If you pulled up in your driveway and saw an orange extension cord running from your exterior outlet to your neighbor’s house, you might have something to say about it. If your neighbors ran a long wire to your cable box to steal your cable, you would probably do something about that as well.

But your neighbors could be stealing your internet connection without your knowledge. Without the need for wires or cords, they could have gained access and your signal strength could be suffering. Worse, you don’t know what kind of activity they’re engaging in over your connection, or what else they may be able to infiltrate over your wifi.

There are a few ways you can tell if someone—a neighbor or even someone paused nearby in a vehicle—is using your internet connection:

1. Internet Slowdown – if your internet connection is suddenly slower, meaning web pages don’t load like they once did or your favorite videos just display an icon circling around instead of playing, you might be running too many devices on your connection. If you know that you haven’t increased the number of computers, phones, tablets, laptops, or IoT devices, someone else may have joined.

2. Check Your Connection Settings – if you can access the app for your router (the box that turns your modem into a signal broadcaster so wireless devices can reach it) or visit the manufacturer’s website to see your account, you should be able to see how many devices are connected to your network. Their customer service department can help you with this step.

Once you find out if someone else has jumped on your connection, it’s actually a pretty easy fix. First, password protect your wifi network, which is a good idea even if no one has been using your connection; however, if you already had a password in place, then the outsider has gained access to it somehow, so simply change it. Also, be sure to check for any available updates to your router’s software since outdated software could have vulnerabilities that outsiders can exploit.

Unfortunately, if someone has been using your wifi, there’s a chance they also accessed sensitive information about you and your family. Change the passwords on all of your sensitive accounts like email, banking, and retail shopping sites, and monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.


Read next: “Don’t Get Scrooged by a Holiday Scam”

Wouldn’t it be nice if criminals took a break for the holidays, leaving the rest of us to enjoy our celebrations without the worry of scams and fraud? Unfortunately, they don’t slow down at this time of year, and if anything, scammers actually ramp up their activity to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers.

Luckily, you can preserve your holiday cheer and reduce your chances of becoming a victim by learning a few signs of some common scams. Remember, these scams can take on holiday-themed forms at this time of year but can still be a threat all year long.

1. Secret Sister/Gift Exchange Scam – You may have already seen social media posts for a secret sister gift exchange, but know this: no matter who posted it or how much fun it claims to be, it’s a scam. Even worse, depending on how it manifests and where you live, it may even be illegal to participate.

This one works in a similar vein to a pyramid scheme. You buy six to ten gifts and mail them to other people on the list, and in turn, future participants send you gifts. Your initial handful of gifts is supposed to multiply as the list gets bigger, but too many victims of this scam report that all they got was a hit to their bank accounts when they sent off those first gifts.

2. Charity Scams – Thieves take full advantage of our goodwill and generosity, often with sad situations that make us feel grateful to have so much. With the widespread availability of crowdfunding and online posting through social media, it can be very difficult to know who to help and how. Be safe this season by designating your donations before the holidays and choosing reputable organizations whose values align with your own.

3. Shipping, Fake Retail Scams – As our holiday shopping gets fully underway, it can be hard to discern genuine retailers and their messages from the phonies. Copycat websites, fake internet storefronts and bogus emailed receipts that trick us into divulging sensitive information are just a few of the tools scammers can use to steal your identity, your money or both.

4. E-Cards – There are several reputable websites that offer adorable “e-cards,” complete with photo personalization, animated video, and even musical sound effects. Unfortunately, the cards arrive as an email in your inbox telling you to click the link to view it; it takes no tech skill whatsoever to launch a spam email campaign that tricks recipients into downloading a virus instead of a delightful card. Make sure you verify it with the sender before you click any links.

5. Seasonal Employment – There’s never a time when most of us couldn’t use a little extra money, and scammers take advantage of that fact even more at the holidays. Bogus job offers that steal your identifying information, criminal scams that get you to “reship” stolen property and too-good-to-be-true jobs that require you to send in money or access to your bank account are just some of the ways scammers posing as employers can harm you.

This holiday season, arm yourself with information so you won’t have to waste time worrying about scams and fraud. Also, do your friends and family a favor: give the gift of awareness by keeping others informed about these scams and more.


Read next: “What’s the Latest Threat From Your IoT Toys?”

As the holidays approach, savvy consumers should already be on the lookout for scams and fraud. But what about at work? Do you know how to avoid one of the newest twists on an old scam?

Boss phishing—sometimes called CEO phishing or spearphishing, since the message appears to come from someone high up in the company—has been around for a long time, and its targets can be both financial and data-driven. Usually, in the form of a genuine-looking email, the request asks someone to send over sensitive information, change account numbers and move money around, or even change things like usernames and passwords.

It works for one very simple reason… when the boss says to do something, you do it. However, this kind of trust in following orders means the consequences can be very serious for the company and lead to blowback for the employee who was tricked. This newly reported spearphishing scam, though, is particularly horrible since the innocent employee might be the one who’s most profoundly harmed.

In the new variation, the “CEO” emails someone and directs them to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards for the employees’ holiday bonuses; this could be with their personal credit card or with a company credit card. After the cards are purchased, the “CEO” emails again and says to scratch off the protective strip then submit the card numbers so the boss can email all of the employees their gift car codes.

In a real report of this crime to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a few hours after sending the gift card codes to the scammers, the victim learned the company computer had been hacked. The emails weren’t genuine, and the scammers made off with $5,000 in gift cards.

Fortunately, you can avoid this scam rather easily, but it does require you to get in the good habit of questioning orders. Hopefully, any company leader whose employee receives a strange request won’t be too put out that they took the initiative to verify it before complying.

1. Never click a link or open an attachment in an email unless you know you can trust it. This applies to both your personal email and your business account.

2. Never follow through with strange requests from anyone within the company—like sending over all the payroll records (which contain Social Security numbers), W2s, sensitive account information, or funds—without picking up the phone and verifying the request.

3. Never hit “reply” to share sensitive information. Instead, create a new email with the requested information in case the initial email was hacked or spoofed.

Of course, it can be daunting to “second guess” the boss but that’s what scammers are counting on when they target someone within your company. Think of it this way: it’s far better to ask a silly question and risk a little awkwardness in the workplace than to put your company in a bad situation. Failing to verify a request that turns out to be a phishing attempt can have serious financial consequences for the business, especially if sensitive information is shared.

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: “What do you do with your scam awareness?”

Identity theft and security experts have warned for years that consumers need to stay on top of the latest news about scams and fraud in order to protect themselves. But there’s no need to keep those details a secret!

A retail employee in Illinois saved the day when she and other workers stopped a senior citizen from becoming the victim of a scam. The customer was trying to buy a high-dollar amount of gift cards to bail her grandson out of jail. According to the story, a far-flung police department had called her to let her know her grandson was in custody and needed $500-worth of gift cards to post his bail. Fortunately, she was prevented from buying the cards and called the local police department instead. Sadly, another customer wasn’t so lucky. She proceeded to buy the gift cards despite the warnings from employees.

Even worse, a Walmart employee in another state tried to be a good Samaritan and prevent a man from purchasing a $2,500 wire transfer to send to a scammer. The employee, who is now being honored by the company’s board of directors for her repeated help stopping other customers from becoming victims, was originally threatened with a lawsuit by the would-be victim since she put up some fuss about processing the wire transfer. Fortunately, once the police were called, the customer learned the truth and thanked the employee for saving him from a crime.

These examples illustrate a very serious issue: scam activity is on the rise and more consumers are sitting up and taking notice. However, as these real scenarios demonstrate, it can be difficult to intervene when you see something taking place, even if you’re certain something isn’t right. You don’t know how your help will be received.

So how do you put your knowledge of scams and fraud to good use and help your fellow consumers while avoiding any negativity? First, just know that no matter how your attempt to help is received, you were trying to do the right thing. Also, you can try this:

1. Spread the social word – Social media can be a powerful force for good, especially if the content you’re sharing is relatable and genuine. It’s tempting to forward every alarming hoax that pops up, but if you craft a sincere warning about scams and fraud, you just might prevent someone else from becoming a victim. Don’t forget to make your post sharable!

2. Host a fraud prevention event – There are a number of organizations that host awareness events throughout the year, but you don’t have to wait for a specific time. You can host your own get-togethers, community action meetings, senior center events and more, then use those as a time to help get the word out about different kinds of fraud.

3. Follow news from the Identity Theft Resource Center online – The ITRC has a Twitter account, Facebook account, weekly newsletter and many other resources that can keep you informed. Sharing their news is as simple as clicking a button. Helping others recognize a potential scam doesn’t have to mean putting yourself out there.

If you see a scam taking place, you can enlist the help of retail employees, store managers, law enforcement officers or anyone else who can stop someone from becoming a victim. No matter how you choose to help, just know that you’re working to make life better for others when you stop a scam in its tracks.


Read next: “Your New Medicare Card Could Lead to a Scam”

The U.S. government began changing the information that Medicare cards contain, and not a moment too soon. Ever since the program was created in 1965, Medicare’s familiar red-white-and-blue paper identification contained the beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers. Even handing your card over in a doctor’s office or pharmacy could lead to identity theft and fraud, let alone the consequences if you lost your wallet or purse.

Now, Medicare cards contain a unique patient identifier number. The administration allowed itself a calendar year to make the switch, and they’re about halfway through the process of issuing new cards to all of the beneficiaries. If you don’t receive your new card by April 2019, contact the Medicare agency for an update.

Wouldn’t it be nice if identity thieves and scammers simply thought, “Gee, guess I can’t steal SSNs anymore!” and threw in the towel? Instead, they’ve come up with new ways to take advantage of their victims, especially those who currently possess one of the new cards.

First, some scams have centered around the cards themselves. Claims from a phone caller that you need to verify your identity, activate your card, pay a fee to upgrade your paper card to a (non-existent) plastic card, or other similar stories are completely false.

Other scams have involved “matching” your identity to your card. A caller claiming to be from the Medicare agency checks to see if you’ve received your new card. If not, they ask for your Social Security number to make sure you’re still covered and receiving benefits. If you have received it, they ask for your SSN to match your patient identifier number to your account and make sure you’re covered. In either case, it’s not true.

One of the more outrageous scams involves your bank account info. This version claims that you have to move all the money out of your current bank account to a temporary “safe” account to avoid scammers who’ve targeted you as a Medicare recipient. Providing your account info obviously leads to the caller draining your bank account.

There are some things to keep in mind about the scams associated with these new cards:

1.You can provide your SSN to receive medical care—even if you’ve received your new card—through December 2019. There’s nothing you need to do to “extend” your coverage or move it over to your new card

2.Your new card is completely free, despite claims that you have to pay a $25 fee to get it; no, you cannot upgrade to a plastic card instead of paper, either.

3.Never verify your identifying information or account information to anyone who contacts you. They called you, remember? They should already have it, and a legitimate caller would never ask you to provide it.


Read next: “Are Scammers Trying to Give You Money?”

There’s no limit to the many ways a scammer will try to separate you from your money. One of the most common tactics is a phishing attempt, which happens when someone contacts you via phone, text, or email with a legitimate-looking request. Many of these attempts copy a well-known business’ logo, web address, email domain, and other realistic features.

Email phishing attempts are so common you may not even notice any more if you get several of them a day. Many spam filters have gotten good at catching them, but the ones that slip through into your inbox can look pretty convincing.

The goal of a phishing attempt is pretty straightforward: just click the link. That’s usually all the scammers need you to do. From there, it will either install harmful software on your computer that lets the scammer snoop around, or it will take you to a fake website where you must input your sensitive information: either way, the scammer benefits.

A new twist on these messages actually offers you money for clicking, though. The email contains a very common, official-looking receipt for a purchase you made via PayPal. When you scroll through and think to yourself, “No! I didn’t buy a virtual reality gaming headset!” you’ll quickly see the numerous links and buttons to dispute the charge.

Think about it: how many real receipts have you ever actually received that say, “You didn’t make this purchase? Click here for a refund!” What kind of company puts three or four refund offers on your receipt?

Not a real company, that’s for sure. The scammers are just after your clicks in order to move forward with their next malicious steps.

Instead of falling for it, scroll up to the top of the email and hover your mouse over the sender’s name. Their email address should pop up. Pay close attention to the letters if it still looks like a real email address, and notice subtle changes, like the letter O is actually a zero or a letter L is actually an uppercase I. Once you’ve figured out it’s a fake—or even if you’re still not convinced—exit out of the email and go to your actual PayPal.com or Amazon.com account, for example, and look into it. You’ll most likely see that you have not made a purchase.

But just in case… what if there really is a purchase for something you didn’t want? That email still can’t help you, but the customer service reps can. Use the contact information listed in the verified email to get in touch with someone who can help.

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: “What to do When Your Passport Number is Breached”  

If you’re like many US consumers, you may already be thinking ahead to your Black Friday or Cyber Monday shopping. After all, it’s a good idea to be prepared: know what your budget is, scope out what gifts you may be looking for, have your retail shopping accounts already created and secured with a strong, unique password, even have your credit or debit cards ready so that you don’t expose your data or spend unwisely.

Now in its seventh year, there’s another holiday that follows right on the heels of the shopping extravaganza, one that is truly a remarkable kickoff to the holiday season: Giving Tuesday. When the dust settles from the flurry of early shopping, it’s a good time to spread some goodwill by contributing to a worthy cause.

Of course, your favorite charity could use your support at any time of year, so what makes #GivingTuesday so special? For starters, the social media buzz surrounding the event can help encourage donors who may not have known about the annual holiday. Also, a number of companies offer to match funds that day, helping to spread your generous donation even further.

Unfortunately, any time a newsworthy event takes place, scammers are ready to strike. That’s why it’s important to be ready for Giving Tuesday and avoid impulse donations unless you can trust the source:

1. Plan now for how your donation will be made – Will you use a crowdfunding site? A payment app? A credit card or debit card? By knowing how you’re going to give, you can avoid some of the scams that may pop up.

2. Know where your money is going – Some generous consumers like to split their donations among different causes, such as an animal advocacy group, a veterans’ organization, and a charity that provides meals for the homeless. Others might choose to rotate their donations year to year in order to give the maximum support they can afford to a much-needed organization. In any case, if you make your plans now—even if you wait to make the donation until the actual holiday—you’ll be less likely to be taken in by a phony charity request. Verify your favorite charities through Guidestar or BBB Wise Giving.

3. Be careful about oversharing – One sure sign that a donation request is a scam is if they ask for a ridiculous amount of personal data. Yes, charities do like to get contact information so they can follow up with you later, and some charities need to collect small amounts of demographic info. But anyone who wants your birth date, Social Security number, any kind of account numbers or login credentials or other sensitive info should be avoided.

It’s important that we all do what we can to help agencies and organizations who do important work, but at the same time, it’s okay to be hesitant when it comes to your security. Be on the lookout for scams and fraud, and avoid any scenario that makes you uncomfortable. Giving Tuesday is a great opportunity to offer your support but do your homework to ensure that your donation is going to the right people while protecting your privacy.

For more information on Giving Tuesday—both as an individual donor or for information on helping worthy causes get involved—visit GivingTuesday.org.


Read next: “Secret Sisterhood” Online Gift Exchange Scam Alert

The rise of artificial intelligence, AI-driven virtual personal assistants, digital translation, and other voice-driven technology has been life-changing for a lot of people. But there’s another alarming innovation that’s followed right on the heels of this kind of technology: voice fraud.

First, voice fraud can be technology-driven or just a typical human scammer. You may have already experienced it without putting the name to it, but it happens when someone calls on the phone and pretends to be someone other than the actual caller. Typically, using social engineering tactics, the caller tries to get the victim to provide sensitive, restricted information.

Backing up, both Google and Microsoft have developed “AI chat bots” that can make fairly convincing phone calls, interacting with the human on the other end of the line with really impressive results. Google Duplex is meant to be an assistant of sorts, changing or adding responses based on machine learning-based programming. Imagine the convenience of letting your smart home assistant call your insurance company and sit on hold, then handle renewing your policy.

There are different ways someone can use voice technology to commit fraud. A number of fraud attempts and reported data breaches have resulted from “vishing,” for example, of voice phishing. This happens when someone contacts a customer service center and changes information in a customer account, for example.

What do criminals do after using voice fraud against an individual or a business? The ability to steal and use information goes up exponentially if the victim provides that information about themselves. A recent report found that voice fraud calls increased by 350% in the past few years, a number that means one out of every 638 phone calls—whether by LAN line, cellular, VoIP services like Skype, or any other calling method—was an act of fraud.

Don’t confuse an AI voice fraud attempt with a robocall. While robocalls are intrusive and annoying, they’re usually just a recording that prompts you to take some kind of additional step. It might be to select an option from the list of choices, call an additional phone, or go to a website. A vishing call, though, can use a human or an algorithm-driven computer to actually interact with you, seeking out information.

In related news, recent research suggests that as many as 50% of all mobile calls made in the US by next year will be scams. Between that information and the threat of vishing fraud, it’s time to develop strong preventive habits:

1. If you don’t recognize the number on the caller ID, you’re under no obligation to answer. If it was a legitimate, important call, the individual will leave a voice mail which you can answer at your convenience.

2. Remember, phone number spoofing means that a scammer can use any phone number—even one they’ve managed to steal out of your contacts list—to display on your caller ID. Don’t trust the call just because it appears to come from someone you know. Feel free to answer, but be wary of any strange interactions that follow.

3. Installing a call blocking app can help stop some spam calls or fraud attempts, but it will not be foolproof. Some cellular providers also have a fee-based service that can help prevent some of these calls from getting through.


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?

National Grandparents’ Day, proclaimed a holiday by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, falls each year on the Sunday after Labor Day. Thanks to the tireless work of one grassroots organizer—a woman who was also a driving force in legislation that protects and supports the elderly—this holiday is a time focus on one another and on the important contributions that grandparents make in the lives of the family.

And what better present could you give than to spare your relatives the headache and heartache of falling victim to a scam? Some scams, frauds and identity theft crimes specifically target senior citizens, so Grandparents’ Day is the perfect time to spread the news.

1. Grandparent Scam – This crime is actually called a “grandparent scam” because back before cell phones were a widespread device, senior citizens were often targeted. They were believed to have no way to verify whether this was a scam or not. Now, the scam has evolved to target anyone, but grandparents are still high on the list of potential victims.

In a grandparent scam, the victim receives a phone call that says a friend or loved one (as in, a grandchild) is in some kind of trouble and needs help. Stories over the years have included someone who was in the hospital, had been arrested, was stranded with car trouble or even had been kidnapped, and the only way to help was to send money.

2. Medicare/Healthcare Scams – Our aging population is thankfully living longer, and that has meant changes to programs like Medicare. With every new change—such as the recent issuance of new Medicare cards that no longer contain the holder’s Social Security number or the enrollment in various add-on plans—scammers attempt to steal money and identifying information from Medicare users.

It can be hard to spot a Medicare scam, especially if the caller already knows some information about you. To fight back, you have to develop a habit of never giving out your sensitive information to someone who contacts you. If there’s any doubt about your coverage or your plan, take the caller’s information and hang up. Then, using a verified phone number for your local administration, contact the Medicare office and find out what’s going on.

3. Tech Support Scams – As older adults join the digital revolution, more seniors are enjoying things like smartphones, laptops and tablets, social media and many other connected resources. Scammers assume that these “digital newcomers” might be naïve enough to fall for a technology-related scam, so seniors are prime targets for tech support scams.

A tech support scam occurs when someone contacts you by phone, email, text message or even a popup box on your computer and tells you that your computer is infected with a virus. They offer to clean out the virus for a fee, but actually steal your money while installing a virus on your computer. The virus will root around and find out your account information, login credentials and more. Remember, software companies do not sit at workstations and monitor your computer; anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

4. Untraceable Payment Scam – There is one major unifying factor in scams that steal your money: the scammers don’t want to get caught, so they rely on untraceable, non-returnable forms of payment. If you’re ever told that you owe money for an unpaid parking ticket, a court fine, back taxes to the IRS or any other bill that must be paid with a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card, wire transfer or similar method, it’s a scam!

Any entity that you legitimately owe money to will accept your personal check, your credit card, or even cash; in rare exceptions, something like a parking ticket or court fee might have to be paid by cashier’s check, but also that will have a traceable number on it. Never make a payment to someone who claims the only accepted form are those listed above.

5. Romance Scams – There’s a perception that senior citizens might be lonely—after all, it’s what the creator of Grandparents’ Day was working to prevent—and scammers are counting on that. The frightening thing about romance scams is that they work too well and can impact any age.

However, there’s one unique thing about senior adults that makes them an especially hot target: the fear that they will lose their independence. Not only have some older victims of romance scams opted not to report the crime to anyone, some have even continued to pay their scammers after suspecting something wasn’t right. Make a firm decision to never give money to someone you only know online and never involve yourself in their crime, such as cashing a check for them.


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

One of the great mysteries of social media—apart from why people need to share photos of their dinner—is what makes someone post false information without hoping to gain from it. These hoaxes sometimes end up going viral and taking on a life of their own, and the original sender only gets a little temporary boost in their visibility online.

There have been a lot of Facebook scams over the years and more than a few hoaxes, too. The key difference between the two is that scams and fraud seek to steal your identity, your money, access to your computer or account or some other criminal gain. Hoaxes, on the other hand, seem to only bring joy to the creator when they watch how many people share the misleading or false information.

A recently reported double-hoax playoff of changes to Facebook’s algorithms, while also requiring the “copy-paste” behavior to make it spread. Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it would adjust what types of posts and content showed up in your feed to make less relevant, commercially-based posts appear less frequently. It didn’t take long for people to assume Facebook was censoring posts and blocking some of your friends.

This hoax takes that fear to a new level and urges participants to “sneak” into a separate Facebook news feed, accessible only by copying and pasting their message into a new post. The message specifically states that you will be able to “bypass” Facebook’s algorithms and see posts from friends you haven’t heard from in years.

Unfortunately, it’s not true. There is no secret backdoor Facebook newsfeed hidden beneath fancy computer code, and copying the message to share with all of your friends will only highlight the fact that you  fell for a phony message. Sadly, engaging in comments to inform your friends that their post is a hoax will have the same engagement effect and cause the hoax to continue to spread.

Whenever you come across a social media hoax, it’s better left untouched. Don’t click “like” or any of the angry/frustrated emojis, don’t comment on it and don’t share it, even accompanied by a message that warns people of the hoax. Any engagement you give it simply gives it more visibility and power. If there is anything dangerous or compromising about the post that could lead to loss of money or data, try to message the person who shared it privately and explain the issue.


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