Oddly, the December holidays and tax filing season have something in common. Both are times when scammers and fraudsters look for opportunities to make quick money at the expense of trusting and careless consumers.
According to the 2016 Identity Fraud Study conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research, criminals lifted $15 billion from 13.1 million U.S. consumers in 2015. While the total amount stolen is down by $1 billion, the number of victims increased slightly from 12.7 million in 2014 to 13.1 million in 2015.
Two notable changes occurred in 2015. First, criminals shifted focus from credit card fraud to opening new accounts, likely due to the introduction of the microchip on credit cards. Second, for the first time in 16 years identity theft complaints moved from first to second place due to the increased number of complaints related to unwanted debt collection calls made to mobile phones.
To reduce the chance of becoming a statistic, stay alert and take the precautions below.
1. Do not give sensitive personal information (e.g. Social Security number, date of birth, credit card number or other financial numbers) over the phone to anyone who contacts you by phone, e-mail, or texting. With these data, a cybercriminal can have a field day pretending to be you and open new accounts.
2. Donate to charities you know. If a new charity peeks your interest,
the charity before you donate.
3. Never wire money out of the country. If you receive a notice of a vacationing family member who is stranded in another country or who has been jailed, chances are you are being scammed. Contact the person or someone who will know where they are before you open your wallet or purse.
with the three major credit reporting agencies to make sure your history is accurate and that there are no new accounts you did not open.
6. Remind teenagers to safeguard their personal information (e.g., driver's license number, Social Security Card, date of birth) and never post or use this information on social media. This is especially true for teens who are in foster care. Older teens in foster care should begin to check their credit history months in advance of becoming independent. There is a special system
use to check foster teens' credit history. Minors cannot use
. If a minor has a credit history, it is usually a red flag that their personal information has been misused.
7. Victims of identity theft should report it to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS will issue them a 6-digit Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN) to list on their tax return. This prevents anyone from filing a fraudulent return using their Social Security number.
Technology has made our lives easier and more complicated in ways we never imagined. Monetary transactions happen in seconds and data are transferred, stored and retrieved electronically just as fast. Once we press enter, the transaction or information sent is history. Stop and think before you act. Put on your shield of caution in the coming weeks and months to reduce the threat of becoming a fraud or identity theft victim.