The protection of your personal and financial data is paramount in today’s society. From healthcare and income tax scams to the recent Anthem Insurance data breach, to general email phishing scams, it seems that no one is exempt nowadays from this growing issue. In today’s digital world, where information is at our (and not to mention, potentially dangerous hackers’) fingertips, it is imperative to know how to prevent becoming the latest victim of a financial scam, and how to check up on your credit to know if a breach on your identity has occurred. The key is to be aware of the potentially harmful schemes ahead of time so that you are prepared to properly avoid them, as well as continually stay on top of your personal information in case your identity is ever compromised.
Tax season has proven to be a time of year when many scammers prey on individuals in the midst of their tax preparation. Below are a few tax-time scam warnings directly from the IRS:
- Don’t fall for phone and phishing email scams that use the IRS as a lure. Thieves often pose as the IRS using a bogus refund scheme or warnings to pay past-due taxes.
- The IRS will not initiate contact with taxpayers by email (or other e-communication like text messages or social media channels) to request personal or financial information.
- The IRS will not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential information for credit card, bank or other accounts.
- If you get an unexpected email, don’t open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about how to report phishing scams involving the IRS visit the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.
- For more information on tax related scams, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts.
With the rollout of The Affordable Care Act two years ago, a number of scammers decided to piggyback on the new healthcare system by taking advantage of individuals based on their lack of knowledge of the new law. These scams can take many forms, but the most common are direct phone calls to consumers claiming to be the government asking for personal identification information. It’s important to be wary when someone contacts you (especially by phone or email) claiming to be the Federal Government. Below are a few tips to help you avoid becoming the next victim of healthcare fraud:
- NEVER provide personal information over the phone to someone who calls you. Government agencies typically communicate by mail, so always be suspicious of anyone contacting you by phone, email or social media channel claiming to be someone from the government.
- Do not click on suspicious links in an email. Even if you think it is from a trusted source, directly type the link into your browser.
- The official website for The Affordable Care Act is healthcare.gov. Be careful not to fall for any websites that appear to be similar to the original.
The items mentioned above are things that we, as consumers, have a certain level of control over. But what about the issues we can’t control? The best way to stay on top of your personal information is to request your free credit report each year by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. While these reports will not give you a credit score, they will allow you to review personal credit information from all three credit bureaus to see if anything seems odd. How often you elect to receive a credit report is up to you, but you might choose to spread them out throughout the year, receiving one report every four months in order to keep a better watch on your data. When reviewing your credit reports, be sure to keep an eye out for any accounts or transaction you do not recognize, or other information that does not look normal to you. For a more complete list of things to look out for, visit https://www.annualcreditreport.com/reviewYourReport.action.
For those who are concerned about the recent security breach with Anthem Insurance, Anthem is offering free credit monitoring for any customers who may have been affected. Visit https://www.anthemfacts.com/ to read more about your options.
If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, make sure you take action right away. You may wish to request a freeze on your credit file which will make it more difficult for an identity thief to open a new account in your name. Fees associated with placing and lifting a credit freeze will vary depending on the state you live in – North Carolina residents can now request a free credit freeze.
For detailed steps on what to do if your identity is stolen, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf.
Remember, it is always important to be aware of common financial scams in order to avoid being a victim of identity theft. In addition to the tips mentioned above, be sure to monitor your emails, including your sent history. This will help identify if your email has been hacked and if fraudulent requests (such as wire transfers) are being sent out from your email address. Keep your guard up when it comes to your personal information and trust your gut – if something seems suspicious, there’s a good chance that it is.