Tax Identity Theft Awareness

Tax Identity Theft Awareness
Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you get a letter from the IRS saying that more than one tax return was filed with your SSN, or IRS records show you earned income from an employer you don’t know. The IRS may also reject your efiled tax return as a duplicate filing.
To help fight tax identity theft:
• File your return as early in the tax season as you can.
• Use a secure internet connection if you file electronically or mail your tax return from the post office.

Dealing with Tax-Related Identity Theft
If the IRS sends a notice or letter saying that someone used your SSN to get a tax refund, or saying there’s another problem, respond quickly and follow the instructions in the letter.
• Call the IRS using the telephone number given in the letter. Visit the IRS’s guide, IRS Identity Theft Victim Assistance: How It Works, for more information.
• If you think someone used your SSN to file for a tax refund, but you haven’t gotten a letter from the IRS, use IdentityTheft.gov to report it to the IRS and FTC and get a recovery plan.
• Visit IdentityTheft.gov to complete an IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) and submit it to the IRS online so that the IRS can begin resolving your case. You’ll also be reporting the identity theft to the FTC.

Other Steps to Repair Identity Theft
It is important to limit the potential damage from identity theft.
• Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
• Order your free credit reports and close any new accounts opened in your name.
• Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports.

Source: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/tax-related-identity-theft

Shopping Online | 10/23/2018

Shopping Online Infographic

Follow these tips for hassle-free online shopping: get the details, pay by credit card, keep records, and protect your personal and financial information.

  • Get the Details
  • Pay by Credit Card
  • Keep Records
  • Protect Your Information
  • How to Report Online Shopping Fraud

Get the Details

Know who you’re dealing with.

Anyone can set up shop online under almost any name. Confirm the online seller’s physical address and phone number in case you have questions or problems. And if you get an email or pop-up message that asks for your financial information while you’re browsing, don’t reply or follow the link. Legitimate companies don’t ask for information that way.

Know what you’re buying.

Read the seller’s description of the product closely, especially the fine print. Words like “refurbished,” “vintage,” or “close-out” may indicate that the product is in less-than-mint condition, while name-brand items with bargain basement prices could be counterfeits.

Know what it will cost.

Check out websites that offer price comparisons and then compare “apples to apples.” Factor shipping and handling into the total cost of your purchase. Do not send cash or money transfers under any circumstances.

Check out the terms of the deal, like refund policies and delivery dates.

Can you return the item for a full refund if you’re not satisfied?  If you return it, who pays the shipping costs or restocking fees, and when you will get your order? A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rule requires sellers to ship items as promised or within 30 days after the order date if no specific date is promised. Many sites offer tracking options, so you can see exactly where your purchase is and estimate when you’ll get it.

Pay by credit card.

If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you can dispute charges under certain circumstances and temporarily withhold payment while the creditor investigates them. In the event that someone uses your credit card without your permission, your liability generally is limited to the first $50 in charges. Some companies guarantee that you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized charges made to your card online; some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits.

Keep Records.

Print or save records of your online transactions, including the product description and price, the online receipt, and the emails you send and receive from the seller. Read your credit card statements as you receive them; be on the lookout for charges that you don’t recognize.

Protect Your Information

Don’t email any financial information.

Email is not a secure method of transmitting financial information like your credit card, checking account, or Social Security number. If you begin a transaction and need to give your financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a URL that begins https (the “s” stands for secure). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some fraudulent sites have forged security icons.

Check the privacy policy.

Really. It should let you know what personal information the website operators are collecting, why, and how they’re going to use the information. If you can’t find a privacy policy — or if you can’t understand it – consider taking your business to another site that’s more user-friendly.

How to Report Online Shopping Fraud

If you have problems during a transaction, try to work them out directly with the seller, buyer, or site operator. If that doesn’t work, file a complaint with:

  • the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/complaint
  • your state Attorney General, using contact information at naag.org
  • your county or state consumer protection agency. Check the blue pages of the phone book under county and state government, or visit consumeraction.gov and look under “Where to File a Complaint.”
  • the Better Business Bureau

Data Breaches | 6/27/2018

What to know, What to do

Did you recently get a notice that says your personal information was exposed in a data breach?

Did you lose your wallet?

Or learn that an online account was hacked? Depending on the type of information exposed, the Federal Trade Commission can tell you what to do right away. You’ll find these steps – and more – at IdentityTheft.gov/databreach.

What information was lost or exposed? 

Social Security number 

  •  If a company responsible for exposing your information offers you free credit monitoring, take advantage of it. 
  • Get your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com. Check for any accounts or charges you don’t recognize. 
  • Consider placing a credit freeze. A credit freeze makes it harder for someone to open a new account in your name. 
  • If you decide not to place a credit freeze, at least consider placing a fraud alert 
  • Try to file your taxes early – before a scammer can. Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number to get a tax refund or a job. 

Online login or password 

  • Log in to that account and change your password. If possible, also change your username 
  • If you can’t log in, contact the company. Ask them how you can recover or shut down the account. 
  • If you use the same password anywhere else, change that, too. 
  • Is it a financial site, or is your credit card number stored? Check your 
  • account for any charges that you don’t recognize. 

Bank account, credit, or debit card information 

  • If your bank information was exposed, contact your bank to close the account and open a new one. 
  • If credit or debit card information was exposed, contact your bank 

 Information obtained from | Federal Trade Commission | consumer.gov

Security Awareness For Taxpayers | 1/24/2018

TAXES. SECURITY. TOGETHER.

The IRS, the states and the tax industry are committed to protecting you from identity theft. We’ve strengthened our partnership to fight a common enemy – the criminals – and to devote ourselves to a common goal – serving you. Working together, we’ve made many changes to combat identity theft, and we are making progress. However, cybercriminals are constantly evolving, and so must we. The IRS is working hand-in-hand with your state revenue officials, your tax software provider and your tax preparer. But, we need your help. We need you to join with us. By taking a few simple steps, you can better protect your personal and financial data online and at home.

Please consider these steps to protect yourselves from identity thieves:

Keep Your Computer Secure

• Use security software and make sure it updates automatically; essential tools include:

  • Firewall
  • Virus/malware protection
  • File encryption for sensitive data

• Treat your personal information like cash, don’t leave it lying around
• Check out companies to find out who you’re really dealing with
• Give personal information only over encrypted websites – look for “https” addresses
• Use strong passwords and protect them
• Back up your files

Avoid Phishing and Malware

• Avoid phishing emails, texts or calls that appear to be from the IRS and companies you know and trust, go directly to their websites instead
• Don’t open attachments in emails unless you know who sent it and what it is
• Download and install software only from websites you know and trust
• Use a pop-up blocker
• Talk to your family about safe computing

Protect Personal Information

Don’t routinely carry your social security card or documents with your SSN. Do not overshare personal information on social media. Information about past addresses, a new car, a new home and your children help identity thieves pose as you. Keep old tax returns and tax records under lock and key or encrypted if electronic. Shred tax documents before trashing.

Avoid IRS Impersonators. The IRS will not call you with threats of jail or lawsuits. The IRS will not send you an unsolicited email suggesting you have a refund or that you need to update your account. The IRS will not request any sensitive information online. These are all scams, and they are persistent. Don’t fall for them. Forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov. Report IRS-impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.

Additional steps:

• Check your credit report annually; check your bank and credit card statements often;
• Review your Social Security Administration records annually: Sign up for My Social Security at www.ssa.gov.
• If you are an identity theft victim whose tax account is affected, review www.irs.gov/identitytheft for details.

Information obtained from Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service | www.irs.gov | Publication 4524

Scam Alert: Fake Debt Collectors | 10/25/2017

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, is warning consumers to be on the alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors.

Scam Alert: Fake Debt Collectors

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, is warning consumers to be on the alert for scam artists posing as debt collectors. It may be hard to tell the difference between a legitimate debt collector and a fake one. Sometimes a fake collector may even have some of your personal information, like a bank account number. A caller may be a fake debt collector if he:

  • is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize;
  • refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number;
  • asks you for personal financial or sensitive information; or
  • exerts high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.

If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector

  • Ask the caller for his name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written “validation notice.” The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.   If a caller refuses to give you all of this information, do not pay! Paying a fake debt collector will not always make them go away. They may make up another debt to try to get more money from you.
  • Stop speaking with the caller. If you have the caller’s address, send a letter demanding that the caller stop contacting you, and keep a copy for your files. By law, real debt collectors must stop calling you if you ask them to in writing.
  • Do not give the caller personal financial or other sensitive information. Never give out or confirm personal financial or other sensitive information like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number unless you know whom you’re dealing with. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft – charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name.
  • Contact your creditor. If the debt is legitimate – but you think the collector may not be – contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
  • Report the call. Contact the FTC and your state Attorney General’s office with information about suspicious callers. Many states have their own debt collection laws in addition to the federal FDCPA. Your Attorney General’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.

  Information obtained from | Federal Trade Commission | consumer.gov

10 Scams Targeting Bank Customers: Plus the basics on how to protect your personal information and your money | 6/9/2017

The FDIC often hears from bank customers who believe they may be the victims of financial fraud or theft, and our staff members provide information on where and how to report suspicious activity. To help further, FDIC Consumer News includes crime prevention tips in practically every issue. As part of that coverage, we feature here a list of 10 scams that you should be aware of, plus key defenses to remember.

  1. Government “imposter” frauds: These schemes often start with a phone call, a letter, an email, a text message or a fax supposedly from a government agency, requiring an upfront payment or personal financial information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers.

    “They might tell you that you owe taxes or fines or that you have an unpaid debt. They might even threaten you with a lawsuit or arrest if you don’t pay,” said Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. “Remember that if you provide personal information it can be used to commit fraud or be sold to identity thieves. Also, federal government agencies won’t ask you to send money for prizes or unpaid loans, and they won’t ask you to wire money to pay for anything.”
     
  2. Debt collection scams: Be on the lookout for fraudsters posing as debt collectors or law enforcement officials attempting to collect a debt that you don’t really owe. Red flags include a caller who won’t provide written proof of the debt you supposedly owe or who threatens you with arrest or violence for not paying.
     
  3. Fraudulent job offers: Criminals pose online or in classified advertisements as employers or recruiters offering enticing opportunities, such as working from home. But if you’re required to pay money in advance to “help secure the job” or you must provide a great deal of personal financial information for a “background check,” those are red flags of a potential fraud.

    Another variation on this scam involves fake offers of part-time jobs as “mystery shoppers,” who are people paid to visit retail locations and then submit confidential reports about the experience. In an example of the fraudulent version, your job might be to receive a $500 check, go “undercover” to your bank, deposit the check into your account there, and then report back about the service provided. But you also would be instructed to immediately wire your new “employer” $500 out of your bank account to cover the check you just deposited. Days later, the bank will inform you that the check you deposited is counterfeit and you just lost $500 to thieves. One warning sign of this type of scam is that the potential employer requires you to have a bank account.
     
  4. “Phishing” emails: Scam artists send emails pretending to be from banks, popular merchants or other known entities, and they ask for personal information such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other valuable details. The emails usually look legitimate because they include graphics copied from authentic websites and messages that appear valid.

    “We have also seen emails with links to fake websites that are exact copies of real websites for FDIC-insured banks, except the web addresses are slightly different than the real ones,” said Doreen Eberley, director of the FDIC’s Division of Risk Management Supervision, which is in charge of the agency’s policies and programs related to financial crimes. “These sites are used to trick people into giving up valuable personal information that can be used to commit identity theft.”
     
  5. Mortgage foreclosure rescue scams: Today, many homeowners who are struggling financially and risk losing their homes may be vulnerable to false promises to refinance a mortgage under better terms or rates. But borrowers should always be on the lookout for scammers who falsely claim to be lenders, loan servicers, financial counselors, mortgage consultants, loan brokers or representatives of government agencies who can help avoid a mortgage foreclosure and offer a great deal at the same time. These criminals will present homeowners with what sounds like the life-saving offer they need. Instead, the homeowner is required to pay significant upfront fees or, even worse, tricked into signing documents that, in the fine print, transfer the ownership of the property to the criminal involved. Common warning signs of fraudulent mortgage assistance offers include a “guarantee” that foreclosure will be avoided and pressure to act fast.
     
  6. Lottery scams: You might be told you won a lottery (typically one that you never entered) and asked to first send money to the “lottery company” to cover certain taxes and fees. Similar examples involve bogus prize winnings and sweepstakes. “In one example, a scammer sent a letter to people using falsified FBI and FDIC letterhead telling them they won a popular, well-known lottery but that they needed to send money by wire transfer to a lottery ‘official’ in order to secure the winnings,” Benardo said. “The ‘official’ was really a crook hoping to trick people into sending money.”
     
  7. Elder frauds: Thieves sometimes target older adults to try to cheat them out of some of their life savings. For example, telemarketing scams may involve sales of bogus products and services that will never be delivered. Warning signs include unsolicited phone calls asking for a large amount of money before receiving the goods or services, and special offers for senior citizens that seem too good to be true, like an investment “guaranteeing” a very high return. To help seniors and their caregivers avoid financial exploitation, the FDIC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have developed Money Smart for Older Adults, a curriculum with information and resources (see our News Briefs).
     
  8. Overpayment scams: This popular scam starts when a stranger sends a consumer or a business a check for something, such as an item being sold on the internet, but the check is for far more than the agreed-upon sales price. The scammer then tells the consumer to deposit the check and wire the difference to someone else who is supposedly owed money by the same check writer. In a few days, the check is discovered to be a counterfeit, and the depositor may be held responsible for any money wired out of the bank account. Victims may end up owing thousands of dollars to the financial institution that wired the money, and sometimes they’ve also sent the merchandise to the fraud artists, too.
     
  9. “Ransomware”: This term refers to malicious software that holds a computer, smartphone or other device hostage by restricting access until a ransom is paid. The most common way ransomware and other malicious software spreads is when someone clicks on an infected email attachment or a link in an email that leads to a contaminated file or website. Malware also can spread across a network of linked computers or be passed around on a contaminated storage device, such as a thumb drive.
     
  10. Jury duty scams: A thief makes phone calls pretending to be a law enforcement official warning innocent people that they failed to appear for jury duty and threating an arrest unless a “fine” is paid immediately. And to pay up, the caller asks for debit account and PIN numbers, allowing the perpetrator to create a fake debit card and drain the account. 

What You Can Do: Plus the basics on how to protect your personal information and your money

While we have described many forms of financial scams, the red flags to look out for are often similar. And so are the things you can do to help protect yourself and your money. Here are some basic precautions to consider, especially when engaging in financial transactions with strangers through email, over the phone or on the internet.

  • Avoid offers that seem “too good to be true.” As Eberley noted: “If someone promises ‘opportunities’ that are free or with surprisingly low costs or high returns, it is probably a scam. Be especially suspicious if someone pressures you into making a quick decision or to keep a transaction a secret.”
     
  • No matter how legitimate an offer or request may look or sound, don’t give your personal information, such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers and passwords, to anyone unless you initiate the contact and know the other party is reputable.
     
  • Remember that financial institutions will not send you an email or call to ask you to put account numbers, passwords or other sensitive information in your response because they already have this information. To verify the authenticity of an email, independently contact the supposed source by using an email address or telephone number that you know is valid.
     
  • Be cautious of unsolicited emails or text messages asking you to open an attachment or click on a link. This is a common way for cybercriminals to distribute malicious software, such as ransomware. Be especially cautious of emails that have typos or other obvious mistakes.
     
  • Use reputable anti-virus software that periodically runs on your computer to search for and remove malicious software. Be careful if anyone (even a friend) gives you a thumb drive because it could have undetected malware, such as ransomware, on it. If you still want to use a thumb drive from someone else, use the anti-virus software on your computer to scan the files before opening them.
     
  • Don’t cash or deposit any checks, cashier’s checks or money orders from strangers who ask you to wire any of that money back to them or an associate. If the check or money order proves to be a fake, the money you wired out of your account will be difficult to recover.
     
  • Be wary of unsolicited offers “guaranteeing” to rescue your home from foreclosure. If you need assistance, contact your loan servicer (the company that collects the monthly payment for your mortgage) to find out if you may qualify for any programs to prevent foreclosure or to modify your loan without having to pay a fee. Also consider consulting with a trained professional at a reputable counseling agency that provides free or low-cost help. Go to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website for a referral to a nearby housing counseling agency approved by HUD or call 1-800-569-4287.
     
  • Monitor credit card bills and bank statements for unauthorized purchases, withdrawals or anything else suspicious, and report them to your bank right away.
     
  • Periodically review your credit reports for signs of identity theft, such as someone obtaining a credit card or a loan in your name. By law, you are entitled to receive at least one free credit report every 12 months from each of the nation’s three main credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Start at AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. If you spot a potential problem, call the fraud department at the credit bureau that produced that credit report. If the account turns out to be fraudulent, ask for a “fraud alert” to be placed in your file at all three of the major credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports that you have been a victim of fraud and that they should verify any new accounts or changes to accounts in your name.
     
  • Contact the FDIC’s Consumer Response Center (CRC) if you have questions about possible scams or you are the victim of a scam experiencing difficulty resolving the issue with a financial institution. The CRC answers inquiries about consumer protection laws and regulations and conducts thorough investigations of complaints about FDIC-supervised institutions. If the situation involves a financial institution for which the FDIC is not the primary federal regulator, CRC staff will refer the matter to the appropriate regulator. Visit our webpage on submitting complaints or call 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342) Monday – Friday, 8am to 8pm (EST).
     

To learn more about how to avoid financial scams, search by topic in back issues of FDIC Consumer News and the FDIC’s multimedia presentation Don’t Be an Online Victim. Also find tips from the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.


https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnsum17/scams.html

Warning Signs of Identity Theft | 5/19/2016

What Do Thieves Do With Your Information?

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Clues That Someone Has Stolen Your Information

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

If your wallet, Social Security number, or other personal information is lost or stolen, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity theft. Go To: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Info-Lost-or-Stolen


BE WARY OF YOUR ATM! | 7/14/2015

Strange contraptions known as “skimmers” are targeting ATM users, and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office wants you to be prepared. When attached to your ATM or gas pump, the device can be used to steal your credit card information, capture your pin code, and send the information wirelessly via Bluetooth or cell phone text. Don’t let this happen to you!

Here are some ways to avoid being scammed:

  • Check for tampering. Compare the ATMs next to each other and make sure all the colors and material look correct. If something doesn’t feel right, like the keyboard or card slot, don’t use it.
  • Wiggle everything. ATMs are constructed to be solid and sound. If you see something protruding or fit loosely, feel free to poke, prod, and wiggle it to make sure that it is real. A minor jiggling won’t affect a real ATM, but it just might reveal suspect equipment and thwart a thief’s attempt to get your information.
  • Be careful! Be sure to cover your pin with your hand while you’re typing it in. If they can’t record your pin number then they can’t use your card information – although some skimmers are sophisticated enough to capture pin info, too! Be vigilant on weekends, because it’s harder to report strange activity during the weekend than it would be during the week.

This type of crime happens far more often than you’d think, and it can happen to you. If you see something that doesn’t look right – such as strange colored components or hardware that isn’t shaped correctly – you’re better off finding another ATM. You should also report what you’re seeing right away better safe than sorry, and you just might protect a fellow consumer. In general, ATMs located in the public eye are much harder to tamper with, so be mindful of which ATMs you choose. If your options are the ATM inside a busy supermarket or the ATM outside on the sidewalk with relatively little traffic, you may want to consider going inside.

http://www.atg.wa.gov/all-consuming-blog/be-wary-your-atm