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Beware of Tax Time ID Theft

Just when you thought that you’ve done all that was needed to file your taxes this year…you get an URGENT email from the IRS that something is wrong and you must reply right away. Don’t!

Phishing emails and text messages are the preferred forms of communication for a variety of recent tax time scams. While they may appear to come from the IRS, they are actually designed by scammers to:

  • Lure you into clicking on malicious links that install malware capable of stealing the personal information on your computer, smartphone or tablet
  • Have you provide “missing” personal information, such as your social security number
  • Pay them via a wire transfer or preloaded debit card with a threat of arrest if you do not comply

Scammers and thieves know that we have been “trained” to fear the IRS and they prey on our emotions. Over the years, many taxpayers have encountered individuals impersonating IRS officials – in person, over the telephone and via email.

What you should know…the IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media about a tax bill/refund or to request personal or financial information.This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.In fact, the IRS initiates most contacts through regular mail or “notices” delivered by the United States Postal Service.

  • Forward an unsolicited email claiming to be from the IRS, or an IRS-related component like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, to the IRS at phishing@irs.gov.
  • Report phone scams to the Federal Trade Commission. Use the “FTC Complaint Assistant” on FTC.gov. Please add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

While the IRS has instituted new programs and resources to try and prevent tax ID theft, they warn that crooks continue to find new, more sophisticated ways to capitalize on our money. That’s why they have a comprehensive list of information about tax-time identity theft and helpful links at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection.

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Credit

YOU CAN NOW FREEZE – and UNFREEZE – YOUR CREDIT REPORT FOR FREE

As of September 21, credit bureaus can no longer charge you to freeze your credit reports or to lift a freeze. Here’s what you need to know to get your free freeze.

By Kimberly Lankford

Q: I remember reading a while back that everyone starting this fall will be able to freeze their credit report for free. Is this change effective now, and what do I need to do to get my free freeze?

A: The law providing free credit freezes took effect on September 21. The three big credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—can no longer charge a fee to place or lift a credit freeze. In the past, the cost to freeze your credit report varied by state. Some states required free credit freezes for their residents, but others let the credit bureaus charge $5 to $10 every time someone wanted to freeze their credit record or lift the freeze (when applying for a loan, for instance).

A credit freeze prevents new creditors from reviewing your credit report, making it harder for identity thieves to take out credit in your name. For it to be effective, you’ll need to contact each of the credit bureaus separately to initiate a freeze. To see what steps you need to take, go to the Equifax freeze page, the Experian freeze page and the TransUnion freeze page.

Once you request a freeze either online or by phone, the new law requires the credit bureaus to implement it within one day. And if you ask for the freeze to be lifted, the credit bureaus have one hour to do it. “That is the law’s maximum time, but for most people setting the freeze online or by phone, it will be pretty close to instantaneous,” says Francis Creighton, the president of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade organization for credit bureaus and other consumer reporting agencies.

Some states have additional consumer protections. In Utah, for example, the credit bureaus must initiate or lift the freeze within 15 minutes of the request for a freeze on a mobile app, says Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who sponsored the credit freeze legislation in the Utah House of Representatives (Utah’s law took effect in May). You can find out about additional consumer protections in your state from its division of consumer protection or the state attorney general’s office.

The freeze remains in effect until you take steps to remove it—either temporarily or permanently. “Understanding the correct terminology is important,” says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “A thaw (or unfreezing) of one’s credit allows them to temporarily remove the freeze for a specified period of time. For example, if a consumer knows they will be applying for credit, they can request a thaw for a day, or a week or another specified time period. And after that time period has elapsed, the credit will freeze again—no additional action is necessary on the part of the consumer.” Lifting a credit freeze, on the other hand, removes the freeze until the consumer actively requests the freeze from the credit bureau again. It’s free whether you lift or thaw a freeze.

The new law also lengthens the duration of a fraud alert that you can place on your credit file from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert signals to businesses that you may have been a victim of identity theft and that they should verify your identity before opening any new accounts. You need only place a fraud alert with one credit bureau, which will notify the others.

 

© 2018 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

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FIVE KEYS TO KEEPING YOUR DATA SECURE

Protect yourself from would-be identity thieves.

By Lisa Gerstner

Chances are, you may have been swindled at some point in your life, or you know someone who has. Nearly half of consumers surveyed recently by Stanford University’s Center on Longevity and the Finra Investor Education Foundation reported being a victim of financial fraud in the previous year—a far higher tally than earlier surveys indicated. No socioeconomic or demographic group is immune. “Men and women, college students and retirees, rich and poor—all are potential targets,” the report’s authors found. Nearly 40% of victims never told anyone about the fraud.

 

Estimates are problematic, but Americans are thought to lose some $50 billion a year to financial scams. And there are indirect costs: bounced checks, late fees, trouble meeting monthly expenses and even bankruptcy. So, it’s not surprising that the emotional cost of fraud is also high, with 50% of victims reporting severe stress and more than one-third citing depression. The toll is compounded for senior victims, who have little time to make up for lost resources. “When elderly people lose their life savings, they lose hope,” says Ricky Locklar, an investment fraud investigator at the Alabama Securities Commission. “To me, those crimes are worse than someone robbing the corner drugstore at gunpoint.”

Here’s how to keep your data secure:

  1. Play it safe at the ATM. Cover the keyboard with your hand when you enter your PIN—a camera may be recording your keystrokes, which thieves can later match with your payment-card data.
  2. Check bank and credit card accounts. At least once a week, look for suspicious charges. Sign up to receive alerts when your bank account balance falls below a threshold you specify, say, or when a charge higher than a certain amount goes through on your card.
  3. Head off ID thieves. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get free yearly reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. Check for accounts you don’t recognize and other red flags. Or enroll in a service that monitors your credit reports. If you’re worried about a breach, consider placing a freeze on your reports with each bureau. New creditors will be unable to view them, minimizing the chances that thieves will be able to open new credit accounts in your name.
  4. Watch for tax and medical ID theft. Fight tax ID theft by filing your tax return as early as possible. Doing so may block any thieves who want to use your Social Security number to file a return in your name and collect a refund. Signs of medical ID theft include treatments or services you never used appearing on bills or explanations of benefits.
  5. Don’t fall for phishing expeditions. Be on guard for phone calls or e-mails from fraudsters posing as representatives from your bank, the IRS or other entities. If you’re unsure of an e-mail or text message, don’t click on links within it, which could install malware on your device or lead to a scam website.

© 2018 The Kiplinger Washington Editors

Brought to you by NEA Member Benefits.

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Kiplinger

6 Scams to Watch Out for This Holiday Season

From fake gift cards to stealthy skimmers, thievery thrives this time of year. Learn to stay safe and keep your privacy intact.

By the Editors of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—for scam artists and other would-be thieves. Every time you swipe your credit card at the register or enter your personal information on a Web site, you risk having your sensitive data fall into the wrong hands. And as you count down the remaining shopping days in the season, you may let down your guard in a mad dash to check everything off your list. “The holiday season is a busy time for consumers, when we do the majority of our shopping for the year, and hackers are priming themselves for the wave of data coming in,” says Yaron Samid, founder of personal finance app BillGuard (which was acquired by lending site Prosper in October 2015). “This is the Super Bowl of scam season.

To keep your holidays happy and your identity safe, be wary of these six common scams.

1. The Scam: Phishing

You get an email luring you to a fake deal site promising unbelievable savings on your Christmas gifts—often popular electronics and gadgets. But it’s really just a ruse to get your credit card information and other personal data.

The Fix: You can easily avoid this threat by not clicking on links in emails from unknown sources. Even if the email seems to be from a legitimate retailer, you should type its Web address directly into your browser rather than clicking on an email link, to be on the safe side.

Also, shop only at sites you are familiar with or that are recommended by a reliable source. You can check with install the Better Business Bureau. (Although to verify that the merchant is legitimate. And make sure that wherever you shop online is secure: The url on any checkout page should begin with https:// and have a lock symbol next to it in the browser.

2. The Scam: Empty Gift Cards

The gift card you buy from a discount site might actually have no value. Criminals can spend the funds and replace the scratch-off material that covers the card’s PIN, so the card seems unused when sold for a percentage of its face value.

The Fix: Buying discounted gift cards online is a great way to save money. You just have to be sure you use legitimate resellers. Consider trying the Gift Card Granny  and Raise.

3. The Scam: Skimming

You innocently withdraw money from your checking account at the local drive-through ATM. Unfortunately, bad guys have attached a stealthy device to the machine’s scanner that lifts your account information when you swipe.

The Fix: Samid recommends using only indoor ATMs because they offer additional security that is likely to deter scammers. Gas stations are also prime targets for this particular threat, so he suggests paying inside instead of at the pump. It may be less convenient, but it’s not as troublesome as dealing with the repercussions of identity theft.

4. The Scam: A Fake Charity

You get an email, a phone call or even an in-person request asking you to contribute to some seemingly worthy cause. But the solicitor turns out to be a fraudster who plans to take your credit card information and profit from the kindness of strangers like you. “Scammers are leveraging the fact that people are feeling particularly generous around the holidays and are more susceptible to charity requests and helping other people out,” says Samid.

The Fix: Check on the legitimacy of any charity before you give. Sites such as Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance can help you verify the quality of a charity and decide whether it’s worthy of your largesse.

5. The Scam: Nonstandard Payments

You go to make a purchase on Ebay or Craigslist, but the seller asks you to pay by money order or some other random way. “Any nonstandard forms of payment like these are almost always a scam,” says Joe Siegrist, cofounder of password management site LastPass.

The Fix: Stick to the more usual ways to pay. Credit cards are a particularly safe method of payment because they come with fraud protection. You can easily dispute any unfamiliar charges.

6. The Scam: Fake Tech Support

You get an unsolicited call from someone saying he’s providing assistance from the maker of your computer. Then he walks you through how to yield control over your machine. Once he has taken over, he’s free to swipe any sensitive data you have stored there.

The Fix: Just say no. “Microsoft and Apple will never call you and ask you to take these types of steps, and they’ll never email you with these requests either,” says Siegrist. “Be wary of anyone who contacts you with these requests.”

Also make sure you use a unique password for each and every account you have. Apps such as Dashlane, Keeper and Siegrist’s LastPass can help you create and keep track of all of them.

Other ways you can protect yourself: Take advantage of your free annual credit report to make sure no fraudulent activity has been going on in your name. And keep a close eye on all your account statements. If any charge, big or small, seems odd or unfamiliar, be vigilant and check whether you need to dispute it. “There is no substitute for your checking your own card statements during the holiday season,” says Samid. “You are the frontline of defense.”

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