Beware Car-Wrap Scams!

Two auto-body techs apply a vinyl wrap to a car fenderScammers never stop dreaming up new ways to con you out of your money-and reinventing old tricks that work. The fake-check scam is a tried-and-true scheme with dozens of variations. One such variation, the car-wrap scam, has recently become more widespread and successful.

Here’s all you need to know about the car-wrap scam and how you can protect yourself from becoming the next victim.

In this scam, well-known “brands” post ads or send mass emails promising consumers generous compensation for allowing the company to use their car as advertising space. The consumer simply needs to have their vehicle shrink-wrapped with an ad for the company to get paid, usually, around $500 a week.

Unfortunately, the ad is bogus and does not really represent the promoted company. When the victim is awarded their first “paycheck,” it will be made out for an amount that’s far larger than what was promised. Alternatively, the victim will be supplied with the funds to pay the car-wrapper; only the amount on the check is a lot larger than necessary. In both scenarios, the victim will be instructed to cash the check and mail back the surplus to the sender. You can probably guess the ending: The check will not clear and the victim will never see that money again.

Like every successful scam, this one tries to bait its victims with the promise of easy money. Luckily, there are loads of red flags to alert you to the fact that you’re looking at a scam.

First, the ad will be written poorly and riddled with typos and spelling errors.
Here is the actual text used in one of these scams:

Bull light are currently seeking to employ car owners world wide. You will need to carry this promotional advert on the exterior of your car and you will be compensated with $500 per week which is essentially a “rental” payment for letting our company use the space of your car, no application fees required from you. We would be paying you by check and would want you to get back to us with your Name: Street Address: City: and cell phone State: Zip code: to send you the check and also send your Age: Current Occupation: Make of car/ year:. We will contact you immediately we receive this information Note: We take full responsibility for placing and remove decal on your car and it will not resort to any damage. Thanks.

A brief look at the ad should clue you in to its shady intent. Legitimate brands know their spelling and grammar.

Another clue is the ridiculously high compensation being offered for essentially renting out your vehicle for an alleged company to use as advertising space. You know what they say about things that are too good to be true …

Also, if the offer actually was legitimate, the company would likely be bombarded with hopeful applicants instead of sending out mass emails begging people to consider this lucrative, no-sweat opportunity.

If you fall for the scam and sign up to have your car shrink-wrapped, you can still pull out when you get your first paycheck or funding to be used for the car wrap. Legitimate companies do not mistakenly “overpay” you and then ask you to refund the change.

“If you get a message urging you to deposit a check and wire money back, it’s a scam,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Every time. No matter the story.”

If you receive a check that matches this description, rip it up and cut off all contact with the sender.

It’s equally important to note that many of these car-wrap scams are being pulled off in the name of well-known beverage companies like Monster Energy, Pepsi, Bud Light and Red Bull. Most of these companies have confirmed that they do not run any programs like the one promoted in the scam.

If you come across a car-wrap offer that sounds legitimate, a quick online search of the company that’s allegedly associated with the job can help you determine whether it is truly authentic. If it turns out to be a scam, be sure to warn your friends and to file a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov.

Always be on the alert for possible scams and keep yourself informed of the latest schemes. A little education and a lot of common sense can go a long way toward keeping you safe from scams.

Your Turn:
Have you spotted a car-wrap scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
latimes.com
consumeraffairs.com

How To Recognize And Protect Yourself From Scams

Excited young woman reading a phamplet that says "You won!"Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness, and that includes keeping you and your money safe. To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.

Five red flags of scams
While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:

They demand detailed information before agreeing to process an application. A favorite ploy among scammers is asking for sensitive, non-public information like your date of birth, Social Security number and login information for online accounts. They will typically do this before processing any application for an alleged product, service or job.
They insist on a specific method of payment. If an online seller or service provider will only accept payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, you’re likely looking at a scam.

They send you a check for an inflated amount. Another favorite trick among scammers is to overpay a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to return the extra money. In a few days’ time, when the original, inflated check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been conned but it’s too late to get back the “extra” money they returned.
You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents. A scammer representing a bogus business can easily be uncovered by doing a quick online search about the “company.”

You’re pressured to act now.
Scammers are always in a rush to complete their ruse before you catch onto their act.

Who are the targets?
Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:

  • The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
  • The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
  • Children.
    Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.

What do scams look like?
Here are some of the most common scams:

  • Cyber-hacking In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
  • Phishing scams Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
  • Mystery shopper A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
  • Job offers Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
  • Sweetheart scams A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
  • Fraudulent investments Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams
Keep yourself safe by following these rules:

  1. Never share personal information online.
  2. Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
  3. Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
  4. Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
  5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
  6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
  7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
  8. If you have elderly parents who spend time online, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
  9. Don’t take the identity of callers at face value, even if your Caller ID verifies their story. If a government agency, utility company or financial institution reaches out to you and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own and then end the call.
  10. Never accept a job or agree to pay for a purchase or service without thoroughly researching the company involved.

Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

Once an individual falls prey to a scam, there is very little that can be done to mitigate the loss. Full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking Advantage One Credit Union for help.

Your Turn:
How do you keep yourself safe from scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Don’t Get Scammed At The Gym!

Personal trainer in a gym reviews the exercise & diet with her clientAs soon as the calendar hits Jan. 2, the gyms are packed with people who are eager to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re one of the thousands of newbies making your way to fitness centers this month, beware of these five subtle scams that can end up thinning your wallet more than your physique.

The free trial
Free trials at fitness centers are super-popular right after the holidays. It sounds like a no-brainer: no money, and you get to try out the gym for free! Unfortunately, though, free trials can ultimately end up costing you a pretty penny. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns against sharing your credit card information with a gym that’s offering a free trial because many will start automatically charging you a monthly fee unless you remember to cancel your “membership” by a certain timeframe. You may even find yourself committed to a full year!

The fix: Read the fine print carefully on any free trial offer. If possible, only take advantage of a free trial offered without asking for any financial information.

The no-cancellation policy
Gyms depend on strong membership numbers. This can sometimes translate into high-pressure sales tactics-or worse. Lots of fitness centers will not let you out of a contract until a full year is up, no matter what. You’ll be stuck paying that membership all year even if you find the gym is not the right fit for you, if you develop a medical condition that makes use of the gym impossible or you end up moving out of town.

The fix: Before signing up for a gym membership, ask about their cancellation policy. If it’s too rigid, look for another gym.

“Certified” personal trainers
Another way gyms get you is by charging you extra for the service of an on-staff personal trainer. The catch? Lots of these “trainers” have not completed their certification process, or may even be completely untrained! This means you’re essentially paying through the roof to have a glorified coach help you work out. You can also end up getting injured if the trainer puts you through a workout that is overly strenuous for your personal capacity.

The fix: Before signing up to work with a personal trainer, ask to see their certification. Look for NSCA, ACSM, NASM and ACE.

No health-history form
In our litigation-happy society, every business and service provider is deathly afraid of being sued. Gyms are no exception. To help them avoid getting dragged to court for injuries incurred while using their machines, many fitness centers have stopped making new members fill out a health-history form and/or a PAR-Q-a standard questionnaire for exercise readiness. This way, instead of reviewing members’ health histories and lifestyle details so they can direct them toward appropriate machines and workouts, gyms have effectively absolved themselves from exercise-related injuries.

The fix: Be wary of signing up at gyms that don’t ask any questions about your medical history or personal lifestyle.

Equipment-maintenance fees
Many fitness centers have started charging members a quarterly or monthly equipment-maintenance fee on top of their membership dues. This practice begs the question: If you’re paying a fee for the upkeep of the exercise equipment, why are you also paying a membership fee?

The fix: Ask about any additional fees before signing up for a gym membership.

Get fit without the gym
If you’re looking to shed some pounds and build muscles this year, you don’t need a gym. You can download some great workout tutorials online, invite some friends over and exercise at home! There are also lots of exercises you can do without any expensive equipment, like squats, lunges, T-handle swings, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, stretches and more. For an aerobics workout, you can bundle up and go for a walk, sprint or jog outdoors instead of running nowhere on a treadmill in a noisy gym. You can get fit without paying a small fortune!

If you need the commitment to working out that a gym membership can give you, go for it, but proceed with caution. Avoid getting scammed at the gym by looking out for the less-than-savory business practices, and by doing extensive research on any fitness center you might want to join.

Best of luck on your fitness quest in 2020 from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

Your Turn:
Have you had an unsatisfactory business relationship with a fitness center? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
joe-cannon.com
nattyornot.com
witn.com

Don’t Get Scammed By Santa!

Close-up of Santa's face and glove as he peeks into the mailbox that you are in.Someone’s been naughty this year-and we’re not talking about you! Those awful scammers don’t take time out for the holidays, and if you don’t know what to expect you can be their next victim.

One of the oldest holiday scams, which is even more prevalent in the age of the internet, is the letter-from-Santa scam. Here’s all you need to know about this Christmas-themed scheme.

How it plays out
In this ruse, scammers set up bogus websites where parents can order legitimate-looking letters from Santa for their children. The cost is less than $30. All they need to do is share some details about their child along with their credit card information, and the letter is supposedly as good as mailed.

Except that it’s not. Unfortunately, anyone who follows the instructions detailed on the site has just fallen prey to a scam. They’ll never see that promised letter, or the money they paid for the privilege of receiving a note from Santa. Worse, the ring of scammers now has the children’s information and their parent’s credit card details.

This set of circumstances can have all sorts of unhappy endings, from identity theft to emptied accounts. Sometimes, the scammers will go after the child’s credit, which will likely go unchecked for years. When the children are grown and try to open a credit card or take out a loan, they may find that their credit score has been destroyed by these scammers over the years, all without their knowledge.

Some sites will even offer to send the letter at no cost. All you need to do is share some details about your child, like their full legal name, date of birth and home address. Of course, this is also the work of scammers looking to steal your child’s identity.

How can I tell it’s a scam?
There are legitimate websites where you can order a letter from Santa for your child at no risk of identity theft or a ruined credit history. But how can you weed out the phony sites from the authentic services?

We’ve made it simple. Look for the following red flags, which should alert you to the fact that a site is created by scammers:

  • The fraudster reaches out to you repeatedly
    Promotional emails and ads are one thing; targeted marketing that is so aggressive it borders on harassment is another thing entirely. If a company doesn’t stop sending you emails or alerts about its services, you may be dealing with a scam.
  • The site is not secure
    As always, check for the lock icon and the ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the URL; both indicate a site’s security. Also, look for security badges on the bottom of the webpage and click on them to see if they’re actual links to the security company they allegedly represent. Scammers often post static images of well-known security badges, which do fool people into thinking the site is safe.
  • You need to answer too many questions
    Yes, a service sending your child a letter from Santa will need to know your child’s name and mailing address. They may even ask your child’s age so they can send an age-appropriate letter. But there’s no need for them to be privy to your child’s exact date of birth, and certainly not their Social Security number. If the questions in an online form are making you uncomfortable, opt out.
  • You can’t reach a representative by phone
    Most websites will have the company’s toll-free contact number on the site’s homepage. If you suspect fraud, try the number. If the company is bogus, the number will likely be a fake.
  • You can’t find any positive reviews about the company online
    An online search on a legitimate service should bring up basic information and some positive reviews about the service. If a search turns up empty, and of course, if it turns up any reports of past scams, the “company” is run by crooks.

If you’ve recognized a company as a scam, be sure not to click on any links that are embedded in their emails. Flag their emails as spam, and delete every email, message and alert it sends you.

You can still send your child a letter from Santa. Try a legitimate site like Portable North Pole or or better yet, create and send one yourself!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a letter-from-Santa scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Learn More:
consumeraffairs.com
news.yahoo.com
aarp.org

Beware The Apple Support Scam!

Apple logoIf you have an iPhone, iPad or a Macbook, you need to know about this recent, hard-to-spot scam. Hackers are impersonating Apple support in an effort to scrape sensitive information from Apple users’ devices. These scams can be difficult to identify and are often successful.

Here’s all you need to know about the latest phishing scam and how to keep yourself safe.

How does this scam play out?
In the Apple support scam, hackers are spoofing Apple’s support number and calling iPhone users to offer them technical support. The scammer will tell the victim they’re calling about a data breach that needs immediate attention. They’ll claim the victim’s Apple iCloud account is compromised, hacked or has been showing suspicious activity. To fix the problem, they’ll say they need access to the victim’s device. They’ll go on to ask for the Apple user’s login credentials, passwords and other sensitive data. Their ultimate goal is to gain access to the victim’s iCloud account.

Sometimes, the scam takes the form of an automated message sent to the victim announcing that evidence of suspicious activity has been found in their iCloud account. The victim is instructed to call a specific number to reach “Apple Support.” Once victims makes that phone call, they’ll be greeted by a legitimate-sounding welcome message complete with estimated wait times, as if they’d actually reached the real Apple Support. They may even be directed to press the number one to reach a support adviser or supervisor. Of course, once they’re connected to a “representative,” they’ll be speaking to a scammer, who is waiting to ask for their iCloud account credentials and login information.

One of the reasons this scam often works is because of the sophisticated way it’s executed. The scammers use high-level spoofing technology to make it appear as if Apple Support is actually calling the victim. Apple’s iconic logo even appears on the victim’s phone as the call comes in. Unless the victim is aware of this ruse and knows to be on the lookout for it, it’s difficult to determine this call is a scam.

How do I know the caller isn’t really an Apple representative?
In high-tech scams like this one, it can be challenging for targeted victims to separate fact from fiction. If you receive a call like the one described above, and you’re unsure if the caller is a legitimate Apple representative, it’s fairly simple to find out the truth. As soon as the caller starts asking for your Apple ID password, iCloud credentials or verification codes to provide you with support, you’ll know you’re talking to a scammer. Apple has made it clear that its reps will never ask for any of this information over the phone.

What is Apple saying about this scam?
The Apple Support Twitter feed is full of tweets from iPhone users asking if these calls are legitimate. Apple provides these users with a link to a helpful article about avoiding phishing scams. The tech giant has also warned users to verify a caller’s identity before providing any personal information over the phone. Unfortunately, though, this step can be difficult to carry out in real life when the caller ID makes it appear as if the scammer is calling directly from Apple Support.

Perhaps the best advice the company gives for avoiding this scam is, “If you get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Apple, hang up and contact us directly.” If you follow this advice, you’ll never run the risk of sharing your personal information with an alleged Apple Support representative who is really a scammer.
Apple also advises iPhone users to activate two-factor authentication as an added layer of protection for their accounts.

Scammers are always looking for new ways to hack the personal information of unsuspecting victims. Always be on the alert for scams like this one and never share sensitive information over the phone. Stay safe!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by the Apple Support scam? Tell us how you recognized the scam in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
fox29.com
support.apple.com

6 Ways To Spot A Payday Loan Scam

glowing green neon sign over black background that spells out "pay day loans"Payday loan scams may seem like old news, but they’re more common than ever. In fact, in 2018, the FTC paid a total of $505 million to more than one million victims of payday loan scams.

In this scam, a caller claiming to represent a collection agency who is acting on behalf of a loan company tells victims they must pay their outstanding balance on a payday loan. They’ll ask victims to confirm identifying details, such as their date of birth or even their Social Security number. They claim they need it as proof that they’ve seen the victim’s loan application and actually do represent the company. Unfortunately, the caller is actually a scammer trying to rip off victims or steal their identity.

In many payday loan scams, victims may have applied for a payday loan but not yet completed the application, or they may have submitted the application but not yet received the funds. In these scenarios, the victim has unknowingly applied for a loan with an illegitimate company which proceeds to sell the victim’s information to a third party. This way, the caller can appear to be an authentic loan collector because they know lots of information about the victim.

If you’ve applied for a payday loan, be on the lookout for these six red flags, any of which should alert you to the fact that you’re being scammed:

1. You’ve never received a payday loan
While these scams usually target people who have filled out an application for a payday loan, fraudsters often go after victims who haven’t completed one or who have done so but have not yet been granted the loan. Obviously, you can’t be late paying back a loan you never received.

If you haven’t completed your application or you haven’t yet received an answer from the loan company you applied to, you’re talking to a scammer.

2. The caller demands you pay under threat of arrest
Scammers often dishonestly align themselves with law enforcement agencies to coerce victims into cooperating. A legitimate loan company will never threaten you with immediate arrest.

3. The caller refuses to divulge the name of his collection agency.
If the caller actually represents a collection agency, they should have no problem identifying this agency by name. If they refuse to do so, you may be looking at a scam.

4. You can’t find any information about the agency the caller allegedly represents.
The caller is sometimes willing to name the agency, but the company is completely bogus. If you’re suspicious about the call, do a quick Google search to see what the internet has to say about this company. If you can’t find any proof of the company’s existence, such as a web page, phone number or physical address; or the search turns up evidence of previous scams, hang up.

5. You have not received a validation notice in the mail.
By law, anyone representing a collection agency and attempting to collect on an outstanding debt must send a validation letter to the debtor. This letter will inform the borrower that they can dispute the debt within 30 days. It will also detail the amount of money owed and the party to whom it must be paid.
If you have not received any such letter in the mail before the alleged debt collector calls, you’re probably looking at a scam.

6. The caller only accepts immediate payment over the phone.
If the caller was reaching out to you on behalf of a legitimate collections agency, they’d be happy to work out a payment plan with you, and provide you with an address to which you can mail your payments. When a “collector” insists that you pay in full over the phone and refuses to furnish an address to which you can mail your payments, you’re likely talking to a scammer who is only interested in getting your financial information and your money.

If you find yourself struggling to survive financially between paychecks, call, click or stop by Advantage One Credit Union today. We’ll be happy to help you learn how to keep your finances it optimum health.

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by a payday loan scam or a similar con? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Learn More:
consumer.ftc.gov
lendedu.com
scam-detector.com
avvo.com

Take Caution Before You Borrow Someone’s Charging Cable

Young black male teen enjoys content on his phone that is plugged into a wall charger.You know the feeling. It’s like a bona fide coffee addict running low on caffeine, or like a hiker almost out of drinking water. You’re travelling and your phone is running low on juice. Frantic, you’re searching for a place to plug in and recharge. The last thing you want is to be completely stranded in a strange place with no way to order an Uber or pay for your dinner. In one last desperate move, you search through your bag for the charging cable you always keep there – and then you remember you lent it to your friend and never got it back.

What to do?

And then, like an angel, a stranger appears out of nowhere with a friendly smile on their face. They’re holding a wonderful, beautiful charging cable in their hands.

“Do you want to use this?” they ask.

What do you do?

A. Smile your thanks, grab the cable and plug in your phone.
B. Say “No, thank you,” before walking away, dead smartphone and all.

If you chose B, you made the right decision. Cybersecurity experts are warning against using a stranger’s charging cable or even borrowing one from an airport official or front-desk concierge at a hotel.

“There are certain things in life that you just don’t borrow,” says Charles Henderson, global managing partner and head of X-Force Red at IBM Security. “If you were on a trip and realized you forgot to pack underwear, you wouldn’t ask all your co-travelers if you could borrow their underwear. You’d go to a store and buy new underwear.”

Henderson heads a team of hackers that clients privately hire to break into their computers to identify vulnerabilities before blackhat hackers do. Henderson’s team will often send clients a compromised iPhone cable in the mail to see if the client will plug it in or if they’ve learned to be more cautious by discarding the charger instead.

Henderson warns that cyberhackers can easily implant charging cables with malware that can be used to hijack mobile devices and computers. This can spell complete disaster for the desperate traveler who graciously accepted the spare cable from their fellow passenger and plugged in their device.

At the annual DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas, a hacker known as MG showed the attendees how he had modified an iPhone lightning cable to serve as a hacking device. MG used the cable to connect an iPod to a Mac computer and then remotely accessed the cable’s IP address to take control of the Mac. These compromised cables are available on the Darknet for just $200 each.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that charging cables left over by previous guests in the front desk of the hotel are any better than a cable offered by a stranger.

“If the front desk had a drawer full of underwear,” says Henderson, “would you wear those?”

Unlike most scams aiming for as wide a target base as possible, using a charging cable to hack a victim’s device can only be pulled off on one victim at a time. Lucky for us, this means the charging cable hack isn’t as popular or widespread – yet. Henderson warns that the relatively inexpensive technology required for the hack and the fact that it is so easy to make the cable look completely innocent could mean an upsurge in these scams in the near future.

For now, it’s best to be aware of this threat and to practice caution when travelling.

Henderson adds that using public USB charging stations is currently a larger threat than compromised cables. These stations can easily be compromised and open your device to all sorts of malware and vulnerabilities. It’s best to use your own charger at all times.

“In a computing context, sharing cables is like sharing your password,” says Henderson, “because that’s the level of access you’re crucially conveying with these types of technology.”

To avoid falling victim to this hack, always pack an extra charging cable in your handbag. If you forgot to take one along or you can’t seem to find it, purchase a new one to use while you’re away. You can find charging cables in almost any convenience store for under $10 – a small investment for your safety.

The next time you’re running low on juice and a stranger offers you the use of their charging cable, make the safe choice!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by using a borrowed charging cable? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
headtopics.com
frnews.ng

Your Complete Guide To Identity Theft Protection

Young woman in business attire seated at an outdoor cafe stares worriedly at a laptop screen with her head in her hands.Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018? According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.

1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can check your credit score for free on sites like CreditKarma.com and order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Also remember that Advantage One offers members a free annual credit checkup as well. However you obtain your score, be sure to check for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.

2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.

3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.

If you find it difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider using a free password service, like LastPass. You’ll only need to remember one master password and the service will safely store the rest.

4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.

5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.

6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.

7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.

8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out.

9. Invest in identity theft protection
If you’re still nervous about being the next victim of identity theft, you may want to sign up for an identity-theft protection service. Advantage One offers affordable Identity Theft Protection service in conjunction with our Benefits Plus checking account. Other services don’t come cheap, but services like LifeLock and IdentityForce will monitor your personal information online and immediately alert you about any suspicious activity.

Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.

Your Turn:
Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
safesmartliving.com
wisebread.com
centsai.com

Four Super-Scary Scams To Watch For This Halloween

woman in witch contest holding jack-o-lantern in front of her faceDon’t let a Halloween scam spook you! Stay a step ahead of those crooks by looking out for these four scams this season.

1. The shipping scam
The internet is brimming with Halloween-themed stores in the months leading up to Oct. 31. Lots of these retailers offer an impressive selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at great prices.

Unfortunately, though, some of the retailers that own such sites will never deliver the ordered goods. That’s because, though the company may exist, and will appear legit, at the end of the day there was never a real intent to ship the item(s). The delivery date may be postponed until after Halloween, or the order might get canceled without notification. Sometimes, the shopper will receive the promised package on time – only the package is empty!

Before placing an order with a seasonal store, look for the company’s physical address and phone number. Check what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has to say about it and look for information about return and refund policies in case things go south. Finally, as always, be careful about sharing your credit card information with an unsecure site. Look for the lock icon near the URL and the “s” after the “http” in the web address; both indicate you’re on a secure site.

It’s also a good idea to order your costumes and décor in September. This way, you’ll have time on your side if you need to return a costume or a product that didn’t turn out as expected. You’re also less likely to purchase goods from iffy retailers and vendors you don’t recognize when you aren’t pressed for time. Finally, you won’t be forced to spend a ton of money on last-minute shipping costs when you make your purchase early in the season.

2. The fraudulent offer
In this scam, a bogus company advertises a “Super Special Deal” for “Today Only” offer, or something similar. It will offer amazing Halloween goods for prices that are too good to be true and lure lots of unsuspecting customers into the trap. Unfortunately, the company is bogus and the offer doesn’t actually exist. If you purchase the advertised product, you’ll never see the product – or your money.
As with all potential scams, check out a company’s authenticity and a website’s security before purchasing.

3. The fake ticket scam
Planning to take a trip to an amusement park, attend a concert or take in another event on Halloween? Be wary of the fake ticket scam, in which third-party vendors sell bogus tickets to unsuspecting customers right before an event. They’ll also tack on an exorbitant commission, claiming that they need to charge extra because of the last-minute purchase. Of course, the ticket is bogus and they’ll pocket the ticket money, plus the commission.

Make sure to get your tickets to any event you’d like to attend well in advance. Contact the event organizers directly to make sure you’ve reached the right address. If you find tickets being sold online near Halloween time, do a quick online search to see if the event has already sold out. Check for spelling mistakes and erroneous information about the date and time of the event on the ticket, as well.

4. The bogus purchase scam
In this scenario, scammers try to convince you that you ordered something you have no recollection of purchasing just to get you to share your personal information. Once the scammers have this data, they’ll do anything from emptying your accounts to taking out loans in your name or committing full-blown identity theft.
If you receive any emails, phone calls or text messages asking you about a costume you never ordered or a ticket you never purchased, do not engage with the sender or caller. Delete the emails or flag them as spam. Also, block the contact from calling or texting you again. With any luck, the scammer will get the message that you’re not an easy target and leave you alone.

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and frightfully fun Halloween from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
scam-detector.com
help-center.pissedconsumer.com
legalshred.com

Beware Natural Disaster Scams

Insurance salesman signing insurance paperwork with a middle-aged ladyWhen disaster strikes, so do the scams. It’s the season of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and more. If you live in an area that’s prone to storms and flooding, or you volunteer to help the victims of natural disasters, beware of these four post-disaster scams so you’re not taken for a ride.

1. Bogus charities
As soon as a major natural disaster hits, fake charities spring up like dandelions after a spring rain. You might get solicitations for donations via email, social media posts, text messages or phone calls. These appeals are usually accompanied by a tear-jerking story designed to play on your emotions and get you to loosen your purse strings.

Unfortunately, these scams are often successful at swindling victims out of thousands of dollars.

Never take a request for monetary aid at face value. Check out the charity’s authenticity at Charitynavigator.org and see what the Better Business Bureau has to say about them. If you find the charity does indeed exist and is a reliable organization, double-check that the website address (URL) is correct so you can be sure you’re not handing over money to a copycat site. If you want to be absolutely certain that your donation is going to the right address, you can simply contact the charity or The Red Cross on your own.

2. FEMA imposters
The days following a natural disaster can be chaotic, as victims try to put their lives and their homes back together.

Devious scammers capitalize on this misfortune to impersonate FEMA representatives to collect victims’ personal information and/or their money. They’re counting on victims being too preoccupied to check their legitimacy.

If you applied for FEMA, stay one step ahead of the scammers by remaining alert and cautious. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the federal organization, only share your FEMA claim number over the phone, keeping all other personal details to yourself. If the caller is legitimate, they should already have any other information they need.

If a FEMA representative shows up at your home, ask to see a FEMA-issued photo ID badge. The “representative” may promise to speed up your claim if you pay a deposit, but this is completely false, as FEMA does not offer any such arrangement. Do not give the “FEMA rep” any of your money – or any of your personal information.

3. Shady repair contractors
Many so-called contractors will make the rounds of neighborhoods that have seen storm damage to offer their services to homeowners seeking repairs. They may ask for upfront payment for any work you need and then do a sloppy job or never complete their task. You won’t realize you’ve been conned until the worker has left your home with your money in their pocket. To avoid getting caught in this scam, carefully research any contractor you’d like to use before hiring, and never agree to pay for all or most of the repairs before the work is done.

In a different variation of this scam, someone may show up at your door claiming to represent a utility company you use. They’ll threaten to shut off your service if you don’t provide immediate payment for any repairs you might need. Ask to see proof that they indeed represent the company they claim to work for and do not make any upfront payments until you have checked out their authenticity.

4. Damaged cars
It’s not only homes that can be heavily damaged by storms; vehicles can get hit hard, too. Sometimes, a car that’s been in a flood or hurricane can be fixed up so it looks fine on the outside despite a heavily damaged interior. Shady car salespeople might try to sell these vehicles to unsuspecting consumers who have no idea the car has been in such a storm.

If you’re shopping for a car in an area that has recently been hit by a natural disaster, be sure to check out the car’s history on sites like Carfax.com.

Don’t let scammers make a natural disaster more difficult than it already is. If you suspect fraud, let the FTC know at FTC.gov.

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by a natural disaster scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
ridester.com

fema.gov

aarp.org

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