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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?

As the holidays approach, savvy consumers should already be on the lookout for scams and fraud. But what about at work? Do you know how to avoid one of the newest twists on an old scam?

Boss phishing—sometimes called CEO phishing or spearphishing, since the message appears to come from someone high up in the company—has been around for a long time, and its targets can be both financial and data-driven. Usually, in the form of a genuine-looking email, the request asks someone to send over sensitive information, change account numbers and move money around, or even change things like usernames and passwords.

It works for one very simple reason… when the boss says to do something, you do it. However, this kind of trust in following orders means the consequences can be very serious for the company and lead to blowback for the employee who was tricked. This newly reported spearphishing scam, though, is particularly horrible since the innocent employee might be the one who’s most profoundly harmed.

In the new variation, the “CEO” emails someone and directs them to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of gift cards for the employees’ holiday bonuses; this could be with their personal credit card or with a company credit card. After the cards are purchased, the “CEO” emails again and says to scratch off the protective strip then submit the card numbers so the boss can email all of the employees their gift car codes.

In a real report of this crime to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a few hours after sending the gift card codes to the scammers, the victim learned the company computer had been hacked. The emails weren’t genuine, and the scammers made off with $5,000 in gift cards.

Fortunately, you can avoid this scam rather easily, but it does require you to get in the good habit of questioning orders. Hopefully, any company leader whose employee receives a strange request won’t be too put out that they took the initiative to verify it before complying.

1. Never click a link or open an attachment in an email unless you know you can trust it. This applies to both your personal email and your business account.

2. Never follow through with strange requests from anyone within the company—like sending over all the payroll records (which contain Social Security numbers), W2s, sensitive account information, or funds—without picking up the phone and verifying the request.

3. Never hit “reply” to share sensitive information. Instead, create a new email with the requested information in case the initial email was hacked or spoofed.

Of course, it can be daunting to “second guess” the boss but that’s what scammers are counting on when they target someone within your company. Think of it this way: it’s far better to ask a silly question and risk a little awkwardness in the workplace than to put your company in a bad situation. Failing to verify a request that turns out to be a phishing attempt can have serious financial consequences for the business, especially if sensitive information is shared.

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 do you do with your scam awareness?”

Identity theft and security experts have warned for years that consumers need to stay on top of the latest news about scams and fraud in order to protect themselves. But there’s no need to keep those details a secret!

A retail employee in Illinois saved the day when she and other workers stopped a senior citizen from becoming the victim of a scam. The customer was trying to buy a high-dollar amount of gift cards to bail her grandson out of jail. According to the story, a far-flung police department had called her to let her know her grandson was in custody and needed $500-worth of gift cards to post his bail. Fortunately, she was prevented from buying the cards and called the local police department instead. Sadly, another customer wasn’t so lucky. She proceeded to buy the gift cards despite the warnings from employees.

Even worse, a Walmart employee in another state tried to be a good Samaritan and prevent a man from purchasing a $2,500 wire transfer to send to a scammer. The employee, who is now being honored by the company’s board of directors for her repeated help stopping other customers from becoming victims, was originally threatened with a lawsuit by the would-be victim since she put up some fuss about processing the wire transfer. Fortunately, once the police were called, the customer learned the truth and thanked the employee for saving him from a crime.

These examples illustrate a very serious issue: scam activity is on the rise and more consumers are sitting up and taking notice. However, as these real scenarios demonstrate, it can be difficult to intervene when you see something taking place, even if you’re certain something isn’t right. You don’t know how your help will be received.

So how do you put your knowledge of scams and fraud to good use and help your fellow consumers while avoiding any negativity? First, just know that no matter how your attempt to help is received, you were trying to do the right thing. Also, you can try this:

1. Spread the social word – Social media can be a powerful force for good, especially if the content you’re sharing is relatable and genuine. It’s tempting to forward every alarming hoax that pops up, but if you craft a sincere warning about scams and fraud, you just might prevent someone else from becoming a victim. Don’t forget to make your post sharable!

2. Host a fraud prevention event – There are a number of organizations that host awareness events throughout the year, but you don’t have to wait for a specific time. You can host your own get-togethers, community action meetings, senior center events and more, then use those as a time to help get the word out about different kinds of fraud.

3. Follow news from the Identity Theft Resource Center online – The ITRC has a Twitter account, Facebook account, weekly newsletter and many other resources that can keep you informed. Sharing their news is as simple as clicking a button. Helping others recognize a potential scam doesn’t have to mean putting yourself out there.

If you see a scam taking place, you can enlist the help of retail employees, store managers, law enforcement officers or anyone else who can stop someone from becoming a victim. No matter how you choose to help, just know that you’re working to make life better for others when you stop a scam in its tracks.


Read next: “Your New Medicare Card Could Lead to a Scam”

The U.S. government began changing the information that Medicare cards contain, and not a moment too soon. Ever since the program was created in 1965, Medicare’s familiar red-white-and-blue paper identification contained the beneficiaries’ Social Security numbers. Even handing your card over in a doctor’s office or pharmacy could lead to identity theft and fraud, let alone the consequences if you lost your wallet or purse.

Now, Medicare cards contain a unique patient identifier number. The administration allowed itself a calendar year to make the switch, and they’re about halfway through the process of issuing new cards to all of the beneficiaries. If you don’t receive your new card by April 2019, contact the Medicare agency for an update.

Wouldn’t it be nice if identity thieves and scammers simply thought, “Gee, guess I can’t steal SSNs anymore!” and threw in the towel? Instead, they’ve come up with new ways to take advantage of their victims, especially those who currently possess one of the new cards.

First, some scams have centered around the cards themselves. Claims from a phone caller that you need to verify your identity, activate your card, pay a fee to upgrade your paper card to a (non-existent) plastic card, or other similar stories are completely false.

Other scams have involved “matching” your identity to your card. A caller claiming to be from the Medicare agency checks to see if you’ve received your new card. If not, they ask for your Social Security number to make sure you’re still covered and receiving benefits. If you have received it, they ask for your SSN to match your patient identifier number to your account and make sure you’re covered. In either case, it’s not true.

One of the more outrageous scams involves your bank account info. This version claims that you have to move all the money out of your current bank account to a temporary “safe” account to avoid scammers who’ve targeted you as a Medicare recipient. Providing your account info obviously leads to the caller draining your bank account.

There are some things to keep in mind about the scams associated with these new cards:

1.You can provide your SSN to receive medical care—even if you’ve received your new card—through December 2019. There’s nothing you need to do to “extend” your coverage or move it over to your new card

2.Your new card is completely free, despite claims that you have to pay a $25 fee to get it; no, you cannot upgrade to a plastic card instead of paper, either.

3.Never verify your identifying information or account information to anyone who contacts you. They called you, remember? They should already have it, and a legitimate caller would never ask you to provide it.


Read next: “Are Scammers Trying to Give You Money?”

When new technology comes along, it might take a matter of years or only a matter of days for a highly-skilled hacker to figure out a way to break in. With any luck, the person who breaks into the system is what’s known as a “white hat hacker,” or someone whose expert-level skills are put to use helping stop criminal activity instead of benefitting from it.

When security analyst Ryan Stevenson breached Comcast’s Xfinity website portal, it seemed like a frighteningly easy task. It simply required him to match up readily available IP addresses—basically, your computer’s code name onto the internet—with the in-home authentication feature that lets users pay their bills on the telecom provider’s website without having to go through the sign-in process. Another vulnerability allowed Stevenson to match users to their Social Security numbers by inputting part of their home mailing addresses—something that the first vulnerability exposed—and guessing the last four digits of their SSN.

Guessing the last four digits of someone’s SSN might not sound that easy, but it only takes seconds for a computer to do it with the right software. The flaw in the website allowed the computer to make an unlimited number of guesses for a corresponding mailing address, so it took very little time for the code to reveal complete Social Security numbers.

This vulnerability is believed to have affected around 26 million Comcast customers.

Comcast issued a patch a few hours after the report of the flaws. The company responded to requests from news outlets with an official statement to the effect that they have no reason to believe anyone other than Stevenson accessed this information. They also don’t believe that the vulnerabilities are related to anyone with malicious intent. Just to be safe, though, the company is continuing an investigation into how the flaws originated and how they might possibly have been used.

In the meantime, Xfinity customers would do well to monitor their accounts closely. This could potentially affect other accounts, not just their telecom service accounts, as Social Security numbers, names and mailing addresses were visible.


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.

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.

In a large-scale data breach, hackers may be after a variety of things. It might be sensitive data like personal identifiable information, email addresses and passwords or the answers to common security questions. It can also be slightly less sensitive but still usable information like payment card credentials and home addresses.

But what do hackers actually do with this information? Sometimes they use that data themselves and in other cases, they will sell it or hold it for ransom from the company it was stolen from. Payment card data can have a narrow window of opportunity for use since financial institutions may cancel those account numbers once they discover the breach.

There’s another way that credit cards have been used following a data breach, one that steals additional benefits from the victim. The theft of airline miles or bonus points tied to the victims’ credit cards may go unnoticed because most consumers don’t think to monitor their extra perks; once the hackers have stolen the account credentials, they can use or sell the additional perks on those accounts.

One of the first steps to protecting your perks accounts is to secure it with a strong password, one that you don’t use on other accounts and that you change frequently. By protecting this account and others, you’ll help prevent a breach of your accounts as well as stop a thief who bought old information on the dark web from a database of previously hacked information.

Another key step is to take some time to monitor these accounts from time to time. Thieves get away with it because too often we happily store up those miles or bonus points for a large trip or a major purchase. Monitoring your points from time to time can help you not only keep track of how far you have to go to reach your perks goal, but also lets you stay on top of any problems that arise.

If you do find out that someone has tampered with your perks account, contact your credit card issuer immediately and change your password on this or any account that uses those same login credentials. This could actually be the first sign that someone has accessed your credit card account, so it’s a good idea to order a copy of your credit report, too.


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.

What is considered valuable in terms of personal information has continually shifted definition for decades. At the Identity Theft Resource Center, educating consumers about the value of personal information is one of our top priorities. We often find that many consumers are unaware that having your Social Security number (SSN) exposed in a data breach is far more dangerous than having credit card or debit card information exposed. In addition to your SSN, other personal information that is regularly overlooked are login credentials (i.e. usernames and passwords), which can lead to other information being stolen using a method referred to as “credential cracking.”  This form of hacking is very widespread and more insidious than most Americans realize.

The Open Web Application Security Project defines “credential cracking” as a method that cybercriminals use to “identify valid login credentials by trying different values for usernames and/or passwords.” This is important considering that, according to the 2017 Verizon Data Breach Incident Report, 80 percent of hacking related data breaches were carried out using either stolen passwords and/or weak or guessable passwords. This means that cybercriminals attempt to gain access to a consumer’s account using educated guesses. How does someone make an educated guess about another person’s passwords? There are a couple of ways that this is done and it’s a lot easier than one might think. For example, criminals can use software that runs every word in the dictionary through authentication in hopes that a consumer has used a simple word as their login credentials.  Another way that cybercriminals make educated guesses on login credentials is to use common passwords. Unfortunately, this is successful as consumers continue to use passwords such as “password” or “1234567”. Another way that hackers crack credentials, which is the most pertinent to the focus on the value of personal information, is the use of breached login credentials.

In 2017, there were nearly 179 million pieces of personal information stolen, lost or exposed in data breaches. The use of breached login credentials by hackers is pertinent to the value of personal information because it transforms our ideas of what information is the most dangerous to have stolen by hackers or lost in a data breach.  For example, consumers would most likely consider having their tax information lost or stolen in a breach far more dangerous than having their Yahoo or Gmail account credentials stolen. However, the use of “credential cracking” shows us that one can be just as dangerous as the other.

In order to understand why this can be so detrimental, consumers should first think about the login credentials, most commonly this is a username and password, they use on their online accounts. While the best practice is that consumers use different login credentials on each of their accounts, this often isn’t a reality. How many consumers use the same username and password for their Facebook account as they do for their online banking? Even those who may think they are being safe by using different passwords often only use one or two slight modifications, such as the addition of a punctuation mark or another number to their commonly used passwords. When this is the case, all that a cybercriminal has to do is get their hands on the login credentials for one account and they have the key to open many accounts, which may be far more dangerous than the initial account which was compromised. This is crucial for consumers to understand. It shows why each piece of personal information, even something as seemingly useless as the login credentials for an old Twitter account you no longer use can spell big trouble. This is why we stress that consumers need to protect all the components of their personal information because they all have value. Of course, don’t hand out your SSN as you would your email address. The best strategy is to continue to guard that information as incredibly sensitive as well as protecting other personal information.

Our reminder to you is that every single piece of personal information has value. While the login credentials to your social media accounts may not initially cause the damage that an exposed SSN or banking account information will, with a little work from criminals those social media login credentials can lead to exposing more forms of personal information. Each piece of personal information is like a puzzle piece or clue which can be put together to cause serious damage in the form of identity crime.  So, while the value of a SSN, or other sensitive personal information, is far more valuable in the eyes of identity thieves, an email password has value as well. Both can lead to having your identity stolen. Consumers must understand that each piece of personal information or data has value and protect it.


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.