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In one of the most ironic twists to come along in identity theft-based crime, there is a new scam attempt making the rounds, one that works so well because it tries to protect you from – you guessed it – identity theft. According to one victim’s story, criminals posed as members of government agencies and pretended that the victim’s identity had been stolen and asked him to cooperate in resolving this issue.

It started with a call from a scammer claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). “Your Social Security number has been used to rent a car,” the scammer said. That seems fairly straightforward and basic. The catch, though, is that the agent eventually transferred the call to someone pretending to be a Border Patrol agent who said the car had been recovered at the border and that there was a large amount of illegal drugs within the vehicle.

The callers threatened the victim in a very plausible way, even admitting that the victim probably had nothing to do with this, but would spend tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees clearing his name. You can read the full story, but the short version is this: before the victim got through with this three-hour ordeal, he bought thousands of dollars in Google Play gift cards, and sent photos of the card numbers and PIN numbers to the scammers. After the callers received the information and money, they vanished.

Here are some of the multiple warning signs that could have prevented this crime if the victim had only known what to look for:

  1. You cannot trust your caller ID to be a verified identity. Any name or number—even your own—can be programmed to appear on that screen.
  2. The Social Security Administration does not call citizens about these or benefits matters.
  3. The government does not call individual consumers and enlist their help in an investigation.
  4. No one will ever call you with a legitimate issue and only give you an hour to comply, so be on your guard against high-pressure tactics.
  5. You will never be told by SSA or any other government agency to buy gift cards and give them the card details.
  6. A simple Google search for the phone number and the story the callers used would have told the victim that this was a scam.

The right thing for the victim to do would have been avoiding the scam with a few simple steps. First, ask for the name and agent identification number, then hang up. Contact the SSA yourself using a verified phone number, and ask the agent about this call. You can do this for any government agency the scammer claims to be from. In fact, imposter scams were the most reported complaint in 2018 to the Federal Trade Commission.

Once you call the agency for yourself, provide the agent’s name and number, and tell them what you were told. You will immediately be informed that your information has not been compromised and this was a scam.

Finally, report the phone call to your local law enforcement agency. They can post the incident on their social media pages so that others in your community are not victimized.

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.


Read more: Imposter Scams Were the Most Reported Complaint in 2018

 

For years, crimes like identity theft, scams and fraud have targeted residents in different states all across the country. Sometimes the crimes are simply based on opportunity, such as a large-scale data breach of a major company; in that case, the locations of the victims can seem to be somewhat random. Other crimes, however, have targeted residents of specific states, and the reasons for this kind of highly-specific targeting can vary.

Florida has the long-standing yet dubious honor of being one of the most targeted states over the past few years. The state has often topped the list for identity-related crimes, and 2018 was no different. The state ranked number one for fraud reports to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and number four for identity theft reports. These numbers are fairly typical for Florida’s ranking in those crimes.

According to different sources, there are a number of reasons why Florida might be such a hot target for criminals. These include state and local government structuring, the resort construction and tourism industries, a large retiree population and the high-density of the state’s population in numerous metro areas. Last year’s total volume of reports to the FTC was over 205,000 from Florida alone, and the average losses from that state were $400 per victim.

An article in the Sun-Sentinel explains, “Thieves and scammers apparently are attracted to Florida for a host of reasons: Its lack of state income tax means less scrutiny from state officials. Its transient population makes it easier for hit-and-run operators to blend in. Its large senior population provides a tempting target of savings and vulnerabilities. And its fast development means a lot of new money floating around.”

Of course, identity theft and fraud crimes are broad categories that encompass a lot of different forms of attack. Criminals can rely on highly-profitable but hard to trace tactics such as benefits fraud, credit card and new account fraud, account takeover and imposter scams. A report by Security.org based on the FTC’s data found that fake debt collection scams were the most commonly reported method of attack at 29 percent (approximately 71,000 reports); meanwhile, reports of identity theft and its related crimes made up another 15 percent, or 38,000 reports. There is a seemingly endless variety of ways that someone with a little bit of know-how can target someone in this way, as these findings have shown.

Fortunately, a lot of the ways that criminals target Florida residents—which truthfully, can all be a threat no matter where you live—can often be thwarted by developing an air of caution. Ignoring requests for your private sensitive information, for example, and refusing to make payments over the phone or via email can head off a lot of these attacks. Securing your accounts with strong, unique passwords can also help, along with changing those passwords frequently. Finally, helping others by spreading the word about common scams and fraud attempts can help protect those around you, which can in turn help protect you.

Of course, the Identity Theft Resource Center is always here to help. If you’re a victim of identity theft or have questions about scams and other issues, 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.


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Imposter Scams Were the Most Reported Complaint in 2018

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Scams and Seniors: If You See Something Say Something

You may have heard of the phrase, “If you see something say something.” The intent behind this concept is that if the public looks out for each other and reports suspicious activity, crimes have a better chance of being prevented.

Recently one of ITRC’s advisors was shopping at his local grocery store. An elderly woman in front of him at the register was trying to buy $2,500 in gift cards. The cashier called the manager to the front because the store has a $2,000 limit on gift cards. While the employees were discussing the situation, the ITRC advisor politely interrupted asking the woman why she needed so much in gift cards. The elderly woman replied she had been contacted by US Bank regarding a sweepstakes she had won totaling $750,000 in cash. In order to collect her winnings she needed to pay $2,500 upfront in gift cards to cover the taxes. Our advisor immediately recommended she not make the purchase.

He explained that this was a scam, and that a valid lottery will not ask you to pay taxes or other fees upfront in gift cards or via wire transfer before receiving your winnings. The elderly woman was apprehensive at first saying she needed to complete this step to receive her prize. Our advisor elaborated on his role with ITRC and the commonality of these scams. The woman decided to not move forward with her transaction and was relieved that he intervened. She thanked him for speaking up and for saving her $2,500 dollars.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, lottery scams were the third most common type of fraud reported to them in 2017. In many cases, scammers will take the gift card approach because it is an untraceable payment. Meaning once you release the physical cards or card numbers, scammers will take the money and run. Leaving you with no way to link the crime back to a specific individual and out a significant amount of money. Sometimes ITRC hears about cashiers and other employees educating shoppers to help prevent these scams, but not every victim is so fortunate.

By speaking up when you see something suspicious or educating friends and family about identity crimes, you can help others minimize their risks. By taking a few minutes to politely address a situation, like that of this elderly woman, you too can help save someone a lifetime of woes.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a scam or identity crime and needs assistance, you can receive no-cost help from ITRC. Contact one of our expert advisors via phone or LiveChat today. You can also download our app.


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: Help! My Parent or Friend is a Victim of a Scam

Identity theft is not one single type of crime. There are many different ways a criminal can use your information, such as applying for government benefits, getting a job under your Social Security number, receiving medical care or prescription drugs in your name, and of course, the financial aspects. But stealing from your bank account or signing up for a new credit card in your name are just scraping the surface when it comes to the harm identity theft can cause.

Tax identity theft occurs when someone uses your compromised information to file a tax return in your name. They fudge the numbers, enter an unrelated refund dispersal option like a prepaid debit card, and make off with your money before you ever know that anything has gone wrong.

How do they get their hands on your data in the first place? There are many ways, including:

  • Imposter scams
  • Data breaches
  • Stolen mail or W-2s
  • CEO/HR phishing scams
  • Corrupt insiders/tax preparation services
  • Unsecured and public Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Social Security number that is lost, stolen or compromised

Of course, it’s just as easy for a criminal to purchase your previously stolen information online, then use it to file a fraudulent return.

How can you know if someone has filed a return with your stolen information? Again, you may find out in different ways, but one common way is for the IRS to inform you.

They don’t usually call you up and say, “Guess what? Someone stole your identity!” Instead, it’s a lot more likely that the IRS will reject your legitimate tax return because someone has already filed using your Social Security number. Another way is someone not necessarily filing the entire return in your name, but rather claiming your dependents on their return if they’ve stolen your kids’ identities; in that case, the IRS will still contact you about the duplicated dependents. Finally, the IRS might contact you if someone files a business return involving your identity as an employee and the agency wants you to answer for the unreported income you supposedly earned but didn’t list on your return.

The fact of tax identity theft is that hundreds of millions of consumers’ identities have been compromised in different data breaches over the years. That means no one is immune from the threat of having their tax refund stolen.

Fortunately, there are steps that consumers can take to minimize their risk. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides free victim remediation assistance through its call-center by dialing (888) 400-5530. The ITRC will host an informative Twitter chat with the Federal Trade Commission to provide insight into protecting yourself. The live event will take place on March 8, 2019, at 8 am PT/11 am ET, and will discuss the importance of protecting yourself against tax-related identity theft. Use #IDTheftChat to join!

If you can’t take part that day, you can still read all of the tweets later on by searching for the hashtag. For more questions and answers about tax identity theft, read our tips here.


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: Tidying Up For Your Identity, Mobile Device and More…

SAN DIEGO – Jan 14, 2019 – The Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), a national non-profit organization established to support victims of identity crime, is available to assist victims during the Federal Government shutdown. Heading into its fourth week of federal agency closures, consumers continue to experience long-term consequences due to the aftermath of the lack of availability of integral government services. The ITRC, a trusted non-profit partner of the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service, can provide those that need immediate assistance help through their toll-free call center (888-400-5530) if they suspect they have fallen prey to identity theft or a scam.

The FTC announced that filing reports of fraud, scam and identity theft is suspended at this time – with not just the filing unavailable but necessary forms and informational resources are also offline. Always available to help consumers but especially during the current shutdown crisis, the ITRC provides valuable plans for victims to begin the remediation of an identity theft or fraud case as well as the necessary steps to take during the government shutdown to be prepared to provide the necessary agencies documents when they reopen. Advisors can also provide alternative remediation plans, where available, based on case specifics and the jurisdiction of the victim.

“The core of our mission is helping victims of identity crime and we know that given the Federal Government shutdown, our free services are needed now more than ever,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of Identity Theft Resource Center. “Victims can use any of the available channels of communication for assistance not only during this time of uncertainty, but year round.”

Knowledgeable ITRC advisors can assist victims with any questions they have about identity crime, as well as help them appropriately plan for reporting an identity theft case, filing a scam or fraud complaint, setting victims up for success as soon as the relevant agencies reopen (FTC, IRS, Social Security Administration). Assistance includes one-on-one live help, forms and other resources, along with a detailed remediation plan for each victim’s unique case.

“In my role as ITRC’s chairman of the board, I have been able to experience the collaborative relationship between the FTC and ITRC,” said Matt Cullina, chairman of the board of the ITRC and CEO of CyberScout. “Both of these organizations have a mutual mission to provide victims access to resolve their identity theft cases, but work together to support each other. During this challenging time for both victims and the federal agencies impacted, it’s good to know that the ITRC is available to provide support in the wake of the shutdown.”

The ITRC provides identity theft victims with United States identity credentials assistance free of charge. An advisor will work with a victim to provide best-in-class assistance in compiling the necessary resources and documents, as well as offer step-by-step instructions on how best to remediate a case. Consumers can also receive information and assistance by visiting the Identity Theft Resource Center’s website at https://www.idtheftcenter.org/ and utilizing the “Live Chat” feature. The site also contains the necessary forms and fact sheets regarding identity theft. The free app from the ITRC, ID Theft Help, is available to manage your cases progress, get pertinent resources, contact a call center advisor and access information on how to protect your identity – for those that prefer a self-directed mobile application.

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About the Identity Theft Resource Center

Founded in 1999, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a nationally recognized non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft, data breaches, cybersecurity, scams/fraud, and privacy issues. Through public and private support, the ITRC provides no-cost victim assistance and consumer education through its call center, website, social media channels, live chat feature and ID Theft Help. For more information, visit: http://www.idtheftcenter.org

Contact: Charity Lacey, VP of Communications

CLacey@idtheftcenter.org

o: 858-634-6390

c: 619-368-4373

By ITRC CEO, Eva Velasquez

For victims of identity crimes there are emotional, physical and lost opportunity costs experienced even when resources are provided quickly and competently. The government shutdown will make the aftermath for these victims worse.  The Identity Theft Resource Center’s AftermathTM series sheds light on the less obvious but equally devastating effects of various identity crimes.  It also highlights the downstream impacts regularly faced by victims.  Right now, we are dealing with an obvious challenge on a national scale with the federal government shutdown. In keeping with our mission of advocating for victims, and increasing awareness of the complexity of the identity crime issue, I want to highlight some of the less obvious downstream effects our team is seeing impact not only victims but all citizens during this shutdown.

There is considerable attention being paid to the obvious consequences, and rightly so. Many folks, from federal employees to those that rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs, are certainly enduring hardship. However, there are other impacts, which are less obvious, and I feel compelled to share this perspective. This is not to make the point that these impacts are greater, or causing more harm than the ones previously mentioned, rather it is to shine some light on these less obvious consequences so that decision-makers and the public realize this is happening, and understand both the short term and long-term effects.

Currently, many departments of the federal government are shutdown. This includes the Federal Trade Commission.  The FTC and the ITRC share similar mission, and a strong collaborative relationship.  We have worked together on many initiatives to better the outcomes for identity crime victims. The individuals that we have worked with at the agency are amazing people, dedicated to helping victims and stopping the identity thieves. The resources that the FTC provides are an invaluable part of the remediation process.

What is notable about the shutdown for this department is that while ftc.gov remains fully functional, the identity theft assistance arm, identitytheft.gov and the associated call center are non-operational. That’s right; the website that victims go to for these invaluable resources is dark. Victims currently cannot obtain the FTC identity theft affidavit that is a critical first step for many, if not most, identity theft remediation plans.

Government shutdown advisory from identitytheft.gov

Until identitytheft.gov comes back online victims will need to go to their local police department and get a police report to move forward with proving their innocence. This is creating an increased workload for these local departments, a burden that was only recently lifted due to changes in the Fair Credit Reporting Act that allowed the FTC affidavit to serve as the report from a law enforcement agency in lieu of a police report.

If you believe that is not a big deal and at least there is some type of workaround, please realize that law enforcement agencies are not equipped to provide robust victim services for financial crimes victims (generally), which means they are not providing victims with remediation plans or helping them to put their lives back together.  Their job is to investigate, get the bad guy, and hopefully stop the thief from harming others. Those plans come from the FTC and the Identity Theft Resource Center. As second tier responder, the ITRC receives referrals from the FTC, but with them unavailable, we’re now in the position to have to assist those victims as a first responder.

If for some reason there’s a belief that identity crimes are not a big deal, listen to what the victims are saying to understand that is not the case. You can read our Aftermath study and hear it directly from them.

The ITRC and all its resources are here for victims. We can be reached through our website www.idtheftcenter.org and our call center at 888-400-5330. Bear in mind that the shutdown has created an increase in our call volume, so please be patient.

In addition to the short term consequences, there are several long-term impacts that one will only be able to measure fully when this crisis has passed and we can unpack it using hindsight and data. One of the questions is has there been an increase in the actual number of incidents during this time period. The temporary closure of the investigative bodies that act as a deterrent will have some impact and decades of personal experience working with law enforcement and observing criminal behavior leads me to the conclusion: “Of course there will.” Identity thieves are opportunistic. Who actually believes they are not talking with each other and managing their efforts to capitalize on LESS oversight?

Another question: how much worse will the impact be for those that fall victim to identity crime during this window of closure? The ITRC knows from experience that early detection of this crime leads to quicker remediation and lessens the trauma, not to mention the total impact. We also know that consumers experience intense fear upon discovery of being a victim of identity theft. The availability of a plan of action allows them to feel empowered; giving them the ability to fight back against the powerlessness they might be feeling. Some will minimize this reaction and continue to see victims of economic crimes as overreacting, but I assure you that it’s not an overreaction. Those feelings are real. Moreover, when they cannot access the assistance they need, when they need it, it increases that feeling of powerlessness. Imagine that you come home to find that your home burglarized. It is obvious that the burglars are long gone, but all of your belongings have been touched and gone through, and many are missing. You feel violated. You need help and you need to get this reported and resolved. You call the police to get that help and are told they are closed, until further notice, so you just have to wait and try to wade through it. You think, can I clean things up? Do I have to take pictures? What if I mess something up and it creates more problems down the road. That’s exactly what identity crime victims are feeling when they get to the inoperable FTC website. Powerless.

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 2018 Impact of Data Breaches and Cybercrime