Category Archives: General Identity Theft Help

IRS Takes Steps Against Identity Theft

By: John Morgan

Tax fraud is an issue in the United States. The Internal Revenue Service has been taking steps to protect and prevent consumers from become victims of identity theft through tax refund fraud. More than 236,000 tax returns processed last year were considered fraudulent due to identity theft.

“Tax refund fraud associated with identity theft (IDT) continues to be an evolving threat, one that imposes a serious financial and emotional toll on honest taxpayers and threatens the integrity of the tax administration system,” the Government Accountability Office said in a report in August.

Nearly $1.2 billion in refunds were blocked last year. The IRS has been investing in addressing the issue of identity theft for consumers. The number of identity theft returns is down significantly from 2012. The IRS reported that the numbers have been improved because of new filters that the IRS has put in place.

One of the ways that the IRS has been taking steps to prevent identity theft is through the use of personal identification numbers or PINs for those who have been victims tax fraud. PINs are used to keep consumer information protected and private. The number of identity protection PINs issued by the IRS increased from 770,000 in 2013 to 1.2 million in 2014.

The IRS will limit the number of refunds direct deposited into a single account beginning this year. The idea is that the limit to three direct deposits will reduce identity theft. If a taxpayer has more than 3 refunds, the rest will be mailed as a paper check.

The IRS has increased staff assigned to work on identity theft cases that are reported and the agency has increased the amount of information on the website for consumers. Consumers can learn about tax fraud, identity theft, and the ways to report suspicious activity.

Indiana stops $88M in identity theft in 2014

By: frankieleon

Indiana is successfully putting a stop to identity theft due to new security measures. The Indiana Department of Revenue reported that the agency stopped over $88M in identity theft in 2014. Residents of Indiana should expect to see similar security measures in place for the 2015 tax season.

One of the security measures that the Department of Revenue will uses is an identity confirmation quiz. The quiz is two-minutes long and asks taxpayers to verify their identity.

According to WTHR, “The Department of Revenue says the $88 million figure came from stolen or manufactured identity theft tax refunds stopped (out of $800 million in total requested refunds); 74,000 fraudulent returns identified (out of 2.2 million total returns requesting refunds); 3.5 percent of all tax returns were fraudulent.”

The security features in place helped taxpayers realize that their identities had been stolen. Indiana residents, and residents of every state in the U.S., are reminded to take care when giving out personal information and to make sure that private information is secure.

Indiana offers residents a guide on protecting themselves from becoming victims of identity theft through the department’s Stop ID Theft website.

5 Tips to Preventing Digital Addiction in Teens

Teenagers are very technologically advanced. They have smartphones, laptops, iPads, smartTV’s and a slew of other devices that connects them to the internet world. Addiction to technology is a possibility in many households.

The definition of addiction according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance.” The question then becomes whether technology is a habit-forming substance.

Steve Woda of uKnowKids.com reports, “Kids can get a natural high when logging onto Instagram, playing the latest video game, or instant-messaging with their friends. There can be almost a compulsive need to get the digital boost. This need is not going unnoticed by professionals. Just last year, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) took note of the impact and listed digital addiction as a ‘condition for further study.’”

What should be done to protect kids from digital addiction? Here are some tips:

Set Limits: Kids need boundaries especially teenagers. Limit the use of technology to a specific hourly limit during the week and on weekends.  The limits may be different for each household. Kids and teens can benefit from the knowledge of knowing when it is appropriate to be plugged in and how to unplug.

Teach Proper Technology Etiquette: Limiting computer, tablet and phone time is important, but teaching proper technology etiquette goes hand in hand. Teach teenagers that when company comes to visit, it’s time to unplug. There is no substitute for real human interaction. When eating at a restaurant teach kids that it is important to shut off the phone and pay attention to your dinner companions.

Try a Board Game Night: Set up a night in the household for a family board game.  Make sure there are no cellphones, iPads, tablets, or other electronics brought to the game. Everything should be put away and turned off.

Adapt Online Activities to Offline Activities: Are your teenagers into role playing games like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars or Pathfinder? If so, get them to unplug by taking them to a live action role playing event in your area. LARP genres include fantasy, medieval, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi and more. Not only will this help teens unplug but it will give them a chance to meet new and interesting people.

Keep Teen Technology Monitored: Teens are susceptible to all kinds of influences especially on the internet where adult oriented websites thrive. Don’t be afraid to monitor any of their devices to learn who they talk to on the web, where they hang out most, and to keep informed of what they are doing.

Consumer Reports Warns Email Theft Increases Identity Theft

Consumer Reports is warning to consumers that use of email addresses as a user ID increases your risk of identity theft.  The report cites the theft of millions of Yahoo users who had their email addresses stolen recently. Yahoo identified the attack on user email accounts and immediately acted to protect users by prompting holders to reset their passwords, according to a blog post by the corporation.

While there is no evidence that data was breached from Yahoo’s computer network, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, there is evidence that user names and passwords may have been taken from a third-party database. Consumer Reports warning is to users who often use their email address as their user ID because it can increase the chance of hackers getting into any other accounts you have associated with that email/user ID.

Identity thieves call the maneuver multipurposing. They steal personal data from one account and use it to break into other accounts. The theft of an email address can also lead to phishing scams, malicious software being placed on users’ computers, and malicious and fraudulent links being sent to everyone on a users contact list.

Once a criminal has access to email and passwords he can use it to break into a users bank accounts, online accounts, and use the information gathered to steal a users identity.

Consumer Reports gives an example, “Once the criminal has your e-mail address, he tries to sign into accounts at some large banks or major shopping sites, claiming he forgot his password. Some institutions will e-mail a “password reset” link or, worse, the password itself, to your address.”

Consumer Reports goes on to explain that once the password has been reset to the criminals password he will have full use of banking or shopping accounts that were broken into. The best way users can protect themselves is to consistently change their passwords and never use the same user ID as their email.

Legitimate debt collector or fraudulent data colletor?

Data collection scams and debt collection scams have risen dramatically in the last few years.  Mal-ware at point of sale terminals has been used to steal customer data. Emails that phish for information have been used to steal consumer information and fake debt collectors who threaten victims with lawsuits and arrests have used information gained to exploit consumers.

“Unscrupulous scams hurt consumers and unnecessarily impedes legitimate debt collection efforts,” said ACA International CEO Pat Morris. “The recovery of consumer debt is vitally important to our local, state, and national economies. Those who purposely violate the law to exploit consumers should be held fully accountable for their actions.”

Consumers need to protect personal data and they need to know the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake scam being conducted to steal personal information.

ACA International recommends several important items in discerning a legitimate attempt to recover a debt. The first item is that a debt collector may not contact a consumer at times known to be inconvenient. Generally, a legitimate debt collector may not contact a consumer before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in the consumers’ time zone.

Another item is that a debt collector must disclose its identity to the consumer and notify the consumer that the communication is from a debt collector, and (in the initial communication) that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt. Debt collectors are not allowed to make false representations and may not threaten to take action against a consumer if it doesn’t actually intend to seek such action. Consumers also need to be aware that they can dispute the validity of the debt and during the time the debt is being dispute the debt collector must cease collection activity until verification of the debt has been provided. More guidelines can be found at ACA International.

Consumers can protect their personal data by checking credit and debit cards vigilantly and reporting any charges that appear questionable, even small amounts. Consumers can also monitor their credit profiles along with their card activity and consumers need to keep in mind that phishing scams for information don’t just happen via email and the phone. Phishing scams can come through snail mail also.  Shred paper with personal information before throwing it away, make online passwords stronger by using a mix of capital and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers, and take great care when giving out credit or debit card numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information online and offline.

Tips for keeping your teens and tweens safe online

I recently had the chance to talk to the experts at ZoneAlarm about  Facebook’s latest privacy changes – where teens can publicly share their photos and updates as well as be found by the general public.  What does this mean for a teen’s online security?  What are some concerns parents should have or be made aware of?  It’s no secret that from cyberbullies to online stalkers and predators, teens face an increasing range of online threats. What can parents do to help their teens protect themselves online? Their experts offered up this infographic as well as some helpful statistics and tips for keeping our kids safe.

Did you know that?

  • 23 percent say they have been victims of cyberbullying.
  • 62 percent of teenagers have witnessed taunting and other cruel behavior online.

Control who sees timeline posts. Under privacy settings, you can select: “Who can see my posts?” Then, by changing it from “Public” to “Friends” or “Close Friends”, all future posts that your teen creates will just be seen by the audience that she specifies. She can also change the “Limit who sees old posts” setting from “Public” to “Friends of Friends” or “Friends.”

Watch out for apps. Continue reading Tips for keeping your teens and tweens safe online

Personal files containing financial data mistakenly sold at Goodwill stores

As the holiday approaches I begin to clean out my house.  I do this for several reasons.  First, I know that with the holidays there is going be some presents underneath the tree that are going to need so space to be stored in when they are not being played with.  I also know that especially during the winter months and holiday season charitable organizations are in big demand and can use all the help they can get in the form of monetary as well as physical donations to help meet the needs of the hundreds that call upon them.  Last but not least, I don’t like anything to go to waste and the coat my daughter wore four times (it doesn’t get really cold here in Houston) and has now outgrown doesn’t belong in the trash, but it does belong on another little girl who could use one.  But with all this peace on Earth and good will towards man, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going out the door and into the hands of others.

We have talked before about the importance of clearing your electronics like cell phones and computers of information, personal data and stored information and images.  But what I never imagined I would find is that important papers could be lost and then found again, but quite possibly the wrong person as many of us clean out closets and make donations.

NBC News recently reported about a purchase made at an Indiana Goodwill Outlet Store.  Edith Watson purchased a box during a bulk sale not knowing what it contained, but they were selling it for pennies per pound.  Hoping to find something good, she realized after she got home that if she was an identity thief she definitely would have “struck it rich” as the entire box contained document after document of financial information, social security numbers, credit card bills, medical records and more. After reporting it to her local televisions station a look at other Goodwill locations occurred, finding that this was not a singular incident.

Yahoo News reports:

Goodwill’s Marketing Vice President Cindy Graham admitted their mistake and told WTHR, “We do take this very seriously…They don’t want us to have it and we don’t really want to have it either.” Policy changes are on the way after the charity completes their internal investigation. Cindy Graham said, “We’re going to take a look and see how we can prevent that from happening. Our process would have been and should have been and will be, ‘Let’s shred this.’” She also adds that Goodwill encourages all donors to be cognizant of what they are donating so that sensitive documents do not mistakenly end up at their retail stores.

How did this happen?  Several different ways including cleaning out the home of a deceased family member and the cleaning service not properly disposing of or passing the information on to the family. In another case boxes marked for storage were sent to Goodwill instead of storage.  Apparently theses boxes were never inspected by Goodwill, simply placed in the outlet stores.

Graham told the Indy Star, “We’re looking at every one of our processes,” she said, “and seeing what needs to be done differently so that there isn’t a gap and that material that was donated doesn’t get into the wrong hands.”

I think it’s happened to everyone. You are cleaning out drawers and dressers, closets and desks and make stacks of to go, to stay to donate.  I know in our home one of my daughter’s beloved characters for her homemade videos were accidentally donated.  Not exactly on the same level as letting my personal documents out of my hands, but it’s just a small example of how anyone can make a mistake.

So, keep in mind this holiday season as you show goodwill toward men to double check your boxes, computers, cell phones and other items for anything personal.  It’s one thing to be charitable, it’s another thing to have your whole identity stolen.

U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

Victims of fraud are increasing on a daily basis. Everyone is a target, but some people are more at risk than others. Elderly people, lonely people, and immigrants are often targets of fraudulent activity. Scams to get credit card and other financial information include email scams for moving large amounts of money, phone calls asking for financial information because a loved one is in trouble, and online matchmaking gone horribly wrong.

People have lost their livelihoods by falling victim to these scams and schemes. The United States Senate wants to put a stop to them and wants to help victims of fraud, especially elderly victims.  A new anti-fraud hotline has been unveiled to make it easier for senior citizens to report suspected fraud and to receive assistance.

“If you Continue reading U.S. Senate Launches Anti-Fraud Hotline

College, credit and identity theft

credit card scams

Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links, which help to support this site. However, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.

This post will be a little more personal in nature.  Recently I went shopping with my 25 year old son, who is getting ready to embark on the grand adventure of marriage.  Together we visited the jewelry stores.  He was hoping to find the perfect engagement ring to give to his soon to be fiance (we were pretty sure she would say yes) and I was there to negotiate the best price.  Finding the perfect ring we discuss the price.  Once we get the price the store was ready to accept we now have to find out the best way to pay for this item.

Like many college students (he graduates this December as he worked full time his way through college) he didn’t have the amount saved because every penny counts.  Having never had any credit since his car was paid for (thank you grandma and grandpa), as was his housing and other expenses we thought now would be a good time to begin to build it.  After all the cost of the ring was not that bad and it would be a good way to get started on the way to responsible credit use. Getting his bonuses over the next six months and each of them could pay for the expense, he decided to fill out the application.  After all, who knows a few years from now the next thing I hope to help him find is a new house (somewhere closer than 1900 miles away).

“I’m sorry, you weren’t approved,” the salesperson tells us.  Crushed, he quickly becomes curious, and asked to see the denial.

Lesson no. 1 If denied credit always ask to see the written response, you may be surprised.

The denial says he has unpaid credit card bills and outstanding credit (not outstanding as in really good either!).  But how can this be he asks.  Other than his monthly cell phone bill he has not had any credit cards, no monthly payments.  Not even student loans, because although he took one out his first year they are deferral because he is in school.   “Mom! What do I do?”

Lesson no. 2 Run your credit report immediately.  He can start with his free credit report, but considering these circumstances he may want to use a service like CreditSesame because they also offer additional services to help him stay on top of his credit rating.

We ran his credit report and now the work really begins.   It’s time to clean it up.  There are a number of different problems with it, from fraudulent use of his name, Social Security Number, creation of a new identity using his old address and of course the big problem, unpaid items of credit, whether it was a fast cash item or credit card.   “How did this happen?” he wonders.

Lesson no. 3 It can happen a number of ways from old mail, credit card offers in the mail, his Social Security Number used at the college or even a so called friend or roommate which had access to his information.  Stolen wallets, filled out forms, responding to spam messages, there are a whole number of different ways that this happens.  Maybe he was just unlucky.  Most identity theft takes bits and pieces of the true to create a “new you.”  That’s where this gets messy.

What can you do?  Now it’s time to take action.  Either file a dispute through the credit monitoring service that you are using or grab some pen and paper and do it the old fashioned way.   Either way you need to contact the credit reporting agencies with the information that is incorrect, correct it and include any proof that you may be able to provide.

Lesson. no 4 Some say you can file with just one agency and that all the information will be sent to all three.  However, to be safe I recommended that my son send the information to each of them if he didn’t want to file it online.

Here are some sample letters to use when filing your dispute.

Should you take the snail mail route here are the mailing addresses for each of the three reporting agencies.

TransUnion
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

Experian
P.O. Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013

Equifax
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374

Remember mistakes can be made on anyone’s credit report but it has been reported that identity theft is on the rise for college students, so pass this information on to them so that they know what to do.

 

Cyberattacks at Universities are on the Rise

Cyberattacks are becoming a common problem on college campuses. America’s research universities are often the targets. These universities are at the hub of information exchanges through out the world. Most of the attacks are thought to come from China. NY Times is reporting that millions of hacking attempts happen weekly.

The campuses targeted are being forced to tighten security which is preventing them from their normal open exchange of information and causing them to take time to find out what information was stolen. Officials have stated that some of the hacking attempts have succeeded and those that have succeeded are often not known about until well after the breach occurred. The universities are remaining silent on the specific nature of the breaches except for those that have involved the theft of personal data. Personal data includes social security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, etc.

Related content:  Going Back to School: Don’t get Scammed

Rodney J. Petersen, head of the cybersecurity program at Educause, a nonprofit alliance of school and tech companies, told NY Times, “The attacks are increasing exponentially, and so is the sophistication, and I think it’s outpaced our ability to respond. So everyone’s investing a lot more resources in detecting this, so we learn of even more incidents we wouldn’t have know about before.”

The problem that the universities are facing with cyber attacks is that it puts the research work at critical risk. Patents for prescription drugs, computer chips, fuel cells, medical devices and many other products and services that could be stolen for commercial, political or national security value.

The numbers of cyberattacks are doubling every few years putting universities on edge trying to figure out the source of the attacks and what has been stolen. The schools are also on edge because it appears that every time they fix a breach, a new hack occurs with more sophisticated technology.

Related content: 7 Tips to Protect College Students from Identity Theft

Bill Mellon, associate dean for research policy at University of Wisconsin, said of the increased cyberattacks, “We get 90,000 to 100,000 attempts per day, from China alone, to penetrate our system. There are also a lot from Russia, and recently a lot from Vietnam, but it’s primarily China.”

The schools that have noticed the most attempts coming from China have not figured out whether the hackers are private or governmental.