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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…

The federal government shutdown is affecting hundreds of thousands of employees and their families, but other victims stand to be harmed as well. While the government and its agencies handle the employees and continued services for the duration, criminals have been busy contacting consumers with plausible shutdown-related scams.

One law enforcement agency has already alerted area residents to a Medicare scam related to the shutdown. Callers posing as government employees contact random citizens and claim their Medicare (and conceivably Medicaid as well) coverage will be suspended during the shutdown unless the would-be victim signs up to have their information submitted manually. Faced with losing healthcare and prescription coverage, it’s easy to see why someone might willingly hand over all of their personally identifiable information.

Another variation related to the shutdown involves zero-interest temporary loans to “help” federal employees weather the weeks ahead without a paycheck. It sounds like the ideal solution to a terrifying problem, right? Just receive the loan and pay back the funds when work resumes and any back pay arrives? Unfortunately, this isn’t a government program or even one that’s backed by any financial institution. It’s entirely the product of a scammer’s imagination; providing your personal data and your bank account information—presumably for the loan to be directly deposited—only makes you their next victim.

Yet another confirmed instance involves phishing emails that appear to come from your bank. The subject line may actually be very comforting, something about skipping payments during the shutdown, but that’s only to get you to open the email. Like most phishing emails, you’re directed to click the link to sign up for the free payment forgiveness offer, but the link can install harmful software on your computer, redirect to a fake website that steals your information, or worse.

It’s sickening to think that anyone would be so cruel as to steal from federal employees or Medicare recipients at a time like this, and worse, would use a frightening scenario such as the shutdown to steal from the public. Sadly, scammers love nothing more than a widespread crisis to lure their victims into their net.

There are some steps that consumers can take to protect themselves. Fortunately, these are not only useful during this shutdown, but rather are good habits to develop to keep yourself safe at all times:

1. Do not confirm your identifying information for anyone who contacts you.

No matter what excuse they give, refuse then take down their information. Then, using only a verified contact method, contact their business or agency yourself and find out what is wrong with your account.

2. The government will not call you out of the blue, regardless of what agency they work for.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to work for the government, it’s probably a scam.

3. The same applies to financial institutions.

Legitimate offers from a bank will arrive via postal mail and will never expect you to provide personal information to a caller or via email.

4. The best offense is always a strong defense.

Become “suspicious by nature” when anyone contacts you and wants your information or account access.

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 Government Shutdown is Hurting Crime Victims

With more than 60 million reported cases of identity theft in the US to date, there is no single demographic that is immune from the threat. In fact, the opposite is true; some age groups or even residents in certain states are more likely than the rest of the population to face identity theft. Unfortunately, the more natural prey you appear to a criminal, the more of a target you become.

January is Braille Literacy Month in honor of Louis Braille’s birthday, so it’s a good time to understand how the threat of identity theft manifests among people with low-vision or vision loss, as well as share some ways to help reduce the risk of becoming a victim. Fortunately, many of the same steps are worthwhile for all consumers, not just a single risk group.

First, the Identity Theft Resource Center partnered with the Braille Institute on a highly informative session explicitly aimed at low-vision and vision-impaired people on how to reduce your risk and overcoming the aftermath of identity theft should it occur.

Also, Empish J Thomas of Vision Aware has shared a very insightful look at her own experiences with identity theft. The account includes key information about issues and obstacles that could make low-vision consumers more of a target for identity theft, as well as ways to overcome those problems. For example, junk mail and carrying extra credit cards could lead to theft without the owner’s knowledge, so Thomas recommends having a core group of trustworthy people who can intervene.

Unfortunately, common identity theft attempts can prove to be even more of a challenge for visually impaired people. Telemarketers and door-to-door salesmen, for example, can turn out not to be who you thought they were; there’s also the crime of opportunity in which the individual might not have set out to steal your data but seizes the chance after discovering your vision issues.

Here are some steps to protect any consumer, but especially those with visual impairments or low vision:

1. Do not take anything at surface value, whether it’s a phone call, letter, or email.

Those can easily be spoofed or falsified, so make it a good habit to never give out your personal data to someone who requests it.

2. Shred all junk mail, health insurance statements, medical and credit card bills, and more.

If you need to rely on a volunteer or trusted friend to help you decide what needs to be shredded, make sure your items are in a safe place until you can seek that help.

3. Install a robust security suite on your computer and mobile devices.

Remember, antivirus isn’t enough anymore, but there are some very affordable products that protect you from a broader range of threats.

4. Request a free copy of your credit report each year. 

And be sure to study it carefully for suspicious activity. Take action immediately if something is uncertain or out of place.

5. If you do suspect you’ve been the victim of identity theft, get help immediately.

The ITRC and the Federal Trade Commission both have avenues for assistance, and specialty organizations like AARP and the Better Business Bureau can also start you in the right direction.

Again, these things and other security steps are good habits for any consumer, so make it a practice to protect yourself at all times.

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 Government Shutdown is Hurting Crime Victims

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