On November 6th, citizens will cast their votes for governors, state officials, or members of Congress, either continuing to support the incumbent or opting to make a change with a new candidate. In any event, the work of campaigning and elections are big business…especially for scammers.

With so much discussion about the mid-term elections, thieves have launched a wide variety of election season scams to steal personally identifiable information, financial resources, or both.

1. Phishing attempts – Candidates and political parties rely on emails and phone calls to connect with voters, and scammers are using the same tactics. By posing as members of a campaign, scammers target their victims with phony donation requests, fake news articles that encourage them to click and input their information to read, and more. The goal in these scams isn’t just money, but also access to your personal data.

2. Donation requests – It takes a lot of money to put on an effective campaign, so political candidates often request donations, host fundraisers, and more. Thanks to online platforms, candidates or their team members can request money via social media and platforms like GoFundMe or PayPal. However, the natural mechanism that allows candidates to do that effectively also means a scammer can do it, too. Be on your guard for similar names, “patriotic”-sounding organizations, and issue or party-centric groups that are not actually affiliated with anyone campaigning.

3. Fake robocalls – There have already been reports of robocalls associated with particular candidates for promotional purposes, and remember, charitable organizations and political ads are two of the categories that are exempt from the Do Not Call registry. However, some of the robocalls have not only been spoofed or use stolen recordings of the candidates, but some of them have also even been highly offensive and designed to get the listener to interact.

So how are you supposed to protect yourself from elections season scams? By using the exact same good habits that are designed to keep you safe from scams throughout the year. Never give out your information or verify your identity to someone who contacts you; never make a spur-of-the-moment donation or spontaneously pay a fee, fine, or bill; remember that anyone can create an email account or website, and it doesn’t take any effort or know-how to copy or mimic an existing organization.

Keep your identity and your finances secure by being cautious about how you interact with the campaign process this year…and don’t forget to vote!


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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October is in full swing, and you can tell just by looking around. Halloween decorations fill every storefront, and Dia de Los Muertos depictions are already on display. Pumpkins, ghosts and skeletons already sit on porches, propped in place for some scary fun.

While hordes of the undead (trick or treaters) will be stalking the streets soon, here’s an all-too-real, all-too-common, supremely scary “undead” scenario: an identity thief steals your deceased loved one’s identity to open new accounts, apply for government benefits, buy houses or cars and more.

According to some reports, as many as 2.5 million deceased individuals become the victim of identity theft each year. Some estimates say that around 800,000 of these people are targeted specifically because they have passed away (the remaining identities may simply be chance victims of identity theft or random use of Social Security numbers). As with some other types of identity theft, like child identity theft, the culprits have typically been close friends or relatives of the departed. The easy access to their sensitive documents and the uncertainty surrounding things like account status or benefits means it can be easy for someone to slip in and commit this kind of fraud.

However, that’s certainly not the only mechanism by which a thief can steal a deceased person’s identity. Thanks to things like data breaches and synthetic identity theft, even strangers can commit fraud with someone else’s data. Add to this the wealth of social media accounts, personal information online, and internet obituaries, it becomes even easier to seek out a victim who won’t be likely to speak up about the crime.

Unfortunately, this specific form of identity theft—also called “ghosting”—can take months for financial institutions to discover. It’s unthinkable that you may find out months later, just as you’re beginning to rediscover some new sense of normal without your loved one, that their name and identity has been used to commit fraud.

There are some steps you can take to protect your family if you experience this kind of terrible loss:

1. Be reserved about the obituary – Watch what details you share, such as precise birth dates, anniversaries, or relatives’ names if identifiers could be picked out. Mentioning that your grandmother’s sister never married, for example, would give identity thieves your grandmother’s maiden name. This could also spell trouble for different relatives, as they would now know your mom or dad’s mother’s maiden name.

2. Alert the Social Security Administration – Let them know that the recipient has passed away and to lock their number. This would prevent someone from filing a change of address form and changing the account number where benefits would be received.

3. Reach out to the three major credit reporting agencies – By contacting the credit reporting agencies, you can ask for a freeze to be placed on your loved one’s credit report. This should effectively prevent anyone from opening a new line of credit or making a large purchase.

4. Keep documentation secure – It’s horrible to think that someone close to you would try to take advantage of this awful situation, but it does happen. Money troubles can make people do desperate things. Be very careful if someone asks too many questions, wants to view documents, insists on accompanying you to the bank or Social Security Administration, etc.

5. Continue to monitor your loved one’s identity – There are websites where you can check to see if an SSN has been used or identifying information has been stolen. Also remember that junk mail and unshredded documents are prime sources of identity theft. If any strange bills or statements arrive in the mail, don’t disregard them without investigating them further.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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At one point not too long ago, the IRS was reportedly issuing billions of dollars each year in fraudulent tax refunds filed by identity thieves. Thankfully, with better information and new regulations to help curb this problem, improvements have already been made. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long way to go towards fighting back against tax return fraud.

One of the chief issues the agency faces is simply the sheer volume of compromised taxpayer records that are floating around, available for identity thieves to purchase and use. Record-setting numbers of data breaches have resulted in hundreds of millions of consumer records exposed, ready to be used by the original thieves or those who buy them online.

Part of the effort to stem the flow of fraudulent refunds has meant slowing down the process significantly. Of course, we all want to receive a speedy refund that gets automatically deposited into our bank accounts, but that level of efficiency means it’s even easier for thieves to get to your money first. By automatically flagging certain returns for review—especially ones that use some of the more common standard deductions like dependent children or child care expenses—the agency hopes to block even higher numbers of phony refunds.

At the same time, the IRS is also taking a close look at its own mechanisms, namely its websites and taxpayer-centric user portals. The anonymity of the internet makes committing this kind of fraud even easier, and by finding ways to lock down their sites for better verification of taxpayer identities, the IRS hopes to stop even more fraud.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Is Your Bluetooth Tracking You?

Identity theft is commonly associated with the damage it can do to victims’ finances, especially if the thief racked up tremendous debt. The countless new credit cards, the cars or houses, the new utilities turned on in apartments the victim didn’t rent can all lead to six-figure debt before they even know their identity was stolen.

There’s another serious threat to identity theft victims, one that may be just as harmful, and that’s the emotional toll this crime can take. This side effect can easily be overlooked at first by both the victim and their family members or friends. Worse, outsiders might even treat this side of identity theft as a non-issue, diminishing the feelings of loss, mistrust and even paranoia that victims can feel.

Each year, the Identity Theft Resource Center conducts an in-depth study of ID theft victims who’ve reached out to the organization during the year for help. The study is based on voluntary feedback to a comprehensive set of questions in order to get a better look at the trends and the lasting effects of this crime. The resulting ITRC Aftermath report is then made available to the public, including law enforcement, policymakers and other stakeholders, in order to provide accurate information from the victims’ standpoint.

Year after year, respondents to the ITRC Aftermath survey list some understandable emotional harm as a result of the crime. They’re often left feeling hopeless to resolve their cases and have a generally negative sentiment about their ability to recover. More than 85 percent have stated that they’ve felt worried, anger and frustration and another 83 percent are left feeling violated. Even worse, almost 70 percent of victims say they don’t think they can trust anyone and that they now fear for their safety. Almost as many victims reported that they feel powerless or helpless, while the majority of them are left feeling sad, depressed and betrayed.

Part of the hopelessness and paranoia may stem from all the ways that identity theft leaves its mark. More than 30 percent of the victims who responded said the crime caused them problems at work, either with their employers or with those they work with, while eight percent said it affected them at school with either the administration or other students. Some victims actually lost out on employment opportunities or even lost their jobs because someone had stolen their identity and used it in a way that came back on the victim. Some of the victims had their paychecks or their insurance benefits withheld due to the incidents, causing severe financial harm and the obvious distress that goes along with it. It’s easy to see how the financial turmoil can seem minor in comparison to the emotional upheaval. Money problems can be resolved, even if it takes time, but thinking that someone is using your good name to break the law is an endless kind of hurt. Knowing that your family members or coworkers think you’re a thief or an irresponsible consumer can break even the most solid bonds. It’s important that all consumers understand the aftermath of identity theft in order to be prepared, both financially and emotionally, should it happen to them or someone they care about.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Download now: The Aftermath®: The Non-Economic Impacts of Identity Theft

A new phishing scam has been uncovered by the FBI, one that targets you by pretending to come from your employer. By sending you a phishing email that claims to be from your workplace’s HR department, hackers hope to get their hands on your login credentials to steal your direct deposit paycheck.

It starts with an email that looks genuine, and it redirects you to a website that looks like an official workplace online portal. You enter your login details, confirm your identity, and then you’re all set.

Unfortunately, the portal was actually transmitting your credentials to the hackers, who’ve already breached your company’s website. They use your credentials to log in and change your direct deposit information, which will put future paychecks in their accounts or on prepaid debit cards.

The only way you’ll know your paycheck didn’t end up in your account might be when your account drops below the minimum balance, usually as a result of making purchases or paying your bills. Of course, once that happens, you get to handle the bad check fees and penalties from your bank while the hackers make off with your money.

One of the telltale signs of a phishing email is notoriously poor spelling and grammar, but since this one is posing as your own company’s HR department that might not be the case. Also, this scam is seeking out individuals who have a username and password to log in with. Therefore, it may be targeting a more select group of employees rather than casting a wide net and hoping to snag an everyday consumer.

Fortunately, the ways to avoid this scam are as simple as avoiding any other phishing scam. The downside, though, is that developing these habits requires you to instinctually learn to ignore direct requests, even ones that appear to come from your employer.

1. Never click a link, open an attachment, fill out information, verify your identity, or otherwise engage in any sensitive activity without checking it out thoroughly. It does not matter who the sender is: ignore any request of this kind and make a direct phone call to the supposed agency instead.

2. Verifying information that the sender should already have is an automatic red flag. Why would you need to tell your own employer what your username and password are? They’re the ones who issued them to you!

3. Remember, this same advice pertains to any platform, whether it’s email, text message, social media message, or phone call. Never hand over your information to someone who requests it without checking the situation first.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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If you’re making a trip to Seattle, you probably have the famous Gum Wall at Pike Place Market on your list of to-do’s. If you haven’t heard of it the second-germiest tourist attraction in the world, the Gum Wall holds over two thousand pounds of chewed gum on it’s the walls.

Some tourists get creative and chew a whole pack to create an image or spell out words. However, it looks like gum isn’t the only thing people are sticking onto the Gum Wall.  It’s actually common for people to stick on coins, notes, spoons and even personally identifiable information (PII).

Pennies were actually one of the first items people would stick onto the wall with a piece of gum in the early 1990s. The Market Theater continued to clean the wall, but it didn’t seem to stop people from sticking gum onto it.  After the third round of cleaning, the market management decided to let the gum wall be.

Since then, the wall has become filled with business cards, phone numbers, full-names and more. It might seem harmless and fun in the moment, but this may be a threat to your identity later on. A study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research found that there were 16.7 million identity fraud victims in the U.S last year. It’s important to safeguard your PII as a preventative measure to reduce your chances of identity theft.

It might not seem like a big deal to have your phone number exposed, but if it gets in the wrong hands the data within your mobile device can be compromised. By accessing your phone number criminals can send you scam text messages or phone scams. Both of which can contain phishing attempts or malicious software. This can all lead to a thief accessing your email accounts and change logins or even take money from your mobile wallet.

Even though sticking your old school ID or a business card doesn’t seem like it can do much damage it can cause many problems for you in the long-run. Avoid sharing your PII and keep it just as private as you would with your SSN.

The Gum Wall has only been cleaned once in 2015. So if you’re planning to stick something onto the wall be prepared for it to be there for several years and for millions of people to pass by it.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Natural disasters and large-scale emergencies are part of our reality, no matter how much we wish that weren’t true. Since you cannot prevent the next earthquake, wildfire, or hurricane, you can use that energy to make sure you’re prepared for these outcomes and more.

September is National Preparedness Month, and the Federal Trade Commission urges all people to make a plan. You can start with online resources, and also work to understand what kinds of emergencies are likely to affect you based on your location, age and other demographics.

While other knowledgeable sources will help you determine how much clean water or prescription medications you might need to store, the Identity Theft Resource Center wants you to plan for a different emergency aspect: identity theft protection and fraud prevention during events like these.

In any emergency, you may have to prove your identity while also being cut off from access to your important papers. During the aftermath of a dangerous event, you may need to be able to access your funds and deal with insurance agents, contractors, repairmen and more. Here are some tips to help you through it, including:

1. Secure and access your documents – Your personal papers can play a strange role during a crisis. They are both proof that you are who you say you are, but they are also a hot commodity for scams, fraud and theft. You have to somehow keep them protected at all times, be able to access them in a crisis, but also not let them fall into the wrong hands during times of trouble. Sounds impossible, right?

It doesn’t have to be. First, remember that if you’re evacuating in a sudden emergency like a house fire or flash flood, your documents are not necessary for receiving medical care, emergency housing or other basic needs. In fact, if someone demands your driver’s license or Social Security card before they’re willing to provide that kind of assistance, you might be dealing with a scammer.

However, there will be instances in which you need to provide some kind of proof. When planning your emergency supplies, consider including something like a small, password-protected flash drive that holds pictures of key documents. That way, you’re not endangering your originals—or leaving them stored unsafely when not needed—but you can call them up when the emergency has passed. For every other time, make sure your papers are secured and safe from harm and theft in a safe deposit box, home fire safe, or another protected place.

2. Accessing your funds – As part of any preparedness plan, you need to know how you will get to your money and your insurance documents if you need them. Again, things like emergency medical services should be provided without documentation or money to those in crisis, but if you’re able to provide things like medical insurance cards for less serious issues, that can be helpful.

One option is to place your expired medical insurance cards in your preparedness items. That way, the hospital will at least have the information they need to contact your provider and verify your current coverage. Again, this is for non-life-threatening situations in which you’re simply separated from your documents.

Your money, however, may be in as much danger after an emergency as your family was during the event. Scammers and fraudulent individuals use news of major events as a gateway to targeting victims with everything from repair scams to fake government handouts. Be very careful about who you deal with after an event, and get all price quotes in writing before work begins. Never turn over your information to someone who claims to be part of an assistance program until you have verified their role with a reputable agency.

In order to be prepared, one of the best things to do with your documents is to make sure they are always stored together in a safe place. If you need access to them, you can grab the entire bundle of birth certificates, marriage certificates, property deeds, Social Security cards and more then escape the crisis. If a disaster separates you permanently from your important papers, contact the proper authorities as soon as it’s safe and feasible to do so.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Starting September 21, 2018, credit freezes will now be free for all Americans.

Most U.S. consumers have a credit report, whether they know it or not AND whether they use it or not. These reports are generated by the three major credit reporting agencies, or CRAs, based on activity associated with buying and borrowing. When you first start out, you might have “no credit” and therefore not have a credit report, but multiple lender requests into your credit background can generate a report in your name.

A credit report shouldn’t be confused with a credit score; a report is a comprehensive look at your attempts to make large purchases, borrow funds, open lines of credit and more, while your credit score is based on numerous factors, including information from your credit report. It’s more of a look at what kind of credit risk you might be.

For many years, credit reports were a good way to keep tabs on your financial identity; if someone had stolen your identity and tried to open new accounts or lines of credit, you might find that information on there. At the same time, people who were already victims of identity theft have been urged to put “freezes” or “alerts” on their credit reports to keep thieves from opening more accounts in their names.

Freezes mean that the CRA cannot release your credit report to a lender, which is supposed to prevent a new account from being opened. The problem for many consumers is that freezing your account incurred a small fee, one that ranged from $2 to $10 depending on the agency. “Thawing” your account if you wanted to open a legitimate credit line also could result in a fee, as did refreezing once the process is finished.

Now, Congress has been called upon to take action in light of the recent Equifax data breach. This single event exposed more than 148 million consumers’ complete identities to hackers. As a result, Equifax offered free credit freezes for a limited time, but lawmakers came up with another solution. Thanks in part to grassroots advocacy efforts, the House has passed a bill that will waive the credit freeze fee for all consumers from all three credit reporting agencies.

This bill, which has been signed into law by the White House, will not go into effect until September 21st, so in the meantime, consumers need to remain vigilant about protecting themselves:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, Equifax is still offering free credit freezes until the law goes into effect. Signing up for a freeze is simple and instructions are on their website.
  2. Regardless of whether you have freezes in place, monitoring your credit reports routinely is important for protecting yourself from identity theft crimes. You are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. You can find out more at annualcreditreport.com.
  3. Checking over account statements and using strong passwords on all of your accounts can help minimize the risk and the long-term effects of identity theft.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Equifax After The Fact – One Year Later

Info Sheet: Credit Freeze Laws for Protected Consumers 

To date, 33 states have passed laws for allowing consumers to place a freeze on credit reports for protected consumers.  The definition of a protected consumer differs by state but generally includes children under 18 years old or children under 16 years old, and any individual who has a legal guardian or conservator.  While most states allow you to place a freeze if a credit report already exists due to identity theft, the following 33 states will allow you to create a credit report for your child proactively when no credit report exists, then freeze it:

  1. Arkansas
  2. Arizona
  3. California
  4. Connecticut
  5. Delaware
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Hawaii
  9. Illinois
  10. Indiana
  11. Iowa
  12. Kansas
  13. Kentucky
  14. Louisiana
  15. Maine
  16. Maryland
  17. Michigan
  18. Minnesota
  19. Montana
  20. Nebraska
  21. New York
  22. North Carolina
  23. Ohio
  24. Oregon
  25. South Carolina
  26. South Dakota
  27. Tennessee
  28. Texas
  29. Utah
  30. Virginia
  31. Vermont
  32. Washington
  33. Wisconsin

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a chart that lists each state and the corresponding laws/fees.  Please note that most states allow for no fees if the individual requesting a freeze (or his/her parent or guardian) can prove he/she is a victim of identity theft.  If you have questions about checking to see if your child has a credit report and how to freeze a report with each credit reporting agency, read our how-to here.

Due to Senate Bill 2155, as of September 21, 2018 residents in all 50 states will be able to place a credit freeze on their, and their child’s, credit report and request that a credit report for a protected consumer (which includes children under the age of 16) be created and frozen if a credit report does not exist.

This info sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to itrc@idtheftcenter.org. Copyright, Identity Theft Resource Center®, all rights reserved.

Parents instinctively protect their children from any danger that might come their way, but what do parents tend to overlook? Child identity theft.  Given the prevalence of this crime – more than one million cases of child identity theft cases were reported last year alone – it’s crucial that parents and legal guardians start taking the necessary steps to help minimize their children’s risks. To help encourage this thinking, Experian has deemed September 1 as Child Identity Theft Awareness Day to generate more attention around this prolific crime in hopes that it will reduce the amount of victims.

Children’s identities are seen as desirable because they are often left unmonitored for many years, giving thieves ample time to wreak havoc. For example, a recent survey conducted by Experian found that 45 percent of respondents didn’t discover they were a victim of identity theft until they were between the ages of 16 and 18.  Additionally, more than half of those surveyed didn’t discover they were a victim of child identity theft until they applied for credit as an adult or when they received a bill or credit card in the mail.

The emotional toll this crime takes on its victims is also worth noting. The survey discovered that 35 percent of the child identity theft victims surveyed sought professional help in dealing with related stress, anxiety, anger or depression related to the theft; 68 percent said they are fearful it could happen to them again; and 65 percent are angry about the credit roadblocks they have faced. Furthermore, 10 years later, 1 out of 4 victims surveyed are still dealing with the issues and 81 percent of them remain concerned about their ability to get approved for credit in the future.

As illustrated in the survey, the effects of child identity theft can be long lasting and although this crime is not completely unpreventable, parents and legal guardians can take the necessary steps to minimize their children’s risks. For starters, many parents/legal guardians don’t realize that they might be unintentionally putting their child at risk of identity theft by carrying their Social Security card, giving out this number to entities that don’t legally need it (doctor’s office/hospital) and by not being proactive.

Interestingly enough, the survey revealed that when the parents discovered the child identity theft, their children were 14 years old on average, whereas if the child found out about the theft themselves, they were 19 years old on average. What parents don’t often realize is that they might be able to discover this theft even sooner, which could potentially save their children years of headache.  First, parents need to be on the lookout for signs of child identity theft, which include the following: protecting their Social Security number, monitoring their children’s personal information, social media and online activity, paying attention to privacy policies and teaching them about identity theft risks. Second, they might consider doing Experian’s free Child ID Scan, which is a one-time service for parents or guardians to check if an Experian credit report exists for their child. If you do find out that your children’s information has been compromised, we recommend contacting the Identity Theft Resource’s toll-free number at 888-400-5530 to speak to an experienced advisor who can inform you about the necessary steps to take to resolve the issue. You can also use their live chat feature on their website at: www.idtheftcenter.org

Taking small steps to protect your child’s identity can not only greatly reduce their risk of becoming a victim but it can also help them in the long run.

Experian proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The Harm in Hoaxes on Social Media