Tips on Preventing Fraud
Unfortunately, in our ever interconnected and automated world, we are seeing a big uptick in cases of fraud. While it is unlikely all cases may be prevented there are several ways you can better protect yourselves and your information.
While there is no current way for the IRS to alert you if a Tax Return has been filed fraudulently on your behalf, and many of the credit monitoring agencies only report on new account activities, there are still many things we as consumers may do to protect ourselves.
Protect your Social Security Number
Do not carry your social security card on you. If asked for your Social Security number, ask why it is needed and what will happen if you don’t provide it. If your health plan or other type of ID card uses your social security number, request the company replace it with a different number. Routinely check your earnings record posted to your Social Security Statement. As paper statements are no longer being mailed each year we recommend you sign up for online access at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount to create an account. Sometimes social security numbers are used by illegal workers or in error so routinely checking the earnings the Social Security Office as compared to your actual earnings will highlight a potential problem. More information may be found on the Social Security webpage www.ssa.gov.
Fight “phishing’ – don’t take the bait
Scam artists “phish” for victims by pretending to be banks, stores or government agencies, even the IRS. They do this over the phone, via emails and regular mail. Don’t give out your personal information unless you initiated the contact. Even if the web address or email address look legitimate, do not follow any requests to ‘click on the link’; scam artists are excellent at creating legitimate looking sites. Don’t respond to a request to verify your account number or password. Legitimate companies would not request your information this way. If in doubt, hang up and contact your financial institution.
Keep your identity from getting trashed.
Shred or tear up papers with personal information before you throw them away. Shred credit card offers, bills, bank statements and anything with your social security number on it. Consider signing up for online statements rather than paper copies or and even consider a PO Box or locking mail box to avoid having your mail compromised.
Control your personal financial information
Shield your computer from viruses and spies
Protect your personal information on your home computer. Use strong passwords with at least eight characters including a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols; use something easy for you to remember, but difficult for others to guess. Use firewall, virus and spyware protection software that you update regularly. Steer clear of spyware by downloading free software only from sites you know and trust. Don’t install software without knowing what it is. Set Internet Explorer browser security to at least “medium.” Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.
Click with caution
Be cautious with Social Media
Avoid posting on Social Media when you will be away from home, while it is fun to share travel plans, it alerts others that your home may be unattended. Set your profile to private so only invited contacts may see your information. However, remember if you are tagged in a photo all the contacts of the other people tagged may now see your information so if in doubt, ask to have the tag removed.
Check your bills and bank statements
Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time as it may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
Stop pre-approved credit offers
Stop most pre-approved credit card offers. They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 1-888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688), or opt out online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. Explain that you’re concerned about identity theft. If you’re not satisfied with the answers, consider going somewhere else.
Check your credit reports – for free
One of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit history. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Request all three reports at once, or be your own no-cost credit-monitoring service by spreading out your requests, ordering from a different bureau every four months. Order your free annual credit reports by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you have any questions or concerns about potential fraud activity please contact Coldstream, we are happy to help and discuss the best options for you.