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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers. Whether it is issuing warnings and recalls about dangerous products, policing companies for misleading advertising or helping write regulations in regards to harmful products, the FTC is certainly the unsung hero that protects all of us on a daily basis.

The FTC has another crucial job, it is the go-to department for reporting scams, fraud, and other related crimes. As such, the FTC keeps tabs on the types of consumer reports that are filed each year and releases this comprehensive information in its annual report from the Consumer Sentinel Network.

The 2018 report has been released with a shocking new finding: for the first time since the FTC began tabulating and reporting the complaints, imposter scams topped the list of most commonly reported consumer fraud.

An imposter scam occurs when a criminal uses a false identity or persona to trap you. It might be someone pretending to be a Microsoft employee, a Google ad salesman, someone from your bank or credit company, an IRS agent, or a customer service representative from your utility company, just to name a few examples. Using this false persona, the criminal alerts you to some plausible reason why you must pay money or face a consequence of some kind.

For obvious reasons involving threats of jail time and significant penalties, government imposter scams are commonplace. Scams involving phony IRS or Social Security agents made up about half of the 535,417 imposter scam attempts that were reported to the FTC last year. The thought of a fraudulent charge on your credit can make some scam victims comply with a banking imposter scam, but thinking that they have broken the law with regards to their taxes is far scarier.

What is interesting about the increase in government imposter scams is that it is branching out from the norm. IRS scams were commonplace for a long time, as a caller would contact you and claim you have failed to pay your taxes. Now, Social Security imposters contact potential victims and frighten them into thinking their SSN has been suspended or their benefits will not be issued that month unless they verify their identities.

In either case, the goal is money or information. If a scammer can convince you to pay or provide your personally identifiable information, then they can cash in. Sometimes the scammer even manages to acquire both a payment and your data, which will then be used for identity theft.

Unfortunately, as the number of complaint reports to the FTC increased, so did the number of losses that victims reported. With nearly three million different consumer reports made to the FTC last year, the total amount of loss was $1.48 billion, a 38 percent increase compared to the previous year.


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 How and Why of Tax Identity Theft

From doctor’s offices and financial institutions to college university admittance applications and summer camp registrations, the request for your Social Security number (SSN) has become commonplace. In fact, it’s become such a standard request that many individuals willingly provide this number without hesitation and without really thinking about the consequences behind this, one of which being an increased risk of identity theft.

Social Security numbers hold one of the keys to your identity. With it, you can open a new line of credit, gain employment, receive health insurance and file taxes. Thieves also know the power behind this nine-digit number, which is why it’s one of the most highly sought after pieces of personal information. There are a variety of ways that thieves attempt to obtain SSNs, and they include more low-tech methods like sifting through your trash, stealing a wallet, purse or laptop; or using more sophisticated ways like phishing emails and texts, scam calls and via data breaches. For example, there were nearly 158 million social security numbers exposed in 2017 due to data breaches.

While the exposure of your SSN is not entirely preventable – data breaches are a perfect example of this – consumers should refrain from giving it out unnecessarily to minimize their risks of identity theft. Basically, the frequency at which the number is exposed – whether intentional or unintentional, the higher the probability that it will be compromised. Here are some tips to help you protect your SSN and become a better steward of your identity:

Be in the Know – Educate yourself on the types of scenarios that require you to provide your Social Security number so that you can decide ahead of time whether or not you should provide it. Here is a list of situations that require your SSN:

  • Internal Revenue Service for tax returns and federal loans
  • Employers for wage and tax reporting purposes
  • Financial institutions for monetary and credit transactions
  • Veterans Administration as a hospital admission number
  • Department of Labor for workers’ compensation
  • Department of Education for student loans
  • Entities that administer any tax, general public assistance, motor vehicle or driver’s license law
  • Child support enforcement
  • Food Stamps
  • Medicaid
  • Unemployment Compensation

Don’t be afraid to ask – When your Social Security number is requested it’s best to ask the requestor some additional information to better understand whether you absolutely need to provide your SSN and if so, how they plan to protect it. In some instances, you may be able to provide an alternative like a driver’s license. Keep in mind that if you don’t provide your SSN, some entities may refuse to provide the services requested. Some questions to consider asking are:

  • Why does the company need this information (what law or reason make this a requirement)?
  • How do you protect this information?
  • What will happen if I don’t provide it?
  • Is there is an alternative to providing my SSN (driver’s license, etc.)?

Protect your physical card, too – It’s crucial to not only correctly safeguard your social security number but to also protect the physical card to the best of your ability. This includes storing it in a secure place (like a locked safe) and by not carrying it around in your wallet or purse.

Be leery of scammers – Scammers may pose as the IRS, the Social Security Administration and others to attempt to gain access to your SSN and they may do so over the phone, through email, text or even through social media platforms. To stay safe, never provide your SSN or other sensitive information on a call that you didn’t initiate. Also, don’t automatically give out your Social Security number via email, text or social media messages, even if it looks like a legitimate business requesting it. Instead, call the entity directly by locating their number on their official website, on the back of your card or even on a recent bill.

If you know your social security number has been compromised, contact our advisors using our toll-free number (888-400-5530) and they can inform you about the necessary steps to take to resolve the issue. You can also reach us using our live chat feature.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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

At one point not too long ago, the IRS was reportedly issuing billions of dollars each year in fraudulent tax refunds filed by identity thieves. Thankfully, with better information and new regulations to help curb this problem, improvements have already been made. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a long way to go towards fighting back against tax return fraud.

One of the chief issues the agency faces is simply the sheer volume of compromised taxpayer records that are floating around, available for identity thieves to purchase and use. Record-setting numbers of data breaches have resulted in hundreds of millions of consumer records exposed, ready to be used by the original thieves or those who buy them online.

Part of the effort to stem the flow of fraudulent refunds has meant slowing down the process significantly. Of course, we all want to receive a speedy refund that gets automatically deposited into our bank accounts, but that level of efficiency means it’s even easier for thieves to get to your money first. By automatically flagging certain returns for review—especially ones that use some of the more common standard deductions like dependent children or child care expenses—the agency hopes to block even higher numbers of phony refunds.

At the same time, the IRS is also taking a close look at its own mechanisms, namely its websites and taxpayer-centric user portals. The anonymity of the internet makes committing this kind of fraud even easier, and by finding ways to lock down their sites for better verification of taxpayer identities, the IRS hopes to stop even more fraud.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Is Your Bluetooth Tracking You?

It turns out the boogeyman is actually hiding in the deep dark web, not your child’s closet.

Identity theft is often misconstrued as an issue that only adults deal with; however, it’s also something that affects children. According to Javelin Strategy and Research’s 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study, one million child identity theft cases were reported in the U.S. last year.

It is important to note that these are only reported cases, so the actual number of child identity theft victims is likely higher. According to the calls we receive from impacted individuals, many child identity theft cases go underreported because they may have been perpetrated by a custodial or non-custodial parent, a close relative or even family friend, and the victim might not feel comfortable pressing charges.

Criminals see children’s identities as a hot commodity because they’re typically unmonitored and clean. Since children don’t start to establish credit until they are an adult (age 18) and open their first credit card or take out a loan, parents don’t usually think to check their child’s credit history. Unfortunately, criminals see this as the perfect opportunity to use your child’s information to open up several accounts, which may go undetected for years.

After the child’s information is stolen, criminals often turn to the dark web to sell it for as low as one dollar. The Dark Web, which contains some areas that are not accessible by normal internet browsers or are gated, holds a variety of illicit activity. So if you’ve been a victim of a data breach or gave personal information to a scammer, your information might be living there, as well as your child’s information.

Even though your child isn’t opening up new lines of credit at the moment, they are still at risk of having their information exposed. One way this can happen is through a data breach.  You should be aware that accidental breaches do occur and you should be mindful of the consequences. For example, schools, doctor offices and daycares hold your child’s personal identifying information (PII) and could be potentially breached. It’s important to find out how your child’s information is collected, stored and disposed.

Often times, thieves will buy a child’s Social Security number (SSN) from the dark web and combine it with a fake date of birth, address and name to completely fabricate an identity. Considered synthetic identity fraud, this is an increasingly common method that criminals use to commit identity theft.  In order to protect your child from the dark web, it’s important to check if a credit report exists with your child’s SSN regularly, never carry their SSN and only provide their SSN when it’s required.

Checking for the existence of a credit report with each of the three credit bureaus is a leading way to identify child identity theft. There are other indicators including the following:

  • Your child receives offers for pre-approved credit cards.
  • You receive bills in your child’s name.
  • A collection notice arrives with your child’s name on it.
  • Your application for government benefits for your child is refused because benefits are already being paid out to someone using your child’s Social Security number.
  • You receive a letter from the IRS saying your child owes taxes. Be aware, however, that any phone call from someone claiming to be with the IRS is almost certainly fraudulent. The IRS communicates with taxpayers by U.S. mail only.

You can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free assistance at 888-400-5530 or through the live chat feature on their website: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/

Experian proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center.


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.