According to the Federal Trade Commission, older adults are disproportionately affected by fraud.
Whether it’s a phony phone call, phishing scam, or mail fraud, seniors often become targets for scammers who perceive them as easy marks.
While you alone can’t put an end to this shady illegal activity, you can empower you parents with the knowledge to keep themselves—and their finances—safe.
Remind them about “stranger danger”
Your parents probably taught you the concept of “stranger danger” at an early age—and for good reason. Don’t interact with suspicious people. It’s an important lesson that’s relevant to adults as well as children.
If someone you don’t know asks for personal information, it’s probably a scam. Remind your parents to never give out credit card or account information, passwords, or social security numbers unless they can verify the identity of the person or business making the request.
Add their number to the Do Not Call List
When you add your phone number to the The National Do Not Call Registry, the government informs telemarketers not to call you.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous organizations and scammers ignore the registry and may continue to harass your parents, but they should see a reduction in unsolicited calls and text messages from those who abide by the law.
Give them a crash course in online literacy
If your senior parents use technology but aren’t completely familiar with how scams work online, they might not understand what to click and what to avoid.
Spend some time going over how to navigate the internet safely. Most importantly, explain email phishing. Emphasize that they should never click links in unsolicited emails from people or companies they don’t know.
If they use social networks like Facebook, warn them not to share anything too personal as scammers might use this information to impersonate friends or family members online.
Each year, the IRS publishes the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of 12 scams that are rampant during that year’s tax season.
This year, the IRS is cautioning taxpayers to be extra vigilant because of a 60% increase in email phishing scams over the past year. This is particularly disheartening, since it comes on the heels of a steady decline in phishing scams over the previous three years.
Typically, an email phishing scam will appear to be from the IRS. Once the victim has opened the email, the scammer will use one of several methods to get at the victim’s personal information, including their financial data, tax details, usernames and passwords. They will then use this information to steal the victim’s identity, empty their accounts or file taxes in the victim’s name and then make off with their refund.
Scammers have several means for fooling victims into handing over their sensitive information. The most popular tax-related phishing scams include the following:
Tax transcript scams In these scams, victims are conned into opening emails appearing to be from the IRS with important information about their taxes. Unfortunately, these emails are bogus and contain malware.
Threatening emails Also appearing to be from the IRS, these phony emails will have subject lines like “IRS Important Notice” and will demand immediate payment for unpaid back taxes. When the victim clicks on the embedded link, their device will be infected with malware.
Refund rebound In this scam, a crook posing as an IRS agent will email a taxpayer and claim the taxpayer was erroneously awarded too large a tax refund. The scammer will demand the immediate return of some of the money via prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Of course, there was no mistake with the victim’s tax refund and any money the victim forwards will be used to line the scammer’s pockets.
Phony phone call In this highly prevalent scam, a caller spoofs the IRS’s toll-free number and calls a victim, claiming they owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. Those taxes, they are told, must be paid immediately under threat of arrest, deportation or driver’s-license suspension. Obviously, this too is a fraud and the victim is completely innocent.
If you’re targeted When targeted by any scam, it’s crucial to not engage with the scammer. If your Caller ID announces that the IRS is on the phone, don’t pick up! Even answering the call to tell the scammer to get lost can be enough to mark you as an easy target for future scams. If you accidentally picked up the phone, hang up as quickly as possible.
Similarly, suspicious-looking emails about tax information should not be opened. Mark any bogus tax-related emails that land in your inbox as spam to keep the scammers from trying again.
If you’re targeted by a tax scam, report the incident to help the authorities crack down on these crooks. Forward suspicious tax-related emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also alert the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov.
Protect yourself from tax scams Stay one step ahead of scammers this tax season by being proactive. Protect yourself with these steps:
File early in the season so scammers have less time to steal your identity, file on your behalf and collect your refund.
Use the strongest security settings for your computer and update them whenever possible.
Use unique and strong passwords for your accounts and credit or debit cards.
Choose two-step authentication when conducting financial transactions online.
Remember, the IRS will never: Call about taxes owed without having first sent you a bill via snail mail.
Call to demand immediate payment over the phone.
Threaten to have you arrested or deported for failing to pay your taxes.
Require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes.
Ask you to share sensitive information, like a debit card number or checking account number, over the phone.
Be alert and be careful this tax season and those scammers won’t stand a chance!
Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a tax scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.
No one wants to be the victim of credit fraud. Aside from the stolen money you may never recover, victims of fraud can be faced with an enormous hassle. That hassle involves the closing of accounts, putting a fraud alert on your credit and a huge ding on your credit history, which can be difficult to fix.
Whodunnit? When we’re talking about credit card fraud, everyone’s pointing fingers at everyone else.
Consumers tend to blame the credit card issuer, but the vulnerability usually lies with the point-of-sale terminal. Tampering with a credit card reader takes just a few minutes and can be done with an inexpensive device that’s available on Amazon. In addition, there are lots of other ways your information can be skimmed, none of which point to a security deficiency with your credit union or credit card company.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to prevent and recognize credit card fraud before it happens. Read on for all you need to know about credit card fraud in 5 lists of fives.
5 ways your card can be frauded
It’s physically lifted from your wallet.
The old-fashioned pickpocket is still a very real threat. Invest in a secure wallet and/or purse and always keep your card inside.
A restaurant or bar server skims it.
When you hand over your card to a dishonest server at the end of a meal, you give them a few minutes to skim your card while it’s in their possession.
A terminal you use is compromised.
Payment terminals can be tampered with and rewired to transmit your information to scammers. This is especially common in pay-at-the-pump gas stations.
An online breach puts your information on the black market.
After a company you use suffers a breach, your personal information may be up for sale on the dark web.
Your computer’s been hacked.
Once a scammer gets inside your computer, they have full access to all of your sensitive data.
5 signs a terminal’s been compromised
The security seal has been voided.
Many gas stations have joined the war against credit card crimes by placing a security label across the pump. When the pump is safe to use, the label has a red, blue or black background. When it’s been breached, the words “Void Open” will appear in white.
The card reader is too big for the machine.
The card reader is created to fit perfectly on top of the machine. If it protrudes past it, it’s likely been tampered with.
The pin pad looks newer than the rest of the machine.
The entire machine should be in a similar condition.
The pin pad looks raised.
If the pin pad looks abnormally high compared to the rest of the machine, the card reader may have been fitted with a new pin pad that will record your keystrokes.
The credit card reader is not secured in place.
If parts of the payment terminal are loose, it’s likely been compromised.
5 times you’re at high risk for credit card fraud
You lost your card.
If you misplaced your card – even if it was eventually returned to you – there’s a chance your information has been skimmed.
You’re visiting an unfamiliar area.
When patronizing a business in an unfamiliar neighborhood, you don’t know who you can trust.
A company you use has been breached.
If a business you frequent has been compromised, carefully monitor your credit for suspicious activity.
You shared your information online with an unverifiable contact.
If you’ve willingly or unwillingly shared sensitive information online and you’re not certain of the contact’s authenticity, you’ve likely been frauded.
You downloaded something from an unrecognizable source.
Have you accidentally downloaded an attachment from an unknown source? Then your computer has likely been compromised and you’re at risk for credit card fraud.
5 ways to protect yourself against credit card fraud
Check all card readers for signs of tampering before paying.
Never share your credit card information online unless you’re absolutely sure the website you’re using is authentic and the company behind it is trustworthy.
Check your monthly credit card statements for suspicious activity and review your credit reports on a frequent basis.
Use cash when patronizing a business that’s in an unfamiliar area.
Don’t download any attachments from unknown sources.
5 steps to take if your credit card has been frauded
Lock the compromised account.
Dispute any fraudulent charges on your compromised accounts and ask to have them locked or completely shut down.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Consider a credit freeze.
This will make it impossible for the scammer to open a line of credit in your name.
Alert the FTC.
Visit identitytheft.gov to report the crime.
Open new accounts.
Begin restoring your credit with new accounts and lines of credit.
At [credit union], we’ve always got your back! Call, click, or stop by today to ask about steps you can take to protect your information from getting hacked.
Your Turn: Have you ever been a victim of credit card fraud? Share your story with us in the comments.
Q: I’m really trying to stick to a budget this holiday season, and I’m doing most of my shopping online. It should be easy to stay on track, so why am I constantly going over budget?
A: Both online and in-store shopping can tempt you to overspend, but the internet is particularly designed to help you lose track of your dollars.
More and more people are choosing to hit the web instead of the mall for holiday shopping. The internet definitely wins for convenience. Since there are no crowded malls, no long lines and no crabby cashiers, it’s much more enjoyable. Plus, you get to shop in your PJs. Can it get better than that?
Shopping the old-fashioned way, though, is not without merit. When purchasing items that need to fit right or that you may need immediately, you might want to head to the mall or local small business. You might even save money that way.
If you choose to do most of your holiday shopping on the internet, though, it’s good to understand why we tend to overspend online.
Why we spend more online Here are 10 ways online retailers push us to overspend:
1. They push products strategically. The first few products you’ll see when you visit a retail website aren’t necessarily the hottest-selling items; they’re just the stuff the company needs to get rid of most urgently. Most people, though, will assume the products on the site’s homepage are the most popular and will quickly drop one or two of these items into their cart.
2. They offer free shipping—with a minimum purchase. Don’t think the retailer is being super-generous when they offer to sponsor the shipping costs if you spend $50 or more. They’re only luring you to spend more. And it works: Most people choose to fill their carts with stuff they don’t need just to avoid paying the shipping fee.
3. They make it super-easy to check out. Websites make their checkout process ridiculously easy just to keep you buying. If your info’s been saved on the site, you can order your whole cart within minutes. The quicker you make those purchases, the less time you have to rethink them and opt out.
4. They offer spending-based discounts. Online retailers often offer discounts after you’ve reached a certain spending threshold. Just like the free-shipping minimum, these conditional discounts manipulate you into spending more just to qualify—even if you won’t save any money at the end of the day.
5. They change their prices without rhyme or reason. Online retailers constantly adjust their prices according to consumer and market behavior. This tactic, known as “dynamic pricing,” is designed to draw you back to the site again and again just to check the going price. It also prompts you to buy before the price rises again.
6. They use anchor pricing. Retailers want you to believe you’re getting a great deal. They frequently employ “anchor pricing,” or placing items with inflated price tags right next to one you’re looking at now to make your desired item look less costly.
7. Their ads stalk you. Online retailers target you with ads based on your search history. They know what you’re into and they can even determine your style.
8. They have lenient return policies. Online retailers purposely have looser return policies than their brick-and-mortar counterparts. They know you’ll consider these policies when making your purchase and that you’re more likely to buy something online if you can easily send it back to the store.
9. They have a virtual checkout aisle. If you think you’ll save big by shopping online because you won’t be tempted to grab all those goodies that the brick-and-mortar stores have lining their checkout aisles, here’s a reality check: Retailers are smarter than that. They’ve discovered a way to create a virtual checkout aisle, full of last minute add-ons that go well with the stuff you’re buying. It’s all designed to make you drop another item or two into your cart before you realize your total is way above your planned budget.
10. They stay in touch. That subtle email reminder that you still have items in your cart is really just a nice way of nudging you back into. buying mode. Fact is, it works. When retailers send you emails with headlines that scream about “Today Only!” and “Free Shipping on Every Order,” they get your attention. And your money, too.
Spending less online Should you ditch the on-the-couch shopping and camp out at the mall until the holidays?
You don’t need to be extreme and do all your shopping IRL this year. By educating yourself about the most common manipulative tactics that online retailers use, you’re already better equipped at handling them. You can also follow these tips to keep your online spending to a minimum:
1. Shop with a list
Yes, just like the one you scribble before heading to the grocery. Don’t just have a look around your favorite sites. Decide what you want and need to purchase before browsing, and do your best to stick to your list.
2. Set a time limit. When there are no store closing hours to curtail your shopping trip, you can easily lose track of the time, which can trigger overspending. Plus, the internet is designed to keep you engaged, and one click leads to another. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time to shop, and once time’s up, snap your laptop shut.
3. Never pay full price. Don’t check out without doing a quick search for coupons and discounts on sites like RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin.com.
4. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel to qualify for free shipping. Don’t buy stuff you don’t need just to avoid a dreaded shipping fee.
5. Shop early. You’ll find it easier to stick to your budget, and to avoid the free shipping trap, when you shop early. Plus, many e-tailers offer free shipping with no strings attached as long as you don’t mind waiting a bit for your stuff to show up.
With awareness and careful planning, you can stick to your budget this holiday season—even when shopping online.
Your Turn: Do you spend more when shopping online or in-store? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be great fun – but they can also put you at great risk. Scams abound on the weekend that heralds the holiday shopping season, and you don’t want a phishing scheme or a bogus bargain to turn you into a Grinch.
Here are five scams to look out for as you brave the frenzied crowds while trying to snag the best deals after Thanksgiving.
1. Crazy deals that are actually bogus
The noisy crowds and flashy ads on Black Friday can lead you to make rash decisions and spend more than you planned. But be careful not to leave your senses at home.
An iPhone X retailing at just $12? A pair of genuine Ugg boots for just $9? These deals sound insane because that’s exactly what they are. And yet, thousands of people happily send their money to online stores that are advertising these laughable prices on Black Friday. And of course, once the scammers have your credit card information, they won’t hesitate to use it for their own shopping spree – all on your dime.
Be smarter: Don’t believe any advertised price that is ridiculously low. It’s only bait used by scammers to lure you into their trap. Black Friday deals tend to fall within the 20-30% off range or an offer of free shipping.
2. Black Friday gift cards for cheap In the weeks leading up to Black Friday, you might see an explosion of cheap gift cards being sold at online marketplaces. The gift cards are linked to big-name retailers and are offered for a fraction of their real value.
These cards are usually stolen from their real owners. The victim of the theft will likely report the loss and the card will be disabled. And you’ll have forked over your hard-earned money for a card that’s not worth the plastic it’s made from.
Be smarter: Don’t buy any gift cards that are retailing at a heavily marked-down price.
3. Bait and switch Want to be the lucky winner of a brand new iPhone X? Just fill out a form with your personal details and take this survey. You may just be the proud new owner of the super-expensive phone!
If you know anything about online scams, you’ll already recognize this one. Your personal details and a site whose authenticity you can’t verify are two things that should never meet. The sweepstakes is just the scammer’s bait to get at your information. And, with holiday expenses growing each year, it’s the perfect time to lure an innocent victim into thinking they’ve just saved a ton of money.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re safe from this scam just because you’re doing all your Black Friday shopping at the mall. “Bait and switch” scams can happen offline, too.
The brick-and-mortar version of this scam is somewhat less nefarious. Retailers will advertise deals so amazing you’ll find yourself travelling across town and battling impossible traffic to grab these bargains. Once you finally reach the store, though, you’ll be told that those items are all sold out, but you can check out the items they do have in stock. You’ll be shown similar, but inferior, products and cheap knockoffs, or nothing you’re interested in at all. These scams are just a waste of your time and often your money, too.
Be smarter: Don’t enter any sweepstakes or believe advertisements for heavily marked-down prices on sites and stores you’re unfamiliar with.
4. Delivery problems With so much of your shopping happening online, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to receive an email claiming there’s been a problem with the delivery of one of your purchases. But if you get an email like this asking you to click on a link or download an attachment to arrange an alternative delivery date, you’re looking at a scam. You may also receive a message asking you to pay an extra fee for delivery after you’ve completed an order. Again, this email is bogus and you’re being scammed. Ignore these emails. And, if you have a problem with the delivery of your purchase, contact the seller or company directly.
Be smarter: Never download anything or click on a link from an unverifiable source.
5. Online purchases that can only be paid for with a wire transfer If you’re planning on going on an all-out spending spree this Black Friday, use your credit card. It offers you the most protection against purchases that don’t turn out to be what you expected.
A debit card can be a good choice, too, if you’re only shopping at stores and retailers you trust and frequent often.
Never agree to an online purchase demanding payment via money order or wire transfer. These are favorites among scammers since they are similar to paying with cash – once the money has changed hands, there’s almost no way you can get it back.
Be smarter: When frequenting unfamiliar stores and sites, use your credit card.
Be an educated shopper this Black Friday and outsmart scammers!
Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a Black Friday scam? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
Your passwords are the keys to your life. And when it feels like there’s another big security breach every week, you want to be sure those passwords are strong and safe.
Follow the 6 steps below for super-strong passwords that will keep scammers guessing.
Step #1: Choose a password manager
The best way to ensure your passwords are secure is to use a password manager like 1password, Lastpass or Keepass. These services generate encrypted passwords for every website you use. You will then create one master password to use for logging into all of your accounts.
Step #2: Create an unbreakable master password
This code can open up every password of yours to potential scammers; so be extra careful about choosing one that is virtually unbreakable. Follow these rules for a strong password:
Make it long. Many sites require a password that is a minimum of 8 characters long, but a 12-character password is even stronger.
Be creative. Avoid using names, places and recognizable words, since these are easily cracked.
Mix it up. Vary your capitalization and the kinds of characters you use, switching back and forth from letters to numbers to symbols.
You can run your password through an online password checker like the one on OnlineDomainTools.com to test its strength. Once you’ve created a super-strong master password, work on memorizing it. Write it down and then rip up the paper as soon as you’ve memorized it.
Step #3: Update all your passwords Next, sync all the websites and accounts you use with your password manager. Follow the guidelines on your password manager for this step, as they differ with each service.
When you’re through, you’ll only be able to log into these sites with your master password.
Some sites employ outdated systems that won’t work with a password manager. For these sites, you will need to use different passwords. You can slightly amend your master password for these sites or create new ones using the guidelines above. Use a different password for every site.
Step #4: Use two-factor authentication Add another layer of protection by choosing two-factor authentication whenever you have that option.
Step #5: Be careful with security questions Security questions are extremely insecure; anyone can Google the answers. If all a scammer has to do to retrieve your password is answer a security question, the strongest password is worthless.
Treat security questions like passwords. Never answer them truthfully. Instead, make up mnemonics or nonsensical answers that are difficult to crack, but easy for you to remember.
Step #6: Don’t let your browser or phone “remember” your passwords Keep your passwords in your head and not on your devices. Otherwise, you’ll be in deep trouble if your computer or phone is swiped.
What’s your best tip for creating a super-strong password? Share it with us in the comments.
With the average American spending 24 hours a week online, internet safety is more important than ever. A hacked or compromised computer can put you at risk for money loss, phishing scams or even complete identity theft.
It gets worse: If your computer’s security has been breached, it can be turned into a “middle man” for online theft. Criminals may remotely control a computer with weak security and use it as a patsy for large-scale crimes against hundreds or thousands of other computer users. An unprotected computer can commit awful crimes without its owner even knowing about it!
Fortunately, keeping your privacy, money and sensitive information safe when browsing the internet is simple; all it takes is awareness, some proactive steps and lots of common sense.
Read on for steps you can take to keep yourself safe online.
Avoid fake sites
The easiest way to get scammed online is to visit a fraudulent site. If you’re browsing a site you don’t usually use, ask yourself these questions to make sure it’s safe:
Does your browser warn you against visiting the site? Whether you browse with Chrome, Firefox or Safari, your browser will warn you about certain sites based on actual data and user reports.
Is the web text riddled with grammar mistakes and typos? Reputable website owners are careful to present a polished, professional look. If a site looks like it was written by a second-grader, leave it.
Is the site secure? Only visit sites with an “https” and not just an “http” in the address bar.
Does the digital footprint check out? Google the company’s name to see what the internet and Better Business Bureau are saying about them.
Is there a legitimate “Contact us” section? There should be an authentic physical address and phone number for the business.
Is there an excessive amount of ads? Ads are intrinsic to the online world, but if a website seems to be covered in intrusive ads, it’s likely a fake.
Check the shipping and return policies. If you can’t find this information, the site probably doesn’t really sell anything at all – though they are happy to take your money.
Is there a trust seal? Companies that deal with sensitive information make an investment to earn your trust. A trust seal, like the PayPal or Norton Secured seal, tells you the company has worked hard to deserve your trust.
Is the URL authentic? When redirected to another site, check the new URL to see if it matches the original company.
Practice password safety It’s your key to almost every online board and gated site; do your best to keep it safe! Here’s how:
Use a password generator. The best way to ensure that your passwords don’t get hacked is to use a password generator like Sticky Password, LastPass or 1Password. These services generate a super-secure password for every site you visit – but you’ll only need to remember your one master password.
Change your password. If you don’t like the idea of using a password generator, experts recommend changing your passwords every 30-40 days.
Never double passwords. Using common passwords across multiple sites is easy on the memory but hard on your safety and security.
Use strong passwords. For optimal security, choose passwords that include a mixture of capitalization use, numbers, letters and symbols.
Update your browser Perhaps the most neglected and simplest step of internet safety is keeping your browser updated. With just one click, you’ll increase your browser’s security and improve your computer at the same time.
Here’s why you’ll want to keep your browser running with its newest version:
Increased speed. Each new version of your browser is an improvement on the old one. Why lag behind when you could be using a faster browser?
Improved website compatibility. Lots of websites rely on updated browsers to share all of their graphics and features.
A better experience. A newer browser will offer you added features, customizable extensions and sleeker graphics.
Above all else, an updated browser will provide better security. Internet companies are constantly looking for ways to protect you and keep you safer; take full advantage of their efforts by always using the latest version.
An updated browser offers stronger protection against the most recent scams, phishing attacks, viruses, Trojans, malware and more. Newer browsers have also patched up security vulnerabilities that may be present in your older browser.
Updating your browser is super-easy and super-quick. Late model computers will update automatically as soon as new iterations are released to the public. If your computer is a little older, you can choose the “auto-update” feature available on some browsers for the same results. Otherwise, you can update your browser manually by following the instructions on your browser. These are typically easy to follow and take just a few clicks.
Follow these tips for safe online browsing. A few small steps now can save you heaps of aggravation and money lost down the line. Don’t let those hackers get to you!
How do you keep safe online? Share your best tips with us in the comments.
Blackmail and extortion are some of the oldest tricks in the book—and for good reason: They work. When a criminal threatens to share potentially explosive information with everyone they know, the victim easily panics and is willing to pay any price to protect their privacy and their pride.
In a fresh twist on this age-old crime, scammers have taken to the internet. Online blackmail is nothing new, but a fresh wave of these scams hit the web last month, and it’s already ensnared dozens. Learn how to spot these blackmailing scams and you’ll get to keep your privacy, and your money, too.
Here’s what you need to know about the most recent blackmailing scams.
How it works
The victim gets an email from an alleged hacker claiming to have cracked their passwords, broken into their computer and used their webcam to watch their online activity. They may threaten to reveal that the victim has been visiting disreputable sites or to use their personal information to empty their financial accounts. The scammer then shares a willingness to back off—for the right price, of course.
As proof that they are “legitimate” hackers, the scammers will share an actual password that the victim has used many years ago. They may even include the password in the subject line of the email to grab the victim’s attention and ensure they actually open the email. Often, they’ll also include other bits of stolen data in their message to appear authentic.
If you receive an email like this, don’t panic. There’s no professional hacker behind the scam, no one has watched your online activity, and there’s not much the scammer can do with the information they may have.
The inclusion of the password might give you a scare, but there’s a simple explanation for how the scammer got hold of it. Over the last decade or so, there have been lots of massive database breaches within major corporations, sites and retail stores like Yahoo, eBay, Target, Macy’s, Sony PlayStation and dozens more.
Thanks to these breaches, there are now huge amounts of personal data and passwords floating around the internet. This data can be easily nabbed by a partially skilled hacker or bought on the black market. Once a scammer gets their hands on a password, they’re free to exhort the victim to pay a steep price in exchange for their privacy or security.
How to spot the scam
Many potential victims recognize this scam for what it is as soon as the hacker claims to have dirt on them. For many others, though, the outdated password is their clue. However, for victims who have been using the same passwords for years, this old code might still be in use and the scam can seem legit.
Now that you are armed with the knowledge that this scam is making its way around the internet and may contain an actual password you once used, or that you may still use, you are already a step ahead. If you receive an email with your password in the subject line, stay calm. Simply ignore the message. Better yet, delete it from your inbox and give it no further thought.
How to protect yourself
There’s not much you can do about any bits of your sensitive data that may be loose on the internet. However, you can do your part to protect yourself from falling prey to this, or a similar scam.
Update your passwords frequently and use strong, unique codes for each site you visit. You can use a password generator like 1password or LastPass to make this simpler.
Choose two-factor authentication when possible.
Never open emails from suspicious or unknown sources.
If you are targeted, alert the FTC at ftc.gov.
Don’t let those scammers fool you! Be alert, be aware, and learn how to spot these scams for what they are.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a blackmailing scam? How did you spot the ruse? Share your experience with us in the comments!
Chances are, you or someone you know has had their identity stolen at one point or another. It can be expensive, stressful and extremely complicated to recover from. Here are seven ways to help protect yourself and your most important data from identity thieves.
1. Secure Your Hardcopies
Most of us think of identity theft as a digital crime, but many thieves are just as eager to get their hands on your paper documents. While online accounts are password-protected, important paper documents are often left in a drawer or simply tossed in the trash, where dumpster-diving thieves can find them.
What’s the solution? Buy a safe and a shredder. What’s not shredded goes in the safe. Of course, the same level of care should go into protecting your physical credit cards. Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket. Make it a habit to check to see you have all your cards and IDs when you get home at the end of the day. This will help you be aware of missing items earlier so you can cancel lost or stolen cards before too much damage is done.
2. Examine Your Financial Statements
Reviewing your financial statements is a good practice. Not only will this help you track financial habits, it will also alert you to any fraudulent charges. Credit unions and banks do a lot to protect consumers from fraud and identity theft, but only you know what you purchased and what you didn’t, so look closely at those statements!
3. Choose Good Passwords
Many people have one simple password they use for all devices and platforms. This is convenient, but dangerous. Yes, there is reason to worry that having multiple hard-to-remember passwords may make it more difficult for you to access your own accounts, but potential identity thieves will have a more difficult time too.
If you’re worried about remembering your own passwords, check out these easy and safe ways to store your passwords from Gizmodo.
4. Protect Your Computer
Malware is just one way identity thieves steal your data. Invest in a good and reputable antispyware program to make sure your hardware is safe from invaders.
Another way to protect your computer is to encrypt your hard drive. Apple computers and PCs alike will offer the option to encrypt all data in your hard drive. Go to your security settings and choose to activate the encryption option.
5. Be Aware of Suspicious Emails and Websites
If an email looks suspicious, it probably is. Make your email inbox a tightly curated collection. If you have too many promotional emails, start clicking the unsubscribe button. This will help you spot suspicious, unsolicited mails.
The same goes for websites. Your browser or antivirus software may try and warn you about suspicious websites before you enter them. Don’t disregard those warnings.
6. Use Two-Factor Identification
The most convenient option is not always the most secure, but given the choice between convenience and security, your best bet is the more secure one. Two-factor identification for email accounts and other important online accounts will add an extra step to the security process for log-ins, most often making use of your phone number as well.
7. Secure Your Wi-Fi and Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is often insecure and can be a great way for thieves to get to your data. Steer clear if you can. If you have no choice, be sure to avoid all online banking or password logins while using public Wi-Fi. Additionally, be sure to secure your own home Wi-Fi with a unique and hard-to-guess password.
You know what they say: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.” And yet, dozens of people fall for scams that promise them the moon — and they don’t realize they’ve been played until it’s too late.
Because of this truism, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning of an uptick in free trial scams. The scams come in several shapes and sizes, but most will look something like this:
You see an ad from Netflix or a cosmetic company saying you’ve been granted a temporary subscription to their service or product. They say it’s absolutely free. The only catch? There is none. They say that, anyway. That is until you’re asked to pay for hidden fees in addition to shipping and handling at a time when it’s too late to back out. Or, you might be asked to share all of your financial information even though you’re officially not obligated to pay anything.
In other words, there’s hardly a “free trial” that won’t cost you big.
In one such scam, a company aggressively advertised “free trials” for skin care products, dietary supplements and e-cigarettes on various popular websites. The lucky consumer would only need to cover the cost of shipping and handling and the product would be delivered – absolutely free!
Of course, the product wasn’t free and the unlucky victims sometimes paid close to $100 in fees before the first shipment was sent out. Worse yet, they were charged this same fee each month for the next year, with no way to back out of their contract until the 12 months were up.
In another scam with a similar setup, consumers were asked to share payment information for the $1.03 to cover shipping and handling for the “free” products. After their order was placed, another screen with a “Complete Checkout” button appeared. Shoppers who clicked that button unwittingly agreed to pay for monthly shipments of the product to the tune of $94.31 each month. And when that button was clicked, yet another “Complete Checkout” button appeared.
Again, those who clicked this button were subjected to a $94.31 charge each month. Consumers who’d taken the bait twice ended up with a total monthly charge of $188.62 – plus shipping.
In a third “free trial” scam, shoppers were lured into signing up for a 12-month trial subscription to a popular service, like Netflix, absolutely free. Unfortunately, though, the company advertising for the free trial wasn’t Netflix at all; it was a group of scammers. Victims were redirected to a new webpage where they were asked to share their sensitive information to qualify for the trial.
You can probably guess the ending: The scammer made off with the consumer’s information and emptied their accounts, went on a wild shopping spree or stole their identity.
Don’t let this happen to you! Here’s how to steer clear of free trial scams:
Do your research. A quick online search of the company name with words like “scam” or “negative review” should give you a basic idea of what the business is all about.
Read the fine print.
Too often, there’s no way to refute charges relating to this scam because the consumer agreed to pay them. Don’t click anything without reading all of the terms and conditions attached to the offer. If you can’t find any, or you can’t understand them, opt out of the offer immediately.
Look for an exit strategy.
Is there a way to cancel the offer? Can you change your mind about the product? If you only have a small pocket of time to cancel the trial, you might be looking at a scam.
Always review your credit card and checking account statements.
This way, you’ll immediately spot anything suspicious and you’ll be able to determine if you can back out of a shady deal.
Never share sensitive information online.
Unless you’re absolutely sure you know who you’re dealing with, it’s difficult to know if a website is 100% secure.
When signing up for a free trial, you’ll usually be redirected to a new site. Check the URL of the webpage and determine if it matches the company you are allegedly dealing with.
Ignore urgent calls to action. If an ad urges you to “Act now!” or claims an offer will expire momentarily, it’s likely a scam.
Read the fine print and only sign up for free trials that won’t cost you in more ways than you’d imagined.
Your Turn: Have you ever been duped by a free-trial, or similar, scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.