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There’s a very specific danger looming online right now, one that seeks to steal both its victims’ money and identifying information. Under the wrong circumstances, this particular threat can even land the victims in jail—romance scams.

What is a Romance Scam?

They prey on people who are lonely or feel unsuccessful at finding love. Victims of romance scams can come from every income level, educational background, gender, age, sexual identity and ethnicity. There’s no single target demographic for this crime because anyone can be tricked by a sweet talker who says exactly what they need to hear.

Unfortunately, with the commercialism of Valentine’s Day all around us, this is the time when scammers up their game. No one wants to be alone on the most romantic day of the year. It’s why it is the time when the bait is thrown out there and the nets are cast, hoping to snare a willing victim.

With that said, romance scams strike at all times of the year. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), people in the U.S. lost over $100 million to romance scams between January 1 and July 31 of 2021.

Different Types of Romance Scams

There are a few different ways that romance scams can manifest, including:

1. Out of towner needs money

One common approach is the social media message from a pleasant-looking person who is “intrigued” by your profile picture. You start talking and learn that this person is an offshore oil rig worker, deep-sea fisherman or even a deployed member of the military. The job is important, as it provides the excuse to be away from a computer and phone, away from their own funds for long periods of time. That way, it’s much more plausible when they need you to send money for some reason. Some reported excuses have included a new engine for the boat since the scammer claims to be stranded at sea and plane tickets home from another country when the scammer says his mother is in the hospital.

2. I want to come see you, but

Some reported romance scams have included victim stories about losing a lot of money because the other person was supposed to come to visit. When they supposedly arrived at the airport, their ticket was for the wrong flight, and they had to pay a fee. Then it was the need for a visa to enter the country. After that, it was more fees – and the game continued.

3. Money laundering romance scams

How do victims end up in criminal trouble for their part in all this? The scammer gets the victim to accept a deposit in their bank account, withdraw the money, and then turn around and wire that money to someone else. The victim is now complicit in stealing money from other victims and forwarding it to other bad guys. Just because they’re also a victim, that doesn’t erase their criminal role in the scam.

4. Crypto romance scams

Scammers trick the victims into thinking they’re investing in cryptocurrencies. They typically target victims on dating apps and other social media sites. Once the criminal gains the victim’s trust, they claim to know about cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits. The scammer directs the victim to a fraudulent website for an investment opportunity. Once they trick the victim into investing on the platform, they can withdraw a small amount of money to further gain the victim’s trust.

The FBI says after a successful withdrawal, the scammer tells the victim to invest larger amounts of money. When the victim is ready to withdraw more funds, the scammers create reasons why it cannot happen, enticing the victim to provide additional funds. Sometimes a customer service group gets involved, which is also part of the scam. When victims can no longer withdraw any money, scammers typically stop communicating.

What You Can Do to Stay Safe

The internet is filled with authentic opportunities to meet someone special. However, it’s also a breeding ground for scammers. By using reputable dating sites, you might avoid a lot of heartaches. However, the companies who run the sites cannot vet every single profile or message for authenticity. At the same time, social media has made it all too easy for criminals to contact victims with sincere-sounding promises in hopes they will fall for a romance scam.

It’s vital to adopt an air of caution about anyone you meet online to safeguard your heart and your money. A good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t fall for it in person, don’t fall for it online. If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anyone who declares undying love too early in the relationship or asks for over-the-top favors too soon should not be trusted. If the person’s background story is a little too shady or falls into the stereotype of the romance scammer, be careful. Most of all, keep your personal information and your money close, and don’t be quick to share either one. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on our website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

The post was originally published on 2/11/18 and was updated on 9/28/21

Right now is a very difficult time for a lot of individuals as concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be at the top of people’s minds. In addition to the inconvenience of social distancing and isolation and the very real fears for personal health and safety, many people are also facing the stress of reduced hours at work, being furloughed or losing their jobs due to quarantine and business closures.

There is another equally upsetting issue at hand: unemployment benefits identity theft. A record-setting 57+ million people in the U.S. filed for unemployment due to COVID-19 between March and September of 2020.

Unemployment benefits identity theft has hit states hard all over the country

While the California Employment Development Department (EDD) reports that employers added 114,400 nonfarm payroll jobs in July 2021, the unemployment rate for the state remains at 7.6 percent. In September 2020, the California EDD put out an alert asking California residents to keep an eye out for fraudulent activity in regards to unemployment benefits in the state.

According to the Los Angeles Times, as of January 26, 2021, California officials say unemployment fraud has totals of more than $11 billion. California has paid out $114 billion in unemployment benefits since March 2020, and the state EDD has processed 19 million claims.

Some residents of West Virginia are receiving unemployment benefit cards they never requested.

The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment says the state has seen nearly 10,000 fake claims. The identity thieves are believed to be just as busy with the filing, too. Many victims have contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) over complaints of unemployment benefits identity theft.

Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new

Unemployment benefits identity theft is nothing new. In fact, it is one of many types of government identity theft that can occur when a scammer uses stolen personally identifiable information to apply for benefits through the government. However, with so many consumers filing at the same time, an unfortunate number of people have already reported that a scammer beat them to it. Their claims have been rejected for being duplicate applications while someone else is now set up to receive their benefits.

Like many forms of identity theft, unemployment benefits identity theft is one that victims may not discover until the damage is done. If a claim is turned down for unemployment benefits due to a duplicate application, it is important for people to contact the unemployment agency immediately; the ITRC is another resource to guide victims in this challenge (888.400.5530). In the meantime, there are other ways consumers should take action if their claims are rejected:

Place a freeze on your credit report if it’s feasible

Victims might need to open a new line of credit while they are out of work, but that shouldn’t stop them from placing a freeze. Thawing a credit freeze is extremely simple and quick. This can help block an identity thief who may have their personally identifiable information (since they applied for unemployment benefits in their name) from using it for other purposes.

Monitor accounts carefully

Once again, if a thief has enough information to apply for benefits, they could have access to other information or accounts. Consumers should keep a careful watch on all of their accounts, including their credit reports, and change any online passwords.

Be aware that applying for unemployment is only one step

An identity thief may also fraudulently apply for nutrition assistance, WIC, medical coverage or other benefits. If there are any issues involving those services and someone’s identity, people should contact those agencies immediately.

It is a stressful time for many, and scammers are looking to add to it in many different ways, including unemployment benefits identity theft. It’s also exceptionally difficult given the volume of calls and reduction in services from organizations that a victim needs to contact.

However, the ITRC is here for anyone who falls victim to government identity theft. Victims can also live-chat with an expert advisor or download the ID Theft Help App that will allow them to track their steps in a case log, and get on-the-go assistance.

The post was originally published on 4/10/2020 and was updated on 9/15/2021

It can happen to anyone, anywhere. You’re going about your business when suddenly you’ve found a lost wallet on the ground. You look around to see if you can spot the person who lost the found wallet, but they don’t seem to be nearby. You pick it up, open it carefully and are shocked by what you see inside.

This scenario happens every day, and some of the best, most responsible people can be either the wallet loser or the wallet finder. Unfortunately, picking up someone’s personal—and possibly even valuable—property can come with both risks and benefits.

Steps to Take If You Found a Lost Wallet

The very first benefit of a found wallet is the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, to be a bright spot in someone’s day. After all, they’ve just lost something essential. The consequences for them can range from aggravating to terrible. Returning the found wallet to them in the condition in which they lost it can make you feel good.

At the same time, if you found a lost wallet, you could be opening yourself up to a few risks. What if the owner claims there was a lot of money in it, money that was long gone before you ever found it? What if the owner later accuses you—either innocently or maliciously—of identity theft or financial account takeover? Maybe this chance to help someone is just too big of a burden after all.

Your next steps in a situation like this can vary depending on where you located the wallet.

If you’re in a store or business, your gym, a doctor’s office, or any other location that has a surveillance camera, you’re probably in the clear from accusations.

  • Remain visible while picking the found wallet up, and turn it in at the front desk immediately. If you feel it’s necessary, you can wait while the attendant tries to locate the owner. The driver’s license, credit cards and any retail rewards cards can help. Just call the number on the credit cards or rewards cards and provide the name or account number. They should have a contact number for the owner and can pass along the location of the wallet.

What if you’re out in the open?

A wallet can easily fall out of someone’s pocket, briefcase or handbag. There might not be security cameras to help you prove that you had every innocent intention.

  • It’s best in this case to dial the local police department’s non-emergency number—don’t tie up the 911 dispatch system for something like this—and tell them that you found a lost wallet and are standing near it. Ask for a patrol vehicle in the area to come and take over, and wait with the found wallet if you can.

What should you do if someone comes up and claims to be the owner?

  • Let it go. Whether or not they are the owner is not in your wheelhouse. You are not responsible for someone who may or may not have criminal intentions. Getting into an argument over the property is not worth it in the end.

Should you post it on social media?

  • It’s very tempting to post about the found wallet on social media sites like Facebook in order to track down the owner, but that is not a good idea. You have no way of identifying the real owner. You could risk compromising that person’s identity if you post a photo containing part of the driver’s license, a credit card, a checking account number or other details.

Contact the ITRC

If you found a lost wallet, it is important to take the proper steps to protect it and what is inside it. If you have additional questions, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can get toll-free, no-cost assistance by phone (888.400) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

This post was originally published on 7/9/18 and was updated on 8/24/21

With the REAL ID deadline pushed back to May of 2023, you have time to determine if you should replace your current government-issued ID, as well as be aware of any scams that may pop around near the time of the change. However, officials say people should still update their ID when they can.

What is a REAL ID?

Over fifteen years ago, Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which set a uniform standard for how individual states issue driver’s licenses and state IDs. Before the 9/11 attacks, each state determined the requirements on how to prove your identity and address when applying for identity documents. Once the ID was issued, it was automatically valid in all other states. Since the 9/11 hijackers used legal, state-issued IDs in their attacks, the federal government created guidelines to standardize the credentials required to travel by air or enter federal government buildings.

After numerous delays in the 15+ years since the law was enacted, U.S. residents must now decide if they need a REAL ID with the REAL ID deadline approaching, or to keep their current state-government-issued ID.

What to Consider

It’s important to consider your circumstances and if you truly need a REAL ID, especially with the REAL ID deadline approaching in 2023. If you plan to travel domestically by commercial airline within the United States, you will need the enhanced ID. However, if you are not planning to travel within the U.S. by air or enter a federal government building, your regular state identification card or Driver’s License is still valid. If your license is valid—whether it is a REAL ID or not—you will still be able to use it as a form of identification for activities like writing a check.

At the start of COVID-19, the DMV expanded the eligibility to renew licenses by mail or online. To encourage more people to get the REAL ID card, the DMV will waive the fees paid by customers who got a regular ID between March 2020 and July 2021 (approximately 5.7 million people). The offer will stand until the end of 2021. Click here for more information. To receive a REAL ID, you need to go to the DMV in person.

Important Steps

There are some important steps to obtain a REAL ID in your state with the REAL ID deadline approaching in 2023 and specific documents you must have. Be sure to check with your state’s DMV or state police website in order to find out what you must bring with you. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), “At a minimum, you must provide documentation showing: 1) Full Legal Name; 2) Date of Birth; 3) Social Security Number; 4) Two Proofs of Address of Principal Residence; and 5) Lawful Status.”

For example, to apply for the REAL ID card in California, you need to present one identity document that includes your date of birth and full name. That could include:

  • Valid, unexpired U.S. passport or passport card
  • Original or Certified copy of U.S birth certificate (issued by a city, county or state vital statistics office); “Abbreviated” or “Abstract” certificates are not accepted
  • U.S. Certificate of Birth Abroad or Consular Report of Birth Abroad of U.S. Citizen
  • Unexpired foreign passport with valid U.S. Visa and approved I-94 form
  • Certified copy of birth certificate from a U.S. Territory
  • Certificate of Naturalization or Certificate of U.S. Citizenship
  • Valid, unexpired Permanent Resident Card
  • Valid, unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (I-766) or valid/expired EAD Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C)
  • Valid/expired Permanent Resident Card with Notice of Action (I-797 C) or Approval Notice (I-797)
  • Unexpired foreign passport stamped “Processed for I-551”
  • Documents reflecting TPS benefit eligibility

Potential Scams

With any change in government processes, scammers will try to take advantage. Be on your guard against fraud and hoaxes with the REAL ID deadline approaching in 2023.

For example, you cannot upgrade your license or ID over the phone, you will not be required to pay a fee or fine for not having a REAL ID and you will never be asked for the information on your license.

You will not receive a fine from the police for driving with a license that is not a REAL ID as long as it is valid. Also, you cannot be turned away at a polling place if you are a registered voter.

When in doubt, reach out to your local agency that issues REAL IDs for more information.

Data Storage & Protection

Once you are done applying for your REAL ID, don’t forget about data storage and protection. Important papers like your W-2 form, Social Security Administration card and other documents (even your devices) should never be unattended, even in a locked vehicle.

Once you get home, it is also important to lock up your documents in a safe place to keep people—even people you thought you could trust—from accessing them. This could be a locked filing cabinet or firebox.

Contact the ITRC

For more information on the REAL ID deadline approaching in 2023, or if you believe you have been targeted with a READ ID scam, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can speak with an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

This post was originally published on 2/25/20 and was updated on 7/26/21


For on-the-go identity assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Individuals are reporting a new Venmo scam that tries to overpay you out of the blue, but why would a scammer want to pay you? There is no limit to the creativity scammers can employ when trying to separate you from your money. Worse, as new technologies and platforms emerge, criminals come up with even more ways to take advantage of you, leaving you scammed on Venmo.

A new Venmo scam that relies on the Venmo peer-to-peer payment app has users and security experts alike scratching their heads, trying to determine how exactly scammers can benefit. Venmo, owned by PayPal, lets you send money instantly from a stored credit card, bank account or pre-loaded Venmo card to anyone with an account. It is a great way to pay your friend for your part of the rent, takeout food they brought over or concert tickets they bought to ensure the seats are located together.

What do you do if a stranger on Venmo sends you a suspiciously large amount of money? Some potential victims from the Venmo scam have received as much as $1,000 from someone they do not know, only to receive a strange message: “Sent to you by mistake, please return the money.”

It is already starting to sound fishy.

A lot of people have confused this Venmo scam with a fake check scam. In a fake check scam, someone sends you a check. You cash it, then you either return a portion according to their directions or make a purchase on their behalf, like buying them gift cards or sending them electronics. Once the bank finds out the check was fake, that money actually came out of your bank account.

In this Venmo scam, the best guess is that the scammer is only using you, and you do not actually come to any personal harm at first. The scammer uses a stolen credit card number to send you money and says, “Oops! Can you send that back?” You see the money sitting in your account and you do not know that this person is a criminal. So, you do it, leading to you getting scammed on Venmo.

Most likely, the scammer withdraws the money to their Venmo card instead of back on the original credit card. They might also delete the stolen credit card from their account and submit their own card in its place so that the money you are sending them goes to their personal card.

First, you might wonder how anyone could make such a ridiculous mistake as to send you $1,000. Sadly, it happens. With Venmo, you do not have to have any kind of approval to look up someone’s name and try to send them money. However, that is exactly what the scammers are counting on.

Second, you might be tempted to think, “It is not affecting me in any way, so I do not mind sending it back to them.” That can be a dangerous tactic, though. It is unclear whether or not this scam is actually impacting the recipient of the money, but more importantly, you would now be taking part in money laundering of stolen funds.

Third, there is that little voice that might be telling you, “You do not have to send this money back! After all, you would be stealing from a scammer. They deserve it!” Not exactly. Remember, the money still came from someone’s stolen credit card, and that person is a victim. When the victim discovers the charge on their card and sees that it is a Venmo transaction, the company may be more than happy to tell them which Venmo user it went to. In this case, that would be you.

Some users affected by this Venmo scam have reported that they tried to contact Venmo and the results were not very reassuring; they were simply told, “Sure, refund the money.” After all, accidents do legitimately happen.

If you are concerned about how this Venmo scam could affect you, reach out to law enforcement for support. Some forum users have stated they returned the money only after waiting for a reasonable amount of time, but again, that advice is more for avoiding a fake check scam. If you believe you were scammed on Venmo, you can also contact Venmo and discuss suspending your account once you return the money so that no further transactions can go through from that sender.

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.

This post was originally published on 11/4/19 and was updated on 7/14/21


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Gift card scams are nothing new, but Google Play gift card scams provide thieves with a different avenue to go after your money. While criminals have long relied on prepaid debit cards or iTunes gift cards for everything from IRS scams to fake online buying and selling, one of the latest “currencies” is Google Play cards. As a result, Google Play gift card scams are on the rise and may already be targeting you or your loved ones.

You may have already learned about avoiding scams involving iTunes gift cards. These cards, which are only intended to be used for Apple Store purchases became a favorite tool for scammers who demanded untraceable payment in this card currency. Now with more criminals aware of the opportunity, the go-to choice for scammers is quickly becoming Google Play gift card scams. Here are some of the ways scammers target consumer finances by demanding payment through Google Play gift cards.

Impersonation Scams

Every malicious thing you have heard about iTunes gift cards, prepaid debit cards and even wire transfers is also true about Google Play gift cards. Callers pretending to be with the IRS, with law enforcement, with medical offices, bogus charities and other plausible outlets, may call and demand payment via gift cards. Remember, no credible agency or company will ask for an untraceable payment via gift card.

Reselling Gift Cards

There are multiple online platforms where users can sell unwanted, unused gift card balances. Criminals have taken advantage of this opportunity and steal the balances from unsuspecting sellers. One commonly reported Google Play gift card scam is the three-way call. The purpose of the call is to have you dial the number on the back of your card and verify the balance while the potential buyer listens. That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. However, as you are entering the card number on your phone’s keypad, the listener is recording the tones. After you end the call and before the scammer buys your card, they simply use the recorded tones to transfer all the money off your card and onto one they own. Avoid Google Play gift card scams by only using reputable sites and verifying buyer reputation when possible.

Balance Inquiry Scams

Checking the balance on your gift cards is a good idea. It helps you know how much to spend and how much you have left on a reloadable card. However, hackers have invented a tool that allows them to wipe gift cards clean by attacking the computer network that keeps up with the balances. In order to avoid that kind of theft, it is a good idea to use your gift cards shortly after receiving them. Also, remember that some types of cards can start to lose value each month if you do not spend them. You can avoid this with a Google Play card by installing the card in your mobile wallet on your Android device.

Protect Card Numbers

Google Play gift cards, just like other gift cards, are only as safe as the information on the magnetic stripe or in the assigned number on the back. If you lose your card or someone gets the number, they have access to your money. Never share your card information with someone who contacts you, and never verify your gift card number for someone.

Providing Emergency Help

One common Google Play gift card scam is for a person to claim they need a Google Play card for some reason, such as to download an app they must have for work or to buy a movie or book they need for school. The only catch is supposedly they are living in a location where they cannot buy the cards. They reach out to you on social media and offer to pay you to buy them a card, giving you the price of the card and a little something extra for your time. Once you read them the information from the back of the card, they will drain the funds off it and you will not be reimbursed. Remember, there is no valid reason why someone should need you to buy them a card, and you will be violating terms of service for gift cards if you provide one.

Google asks its users to remember two very important truths about Google Play gift card scams, and these are true of any kind of reloadable payment card. First, it can never be used for any purpose other than downloading content from the Google Play Store. Second, you must protect the number like cash. No one will ever have a genuine reason to ask you for the number from the back of a card. If you have been a victim of a gift card scam, report the instance to the Federal Trade Commission.

Of course, the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help. Speak to an identity theft advisor 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.

The post was originally published on 6/25/19 and was updated on 7/13/21


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Sparking joy has taken on a whole new meaning thanks to the KonMari method of tidying up. Cleaning up your physical and digital life are some ways to prevent identity theft.

Marie Kondo took the world by storm in 2019 with the premise of decluttering your life, tidying up your home and workspaces and living by a simple principle: if it doesn’t “spark joy,” you don’t need it. The mindset behind the so-called KonMari method proved to be so effective that second-hand stores and thrift shops saw record-setting levels of donations.

This decluttering concept can be applied to physical possessions, but you should also consider its ability to benefit other areas of life. For example, you might clean up your email inbox or desktop. There’s another level of protection that consumers can take from this “spark joy” concept, and that’s keeping their identities out of a criminal’s hands.

Before You Begin

Several steps can help you organize your identity before you ever have to deal with cluttering consequences. These would include things like halting subscriptions to magazines and newspapers you don’t read, blocking credit card offers with your financial institutions and going “paperless” on bills and bank statements. By ensuring these things don’t arrive at your home, you’ll have less clutter to deal with and fewer security pitfalls that a thief could exploit.

Another possible vulnerability is your email inbox. Adopt the good habit of not just deleting unwanted emails but actively unsubscribing from them. You will have to open them, scroll down and click unsubscribe. Do not follow this procedure for emails that appear to be scam attempts. Clicking a link can redirect you to a harmful website or install malicious software on your computer. Instead, you should avoid links or attachments in unsolicited messages and block the sender.

One other thing you can do is update your contact information. Review all of your contact information to ensure it is up-to-date and you are not missing any essential information. There are other ways to prevent identity theft.

Physical Mail

As for identity tidying in your home or workplace, that can seem very daunting. Don’t worry; it’s not. By following commonly shared methods from organizational experts like Marie Kondo and others, you can start by creating “piles.” Establish a temporary spot for everything that could be linked back to your identity: a pile for bills, a pile for junk mail and a pile for important papers.

  • The bills: Your monthly statements must be accessible but protected. Find out where you are most likely to see them but keep others from coming across them. As you pay a bill, shred the remaining mailer portion so that you don’t end up with random piles of paper that will need to be addressed later.
  • Junk mail: It’s too easy to toss some junk mail on the counter and think you’ll deal with it later. It’s even easier to throw it in the trash unopened. However, that could lead a dumpster-diving identity thief to pieces of your overall data puzzle. Keep a basket near your cross-cut shredder to stash these items until you’re ready to shred.
  • Important papers: Many people would agree that tax documents, health insurance statements and other key forms don’t “spark joy” and therefore should be done away with immediately. However, that’s not wise. What is helpful is investing in a small file cabinet or file box where important papers can be stored when they are not needed. The file must be accessible in an emergency but not left out in the open where anyone could rifle through it.

Digital Clutter

Your digital identity becomes more important every day as the world evolves to a digital-first model. However, the same principles behind decluttering can help you in the virtual space. Investing in an external hard drive or cloud-based storage subscription can protect the things you want to keep while getting them out of your physical space. Even better, if there’s a paper you might need at a later date, you can photograph it or scan it, then store it in these outside spaces. That way, you can discard the original but retain a protected printable copy if you need it. It is also a good idea to organize your digital files. While it is time-consuming, it will make more space available for the most important things that need to be stored on these devices.

Mobile Apps & Privacy Settings:

  1. Take a look at all of the apps on your device – are there any you’re not using anymore? Delete those.
  2. Visit your mobile device settings to see what information your applications collect from you and update them for increased privacy. For example, you might need to let a map app see your location, but does it need to be active all the time or just when in use? The same thing for photos, do all of your apps need access to your media library? It’s also a good time to run any updates for your phone software or apps.

You should also pay attention to the permissions you allow the mobile apps on your device. Third-parties might be tracking information about you that you might not realize like your location, search history and even your photos through these apps. If they aren’t actively using this collected data, they’re still storing it, leaving your personal information vulnerable to cyberattacks should the third-party fall victim to a breach. Also, think twice before discarding an old device and be sure to reset your factory settings.

Finally, make sure all of the passwords are different for each of your accounts and use a 12+ character passphrase. Right now, threat actors are after credentials more than in years past. You should have a different password for each account and use multifactor authentication if possible for an added layer of security. If you follow these steps, you will be enacting different ways to prevent identity theft. 

Contact the ITRC

If you have questions about tidying up your identity and ways to prevent identity theft, or if you believe you are a victim, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can reach an expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat. You can also find resources on an array of identity-related topics. Just go to www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

The post was originally published on 2/15/19 and was updated on 4/6/21

This article has been updated as of November 2, 2020

Update 11/2/20 – According to the IRS, anyone who does not usually file a tax return, or did not file a tax return in 2018 or 2019, might not know if they qualify for an economic impact payment. Nearly nine million people that fall into this category will receive a letter from the IRS with information on how to register on their website to claim their payment, which has a deadline of November 21, 2020. The letter is legitimate. Anyone who receives one should either call the IRS directly at 800.919.9835 to register, or visit IRS.gov/EIP.  

However, if anyone receives a phone call, text message or email from someone claiming to be the IRS and wants to help you receive your stimulus payment, hang up, do not respond, and do not click on any links or attachments. The IRS will not text, email or call about an economic impact payment. They will also never ask anyone to pay a fee to get their money.  

The IRS and it’s partners will do a final push on November 10, National EIP Registration Day, to reach out to people who do not normally file their taxes. To learn more about stimulus payments, visit the IRS website.  

This article was originally posted, April 14, 2020

The Treasury Department and the IRS continue towards getting consumers their stimulus checks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the distribution of stimulus checks underway, non-filers are now able to get their stimulus payments sooner thanks in part to an online tool that was created to help consumers that aren’t required to file tax returns. However, it is important non-filers know the proper steps to take to protect their personal data and information so they don’t fall for a stimulus check scam.

First, non-filers should go directly to the IRS website, IRS.gov. Always start at the most trusted source.

Second, non-filers should click the tab that says “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here.” If consumers do not see this tab on the front page, they are not on the right page.

Image of irs.gov

Consumers should proceed to click on the “Non-Filers” tab. Once they click on the tab, it should take them to a page that has information on the “Economic Impact Payment” and additional information on what consumers need to provide and what they should expect. The next step is to, once again, click on the tab titled “Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here” that can be found in the middle of the page.

Image of irs.gov

Once the tab is clicked on, visitors will be redirected to freefilefillableforms.com. The redirect could feel like a scam. However, if the homepage looks like the one below, consumers are at the right place. (The ITRC has verified that this is a valid redirect)

Image of freefilefillableforms.com

From there all people have to do is hit “Get Started” to begin. Once a profile is created, non-filers will be asked for personal information like their Social Security number, address, dependents and direct deposit information. In this case, it is okay for consumers to provide sensitive information.

However, if anyone receives emails, text messages or phone calls about non-filers filing for a stimulus check, they should ignore it because it is probably a stimulus check scam. People should be going directly to the source, in this case, the IRS, to complete the process.

Since the stimulus package was merely a thought, scammers have increased their efforts around stimulus check scams. It is important for people to never give out personal information over the phone or to anyone they do not know personally. Also, it is important to know the facts. The IRS will not call anyone.

If people have questions regarding non-filers or stimulus check scams, they can live chat with an expert ITRC advisor. For those that cannot access the website, they can call the toll-free hotline (888.400.5530) and leave a message for an advisor. While the advisors are working remotely, there may be a delay in responding but someone will assist you as quickly as possible.


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UPDATE: November 10, 2020 is “National EIP Registration Day,” a day for the IRS and it’s partners to reach out to people who do not normally file their taxes about the possibility of a stimulus check payment. According to the IRS, nearly nine million people will receive a letter with information on how to register on their website to claim a payment because some non-filers may qualify for a payment. The deadline to claim a payment is November 21, 2020.

If anyone receives a letter from the IRS, it is legitimate. They should either call the IRS directly at 800.919.9835 to register, or visit IRS.gov/EIP.  However, if anyone receives a text, email or phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS and wants to help you with your payment, it is probably a scam. Consumers should hang up, not respond, and not click on any links or attachments. The IRS will not text, email or call about an economic impact payment. They will also never ask anyone to pay a fee to get their money.   

To learn more about stimulus payments, visit the IRS website.   

ORIGINAL STORY: The IRS has started distributing stimulus check payments to the nearly 140 million Americans that are eligible. While many have received their stimulus payment through direct deposit, according to CNN, 60 million Americans are still waiting for their money.

The IRS created a portal in hopes that people would be able to check the status of their stimulus check payment. However, due to overload and glitches being worked out, the website has not worked for everyone.

One reason why people might not have received their stimulus check payment is because they are victims of tax identity theft. However, there are many other reasons why people might not have received their payment that they should explore first:

1. People who are not normally required to file a tax return. Individuals who make less than $12,200 a year (or less than $24,400 for married couples) are generally not required to file a tax return. For the process of receiving a stimulus check payment, these people have to enter their information into a new IRS portal to get their money.

2. Someone’s refund went to a temporary account that was set up by a tax preparer. According to a report by WALA-TV, when people use tax preparation services, sometimes a temporary account is set up to handle the transactions, which could lead to a longer wait for a stimulus check payment.

3. Not everyone got a federal tax refund in 2018 or 2019. Some consumers did not get a refund after their last two tax filings. In fact, if someone owed taxes the last two years, they could still qualify for the stimulus. Only consumers who received a refund from the IRS to a direct deposit account will be processed for stimulus direct payment.

4. Some people’s refunds might have gone to an old bank account. This could happen if someone filed their 2018 tax return with bank account formation that is no longer valid and has yet to file a 2019 tax return. For people who have not filed their 2019 tax returns, the IRS is using information from their 2018 tax refunds.

5. Some people might have filed a paper return in 2019. People who filed their taxes with paper returns will mostly receive their stimulus check by mail because the IRS has stopped processing paper returns until they can reopen their centers.

6. It has been seized by a private debt collector. If someone owes money for private student loans, credit cards or medical bills, their stimulus check could be at risk. The CARES Act does not restrict private debt collectors from taking the check to pay off debt.

7. If there is anyone who does not fall under any of the categories listed above, they could be a victim of tax identity theft. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) is receiving calls and live chats from victims claiming their stimulus checks were intercepted. According to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the agency has already begun to see scammers pose as the IRS to get personal information from payment receipts they can use to steal money. While the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit is doing what they can to combat the problem, they have seen scams that are preying on vulnerable individuals who are not sure how they will get their stimulus check payment.

To avoid falling victim to tax identity theft due to the stimulus check, consumers are urged to not respond to any messages they receive that they are not expecting. Instead, they should contact the company, organization, or entity directly to verify the validity of the message. Also, it is important for people to stay informed about what is happening. The IRS will not contact anyone asking for personal information. If someone receives a phone call, email or text message claiming to be the IRS, it is probably a scam.

If anyone thinks their stimulus check landed in the hands of a thief, they can visit IdentityTheft.gov to get started on a personal recovery plan. If someone believes they are a victim of tax identity theft, they can also live-chat with an ITRC expert advisor. They can also call toll-free at 888.400.5530.

This post was originally published on 4/20/20 and was updated on 11/2/20


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On November 3rd, 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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