’s not yours—can be a sign of fraud. The balance updates every 24 hours, usually overnight, but there is a one- to three-week lag in the time it takes for refund payments to show up.

If you suspect fraud, contact your local IRS office using the Taxpayer Assistance Center Office Locator.

Health Insurance

Data from the Equifax breach can be used to steal your benefits from private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid when the identity thief uses your coverage to pay for their own medical treatment and prescriptions.

Many health insurers have internal special investigation units and anti‐fraud personnel to root out medical identity fraud, and if suspicious activity is detected, they’ll send email alerts to the policyholder, says Cathryn Donaldson, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of health insurers.

How to protect yourself. Get copies of your medical records from providers to establish the baseline of your health before your records are compromised. Increasingly, online patient portals make this easy to do. Check back regularly to see whether providers you didn’t use are listed and whether you’ve been charged for treatments you never received.

In addition, review your free annual MIB Consumer File, which contains medical and personal information about you reported by health, life, disability, and other member insurers. Do the same for your Milliman Intelliscript report, which tracks your history of prescription drug purchases.

The Federal Trade Commission also says consumers should ask each of their health plans and medical providers for the “accounting of disclosures” related to their medical records. That tells who got copies of your records from the provider. The law allows you to order one free copy from each medical provider every year.

If available, sign up for your insurer’s secure online portal, and regularly review the explanation of benefits, which shows which treatments you received when and from which providers. While there, sign up for fraud alerts via email or text message, which will keep you apprised of benefit payments.

Regularly review your credit report for medical collection accounts that don’t belong to you.

Your Driver’s License

Using your driver’s license number, identity thieves can create bogus driver’s licenses and hang their moving violations on you. With more work and information from phishing or further hacking, identity thieves can create bogus checks to pay a cashier, who “verifies” the shopper’s identity by writing your license number on the bad check.

If this happens to you, you may not discover how your license has been used until a police officer tells you, or perhaps, until a bank closes your account because of too many bounced checks.

How to protect yourself. Ask the motor vehicle department to give you a copy of your driving record; most states charge for this, usually about $10. To find out whether any bad checks are attributed to your driver’s license, request your free annual consumer report from each of the big three check verification companies: ChexSystems, Certegy, and TeleCheck.

If you find that your driver’s license is being used fraudulently, you can file a police report at your local police department and ask the motor vehicle department to flag your license number, which will alert law enforcement officers to be extra careful in identifying people they pull over with your license number. You should also request a new driver’s license number.

If you’re arrested or find criminal charges on your record, go to the Identity Theft Resource Center for advice on clearing criminal identity theft; if you find fraudulent checks on your record, follow the ITRC for advice on resolving checking account fraud. You can also call 888-400-5530 for free assistance.

Don’t wait until it’s too late! Be sure to enroll in First Financial’s Identity Theft Protection Program from SherpaThe best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today! Learn more about safeguarding your identity with our consumer identity theft protection guide.

Article Source: Jeff Blyskal for Consumer Reports

 

3 New Consumer Scams to Be Aware Of

New twist on an old phone scam:

Phone scams are nearly as old as Alexander Graham Bell, but fraudsters have invented a new trick to beware of. It’s called the “can you hear me” con.

Scammers will call your phone and ask if you can hear them, but if you answer yes, they’ll record you and use it as “proof” that you signed up for whatever fraudulent service they’re offering.

The safest thing you can do if you receive one of these calls is to simply hang up, or if you don’t know the number – don’t answer it in the first place.

When heart meets wallet – dating scam:

Nothing says I love you less than an empty bank account, yet that might be your fate if you go looking for love in all the wrong places.

According to the FBI, scammers are preying on people’s hearts and wallets in a new growing trend called romance scams. It starts off simply enough — you meet someone through the service that seems a likely match and contact is made. Things intensify quickly. It seems like a dream romance. It’s not.

Beware anyone you meet through online dating services who asks for financial gifts or favors (even if he or she is the “love of your life.”) This could be a play to get access to your checking account.

These scammers will leave you broke and broken hearted if you’re not careful. Use your head and be a bit suspicious. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t fall for the bait with phishing:

The chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, fell for a phishing scheme last year when he reportedly received an email from Google asking him to verify his account.

Unfortunately, the email wasn’t from Google, but was from a scammer — a scammer who now had all the info he needed to hack this Google account.

Software like Photoshop makes it easy for even a mediocre hacker to convince you that they are with a trusted organization like Google, your bank, or another company who handles sensitive matters for you.

Before you give over info, even basic info – remember the painful lesson learned: email isn’t secure. Never share sensitive information over email.

If you think you are the victim of a scam, don’t wait until it’s too late! Be sure to enroll in First Financial’s Identity Theft Protection Program from Sherpa today. The best part? You can enroll right online, 24/7. You can trust in First Financial and Sherpa to help keep your personal information protected. Packages begin at just $5.99 per month – so click here to enroll today!

Also, don’t miss our identity theft protection guide.

Article Source: Jennifer Reynolds for CUInsight.com

4 Signs That a Charity is Probably a Scam

Many of us donate to a worthy cause year round. Unfortunately, just as there are good people trying to help others, there are also plenty of scammers out there. You want to feel good about where your money is going, and you want to make sure that you aren’t just lining the pockets of some fraudster. As you field phone calls and receive information from those purporting to help the less fortunate, watch out for the following red flags that might indicate you are dealing with a scam:

1. High-Pressure Phone Tactics

Someone insisting that you give money now, over the phone, is a huge red flag that you are probably dealing with a scam. Most legitimate charities don’t employ high-pressure sales tactics that make you feel like you need to donate immediately.

In some cases, scammers insist that you have to just donate, and they tell you time is too short to send you literature or let you look at a website. If a caller gets frustrated and tries to tell you that you need to donate immediately, hang up the phone.

Legit charities usually have no problem with you saying no. The caller might tell you they are under a deadline for a match, but they won’t pressure you, and once you say you need time to think about it, most legit charities will thank you and move on.

2. No Website

Who doesn’t have a website these days? Scammers, that’s who. If you get a phone call from an organization, and you can’t find a website, that’s a red flag. Most legit charities have websites that describe their mission, who they help, and even include success stories. Even local charities usually have a basic website that allows you to see where they are located and what their needs are.

If an organization doesn’t have a website, that’s an immediate red flag. That’s not to say that every worthy cause would have a website, but it simply means you need to investigate further. Legit charities want people to know they are out there and accept donations.

3. They Won’t Provide You with Their Tax ID

Charities have to apply to be tax-exempt organizations and you can call IRS to verify their legitimacy. If someone over the phone just cannot provide their Tax ID or there’s no way to find that out before you send money, then this is a major red flag. And it’s not totally safe just because they gave you a bunch of numbers either. Call 877-829-5500 to see if the charity is claiming to be who they are. This is also the definitive source for making sure your donation is tax deductible.

4. No One Wants to See You

Watch out if a caller doesn’t want to let you know where they are located. Ask to stop by if they claim to be local. Or, you can ask for a mailing address to send a donation. Legitimate charities are happy to let you have a tour or send them a donation through the mail.

Scammers, though, don’t usually have a mailing address. And they certainly don’t want you anywhere near their base of operations. When an organization comes up with an excuse as to why you can’t visit or send a donation to an address, you should watch out. There’s a good chance you’re dealing with a scammer.

If you are still unsure, you can check Charity Navigator or GuideStar for information about charities and how effective they are, including how much of their resources go toward actually helping others.

There are many worthy causes that deserve your dollar’s attention, but you need to pay attention in order for the real charities to benefit the world. Do your part by taking time to vet out the details and you won’t be sorry to hear that your donations only enriched someone without really helping those in need.

Article Source: Miranda Marquit for MoneyNing.com