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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

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

Your Passport and Your Identity

A recently-discovered data breach of the Starwood brands of Marriott International’s hotels has left consumers and security advocates alike scratching their heads. At the heart of this confusion surrounding the theft of data for around 25 million guests is passport security, or more accurately, the need to safeguard both your physical document and its number. So assuming that your passport was affected, what do you do?

As noted in the newest release published on January 4th, 2019, “Marriott now believes that approximately 5.25 million unencrypted passport numbers were included in the information accessed by an unauthorized third party. The information accessed also includes approximately 20.3 million encrypted passport numbers.” According to numerous sources including the US State Department, your passport number on its own is not a highly valuable piece of information for a hacker. However, when combined with some of the other data points that were compromised in this breach, your number could possibly be used to craft a more complete profile for identity theft – or allow for an identity thief to generate a synthetic identity with more validity.

First, if the physical document is lost or stolen, that is absolutely an urgent matter. You should report it to the proper authorities—namely the State Department who issues them—so that there is a record of the missing document. If it is used for identity theft or fraud, you will have already filed it as missing.

Read: What To Do If Your Passport is Lost or Stolen

But in the case of this data breach where only the number was compromised, your recourse is a little different:

1. If only the number and not the actual document is stolen, don’t be too quick to replace it. Since the number by itself does not directly result in identity theft, you may not be given a new passport free of charge. That means you’ll pay for the new document out-of-pocket.

In the case of the Marriott breach, if you can show proof that your passport was the cause of fraud or identity theft, they are offering to replace it. Read the specifics very carefully to understand what your recourse is in this particular case.

2. If the document was set to expire in the near future AND you were planning to replace it, there’s no need to wait if you can demonstrate that it was compromised. However, you may need to provide the notification letter or email from Marriott International to show why you’re requesting a new passport early.

3. When you decide to replace your passport, it will contain a new number (unlike driver’s licenses that retain their issue number, for example), but that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t still use your old number to piece together your identifying information. You will still need to monitor your accounts—especially travel-related accounts—carefully.

Read: What Can a Thief Do With Your Driver’s License?

This breach also serves as a cautionary tale about oversharing: unless you are required to turn over a piece of identifying information, think twice about submitting it. Many consumers take domestic flights and stay in hotels without even owning a passport; just because you have one doesn’t mean you have to provide the number every time it’s an option.

Finally, as if this wasn’t worrisome enough, there’s another potential threat that could be looming: scams associated with passports. With any high-profile event, scammers crawl out from under their rocks to take advantage of the public. Be wary of any email, text, social media post or other communication that plays off of fears surrounding compromised passport numbers.

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: The Real People Behind Identity Theft Statistics