Scam of the day – April 15, 2012 – Child identity theft update

As I have mentioned in the past, identity theft from children is a particularly dangerous form of identity theft because often the identity theft is not discovered until the child is a teenager and doing activities such as applying for financial aid for college, getting a credit card or applying for a car loan where the child’s credit record becomes an issue.  Now the Maryland legislature has just passed a bill that is expected to be signed into law shortly to permit parents to freeze the credit of their minor children and thereby help protect them from identity theft.  Credit freezes, which are permitted in all states are a great way of protecting yourself from identity theft because when you freeze your credit report with the three major credit agencies, even if someone manages to steal your Social Security number, they cannot get access to your credit report which would be required in order to use that person’s credit for  major purchase or loan.

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Credit freezes are a good tactic for anyone to fight identity theft.  You can find more information about credit freezes elsewhere on this website.  As for protecting your children from identity theft, it is a good practice to limit as much as possible the use of a child’s Social Security number.  And even at home, keep records of the child’s Social Security number secure from the prying eyes of babysitters or other family members, who unfortunately are often the perpetrators of child identity theft.

Scam of the day – April 14, 2012 – Identity theft risk when making charitable donations

It has recently come to light that many non-profit charities when filing their Form 990 tax return which is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations have included the Social Security numbers of those people making charitable donations.  These forms are open to public inspection by anyone including identity thieves who know where to go to harvest Social Security numbers for identity theft purposes.  Once an identity thief has your Social Security number, it is an easy matter to turn it into an identity theft nightmare for you.

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When making donations to a charity, first make sure that the charity is a legitimate charity.  Second, even if the charity is a legitimate charity, you may wish to see how much of the charities funds go towards its charitable purposes and how much goes toward administrative expenses.  You can get the answers to both these questions at the website www.charitynavigator.org.  Finally, do not provide your Social Security number to charities when you make donations.  Remember, the fewer places that have your personal information, the safer you are.

Scam of the day – April 13, 2012 – Prescription drug scam

With the high cost of prescription drugs, many people are turning to buying their prescription drugs over the internet from foreign pharmacies, particularly in Canada where the prices are attractive and the quality control is good.  However, this presents an opportunity for scammers which they have recently been exploiting in multiple ways.  The first way is through phony online pharmacies which do not deliver the prescription drugs that they promise.  However, more insidious are the phony online pharmacies that gather your information purportedly in order to process your order, but then use that information to send phony Drug Enforcement Agency agents to your home or call you purporting to be DEA agents who threaten you with arrest unless you pay them thousands of dollars.

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Although it is still technically illegal to purchase prescription drugs from Canada either directly or over the internet, federal officials using enforcement discretion as provided by law generally do not get involved with prescription drug shipments for personal consumption.  The first thing anyone considering ordering prescription drugs from Canada should do is make sure that they are dealing with a legitimate Canadian pharmacy that requires a perscription from an American doctor.  It is easy to research this online.  Secondly, if anyone contacts you purporting to be from the DEA threatening arrest for your personal prescription drug purchases, ignore them.  They are scammers.  Presently the DEA has indicted eleven people operating out of the Dominican Republic for operating such a scheme and are working toward getting them extradited to the United States to face trial

Scam of the day – April 12, 2012 – Utah Department of Health hacked

The recent hacking into the personal records of up to 780,000 people from the computer records of the Utah Department of Health which has recently been disclosed highlights a number of important concerns regarding identity theft.  As banks have tightened their security, experienced hackers and identity thieves sucha s the Eastern European hackers that perpetrated the Utah information theft are turning to the weakest links with the most information to gather.  Two of the prime targets which have not been maintaining high security standards are health care providers and credit card processors, such as Global Payments, which was recently hacked.  Remember, you are only as secure as the places that have your information regardless of how much you protect yourself.

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Regularly monitor your credit card and bank account activity to identify any breaches.  Get your free annual credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies, as is your right under federal law and make sure that you check on the credit reports of your children.  Many of the victims of the Utah hacking were children.  Children are particularly vulnerable to identity theft because often the theft does not get recognized until many years have passed, such as when a child applies for financial aid for college.

Scam of the day – April 11, 2012 – Further Global Payments scams

On March 31st in my scam of the day I told you about the hacking into credit card payment processor Global Payments that compromised the security of millions of credit card holders.  For those of you who were affected by this scam, you should be contacted by the bank issuing your credit card to arrange for a new credit card to replace the tainted one.  However, when you receive a communication from your “bank,” it may not actually be from your bank.  It might well be from an identity thief seeking personal information from you to further victimize you.

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As always, never give information over the phone or through an email to someone you have  not called or have not contacted at an email address that you know is accurate.  If you are contacted by your bank by phone and asked to provide information, call the bank back at a number that you know is accurate to insure that you are not dealing with an identity thief.

Scam of the day – April 10, 2012 – Newegg scam

Newegg.com is a legitimate company that sells computer and electronic products.  However, the notices purported to have been sent by Newegg by email informing the recipient that his or her online sale has been completed and charged to his or her credit card are fake.  The notices look real, the logo looks accurate and the bill doesn’t have the grammatical mistakes found in many such scams.  However, it is nothing more than a phishing scam.  If you click on links within the email in order to question the order, you will unwittingly download harmful malware on to your computer.

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I actually received one of these scam phishing emails today and took my own advice which is whenever you have a question about the legitimacy of the email, call the company at a number that you know is accurate.  So I called Newegg.  Before I could even ask a question, a recording informed me of the presence of this scam.

Scam of the day – April 9, 2012 – Phony AT&T bill

A new scam finding its way into your computer involves an email purportedly from AT&T containing an extremely large overdue bill for wireless service.  With more than a hundred million wireless  subscribers, sending random phony AT&T wireless bills for amounts as high as $1,000 is sure to incite some people who receive these phony bills to action.  But that is a mistake.  If you click on the link in the phony bill, you risk unwittingly downloading keystroke logging malware that can steal information from your computer and make you a victim of identity theft.

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Keep your security software up to date so it can recognize phony phishing attempts and identify malware.  Never click on links that you are not absolutely sure are legitimate.  In the case of an excessive bill, contact the company directly by phone at a number that you know is correct if you have any concerns.

Scam of the day – April 8, 2012 – Auto loan modifications

Just as the financial problems of some consumers have spawned many home mortgage modification scams, the latest scam to take advantage of consumers with financial problems is companies promising to modify the loans of consumers who are having problems paying their car loans.  The FTC just announced actions being taken against two companies accused of deceiving customers by claiming that they could reduce car loans for them by as much as 40% in return for up to $800 in fees.  According to the FTC in many instances companies promising this kind of help not only don’t provide the help they claim, but in many instances don’t even contact the lenders.

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Always be wary of companies that require fees paid in advance for their services.  If you are having problems with a car loan, your best course of action is to contact your lender directly on your own to see what options you have.  The sooner you contact the lender, the more options you will have.  Lenders may be willing to either defer missed payments to the end of a loan or extend the loan term to reduce your monthly payments.  That last option may dramatically increase the amount you pay on your loan, but at least you may be able to keep your car.

Scam of the day – April 7, 2012 – Rise in telephone scams

Despite the focus of scams on the internet, scams over the telephone are having a resurgence, particularly among older Americans.  It is important to remember that even if you have listed your phone on the federal Do Not Call List to prevent telemarketers from contacting you, scammers don’t pay much attention to the Do Not Call List.  Common phone scams involve phony contests or lotteries or solicitations from phony charities.  It is also important to remember that legitimate charities are allowed to call you even if you are on the Do Not Call List.  Many people have been scammed out of money or become the victims of identity theft by giving scammers personal financial or identifying information on the phone.

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Never give personal information on the phone to someone who calls you.  You can never be sure they are legitimate even if you have caller ID.  As for contests, it is difficult enough to win a contest that you have entered.  It is impossible to win one that you have not entered .  If you get a call from anyone that purports to be a legitimate organization with which you do business, such as a bank, don’t give the caller any information, but rather call the real institution at a telephone number that you know is accurate if you have any questions.

Scam of the day – April 6, 2012 – Macs hit by malware

Identity thiefs and scammers have often targeted their malware attacks against PCs because, just as the bank robber robbed banks because “that is where the money is,” so did the hackers attack PCs because there were more users than Macs.  However, that has all changed.  It has just been disclosed that more than 600,000 Mac computers have been infected with Trojan Horse malware that can read all of the information on your computer and harvest that information including passwords, credit card information and any other information contained on the computer.  It is believed that the malware was spread using the same phishing tactics used so effectively against PC users where people are lured to a phony site appearing to be legitimate and the computer user clicks on a link that unwittingly downloads the malware.

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If you are a Mac user, you should have your computer checked for the presence of Malware.  Every computer user should have up to date security software that automatically updates and protects from the latest malware and viruses.  Never click on links that you are not absolutely sure are legitimate and be particularly wary of clicking on free music or games which are common places where malware lurks.