Scam of the day – September 18, 2017 – Update on Equifax class actions

The fallout from the huge data breach at Equifax affecting 143 million Americans continues.  Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden of the Senate Committee on Finance have sent requests to Equifax for detailed information about the data breach.  In addition, the number of class actions filed against Equifax related to the data breach is now up to twenty three.

Class actions are lawsuits brought by a few individuals on behalf of many others similarly situated.  It is an effective way for consumers to seek redress from companies and the lawyers are paid on a contingency basis so there are no out of pocket expenses to the people who make up the class of harmed individuals.  Once the cases have been certified by the judges hearing the cases as appropriate  for class action status a federal panel will be convened to join the cases into a single lawsuit on behalf of all of the victims.  At that time there will be, most likely, a negotiated settlement, but if one cannot be reached, a trial will occur.   Generally in class actions, class members have the opportunity to either opt in or opt out of the class action, in which case they could bring their own individual lawsuits, although this is rarely productive.

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I will keep you informed as to the progress of the class actions so that you will be able to make intelligent decisions as to what to do in your own particular case in this matter.

Meanwhile it is imperative, if you have not already done so that you get copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies and that you freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies.

You can get your free copies of your credit reports by using this link.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

Here are links to each of the credit reporting agencies for information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports: 

Scam of the day – September 10, 2017 – Further important Equifax updates

It is unusual here at Scamicide to discuss the same scam for multiple consecutive days, however, the massive Equifax data breach story is continually evolving, affects you and warrants such coverage.

Under pressure from New York Attorney Eric Schneiderman and others, Equifax has removed the waiver of your rights to participate in a class action from the contract you must agree to in order to obtain free identity protection services from its TrustedID  program.  Therefore it makes sense to sign up for the program, which you can do here.

https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/enroll/

While Equifax also represented that you could find out from them whether or not you were specifically involved in the data breach, that representation is not accurate.  Numerous people have used fake names to test the system and in each instance were told that they probably were affected by the data breach.  This is mildly upsetting, but no more than that.  The sheer size of the data breach is so large and the potential harm so great that you should assume that you were affected.

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The advice as to what to do is still the same.  You should put a credit freeze on your credit reports at all of the three major credit reporting agencies.  Fraud alerts are worthless.  In addition, you should get copies of your credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies to look and see if you have already been a victim because it is important to remember that this data breach has gone on for months.  You have the right to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once each year.  What many of us do is stagger the request among the TransUnion, Equifax and Experian by requesting one every four months.

You can get your free copies of your credit reports by using this link.

https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action

Here are links to each of the credit reporting agencies for information about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports: 

Scam of the day – September 8, 2017 – Massive data breach at Equifax

Yesterday Equifax, one of three major credit reporting agencies announced that it had been victimized by a data breach between mid May and July that resulted in personal information of approximately 143 million Americans being stolen.  To put this number into perspective it accounts for nearly 44% of the entire population of the United States.  The compromised information included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates and more.  This information puts the victims of the data breach in serious danger of identity theft.  In the past when major data breaches such as this have occurred, the cybercriminals sell the information to other cybercriminals on the Dark Web.  To date, we have not yet seen this information being sold, but it will be.

Equifax is offering to affected customers a free year of credit monitoring and the ability to freeze your Equifax credit report.  To find out if your records were affected by the breach, click on this link provided by Equifax

Potential Impact

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If you have been affected by the data breach, you should sign up for the free services offered by Equifax and definitely should freeze your credit report at all of the credit reporting agencies because the information stolen puts you in jeopardy of identity theft at all of the credit reporting agencies.

Even if you have not been a victim of the data breach, you should consider taking this as the opportunity to put a credit freeze on your credit reports. Credit freezes are the best thing you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.

To get started, it’s best to first understand the laws and fees governing credit freezes in your state. The National Conference of State Legislatures describes the credit freeze laws for each state. 

To get the maximum protection from identity theft, it is important to freeze your credit at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Here are links to each of them for information about how to get a credit freeze: 

Once you have frozen your credit, be sure to keep the PIN and information on how to unfreeze your credit report in a safe place.

Scam of the day – August 1, 2017 – Discover card now offering identity theft alert services

Discover is now offering free identity theft alert services through any of their credit cards.  Discover monitors websites on the Dark Web where criminals buy and sell stolen credit cards, Social Security numbers and other identity theft information.  They will then alert their customers if it is found that their Social Security number or credit card has been compromised.  In addition, Discover will also monitor the customer’s Experian credit report and alert the customer if new accounts, such as credit cards, car loans or mortgages are taken out in the name of the customer.  Finally, Discover representatives will offer some guidance in remedying the problem if the customer does become a victim of identity theft.  All of these services are offered by Discover to its customers at no charge.

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While this is a very significant benefit to consumers and Discover should be applauded for its efforts, it should be noted that there are numerous other ways that identity theft is accomplished beyond those that Discover will be monitoring.  In addition, Discover will only be looking at the customer’s Experian credit report and not those of the other credit reporting agencies, TransUnion and Equifax.  Often problems may appear on one of these companies reports and not on the others.  Perhaps most importantly, like all credit monitoring services, these services do nothing to help prevent someone from becoming a victim of identity theft in the first place.  There are many things that people can do to help protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft, perhaps most strongly by putting a credit freeze on their credit reports at all three of the credit reporting agencies.  In my book “Identity Theft Alert” I list more than sixty simple things people can do to protect themselves from becoming a victim of identity theft.

Scam of the day – July 31, 2016 – Pennsylvania Revenue Department data breach

Earlier this month the Pennsylvania Revenue Department announced that it was notifying 865 taxpayers by mail that their unencrypted personal information was contained on one of four laptop computers stolen from a car used by Pennsylvania Revenue Department auditors while in California performing an audit.  The letters being sent to the Pennsylvania taxpayers affected by this data breach will provide information about free credit monitoring services through Experian for which the affected taxpayers are eligible.  Although this particular data breach is quite limited in scope, it once again points out the problems that numerous both state and federal government agencies have had in recent years, most notably, the massive data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that resulted in the loss of personal data of more than four million people.

Too often basic security precautions have not been followed by these various government agencies including lack of password protection for laptops, lack of encryption and lack of proper security software.

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Even if you are extremely careful in following security precautions on all of your own electronic devices including your computer and smartphone, you are only as safe from identity theft as the places that have your information with the worst security.  Therefore, as much as you can, limit the amount of personal information you provide to any company or governmental agency to that which you absolutely must provide.  For instance, hospitals and medical care providers routinely ask for your Social Security number although they have no real use for it.  Provide them whenever possible with alternative forms of identification.

Scam of the day – April 22, 2015 – Watch out for the Simda botnet

Recently the Department of Homeland Security joined Interpol and the FBI to issue a serious warning about a botnet called the Simda botnet.  A botnet, as readers familiar with Scamicide will know, is a network of infected computers used by cybercriminals to spread malware.  According to the Department of Homeland Security more than 770,000 computers have already been affected by the Simda botnet which has been around since 2009 preying on computers that are not properly protected by up to date anti-malware software.  The Simda malware not only enables the cybercriminals to use their victims’ computers to spread this and other malware, but it also enables the cybercriminals to steal personal information from the infected computers that make up the botnet and then use that information for purposes of identity theft.

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Here is a link to which you can go to find out if your computer has been infected with the Simda malware.  http://www.cyberdefense.jp/simda/

If you have been a victim of the Simda malware, you should install anti-virus and anti-malware software to rid your computer of the Simda malware.  You should then change the passwords for all of your accounts because they have been compromised.  You should also get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian to determine if you have already become a victim of identity theft.  You should also lock up your credit reports with a credit freeze at each of the three credit reporting agencies.  You can find instructions as to how to do this here in the Scamicide archives.

Even if you have not become a victim of the Simda malware, you should make sure that your anti-virus and anti-malware software is constantly updated.

Scam of the day – March 22, 2015 – Obituary scams

Scammers have no sympathy for anyone as evidenced by the many scams that are based on obituaries.  For years, scammers would scan the obituaries and then go to Social Security’s Death Master File where the names of deceased Americans are available along with their Social Security numbers and then use this information to the deceased a victim of identity theft by obtaining credit, filing phony income tax returns or other tactics.  Easy access by scammers to the Death Master File has been largely closed by legislation that took a long time to be made effective.

Scammers also will look for information in obituaries about the names of family members and then use that information for purposes of the infamous Grandparent Scam where the grandparent gets a telephone call late at night from a scammer posing as the grandchild who under the guise of some emergency tricks the grandparent into sending money to the scammer.

Scammers also call the families of people they see in the obituaries and claim they are creditors of the deceased person and that the family must pay a debt owed by the deceased.

Finally, scammers will also deliver packages by messengers on a COD basis claiming that the package was something ordered by the deceased person.  It is only after the family member has paid the Cash On Delivery charges and opened the package that the family finds that the package is just filled with old newspapers or magazines merely used as weight for the package.

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Scammers prey on people at their most vulnerable so it is at times like the death of a family member that you must be your most vigilant.  When writing an obituary, don’t put in specific information such as names that can be used by a scammer.  Also, contact the three major credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian to seal the credit report of the deceased in order to avoid the risk of identity theft.  If someone contacts you claiming a debt was owed by the deceased, demand written confirmation for you to review before paying any alleged debts.  Don’t be pressured to act quickly by a purported debt collector.  Finally, if a COD package comes, refuse to pay until you can confirm that the delivery is legitimate.

Scam of the day – February 27, 2015 – Texas court dismisses data breach class action

More and more massive data breaches have become a part of everyday life.  Breaches such as recently occurred at Anthem and in the past few years affected Target, Home Depot and many other companies affect just about everyone.  Sometimes the data breaches, such as occurred with Target only affect credit card information, but other data breaches, such as the recent Anthem data breach result in much personal information being stolen which can then be used to turn the person whose information has been stolen into a victim of identity theft.  Recently a number of class actions on behalf of the victims of these data breaches have been filed against the breached companies for failing to use proper security measures.  Recently the Federal District Court for Southern Texas dismissed a class action brought by Beverly Peters on behalf of herself and others whose information had been compromised following a February 2014 data breach affecting 405,000 employees and patients of the St. Joseph Health System, a Texas hospital and health clinic company.  The class action was dismissed by the court because as of the date of the court hearing there was no evidence that any of the people affected had become victims of identity theft.

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The problem with this decision is that in many instances, identity thieves wait before using the stolen information in the hope that as time goes by, people will be less vigilant in guarding their identities.  In massive data breaches such as the one suffered by the St. Joseph Health System, the hackers often steal all of the information and then sell it in batches on black market websites to identity thieves whose use of the information results in the victims suffering identity theft.  While credit monitoring is often offered on a free basis, as it was in this case, by the hacked company following the data breach, credit monitoring does nothing to stop identity theft.  It only tells you that you have become a victim sooner than you might otherwise become aware.  A much better alternative is to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian.  This will prevent even someone with your personal information from accessing your credit report to obtain credit in your name and thus help keep you from becoming a victim of identity theft.  You can find information in the Archives of Scamicide about how to put a credit freeze on your credit reports.

Scam of the day – February 19, 2015 – Anthem data breach update

As I reported to you right after it happened earlier this month, Anthem, a major care health care company suffered a data breach that could affect as many as 80 million Americans.  The data stolen included birth dates, Social Security numbers and other information putting the affected victims in extreme danger of identity theft.  Anthem is now offering free identity theft repair and credit monitoring services to current or former members of affected Anthem plans going back to 2004.  This includes customers of Anthem, Inc. companies Amerigroup, Anthem and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, Caremore and Unicare.  It also includes customers of affiliated Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies who used their Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance in any of the states where Anthem, Inc. does business.  Those state are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

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Anthem has contracted with AllClear ID to provide two years of identity theft repair and credit monitoring services to affected customers.  Identity repair assistance is available without enrollment by merely calling AllClear ID at 877-263-7995.  Additionally, affected customers may enroll at no charge in the AllClear PRO credit monitoring service during this two year period.  You can enroll either by phone at 877-263-7995 or online at https://anthem.allclearid.com/

Additionally although neither Anthem nor AllClear ID provides this service, if you were a victim of this data breach, it would be advisable to put a credit freeze on your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian.  You can find more information about credit freezes and how to put them on your credit reports at no charge by going to the Scamicide archives.

Scam of the day – October 31, 2014 – Free credit score scams

Based on the information contained in your credit reports, your credit score can have a significant effect on whether you are granted a loan and at what interest rate, whether you will be hired for a job, whether you will be sold insurance, whether you can rent an apartment or many other purposes.  We all have a right to an annual free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, however, your free credit report will not provide you with your credit score.  Recently many people are receiving emails with offers to provide a free copy of your credit score.  Unfortunately, as with any other email or text message that requires you to provide personal information such as your Social Security number which is required to obtain your credit report or credit score, you cannot be sure that the offer is legitimate.  In some instances, companies offering to provide “free” credit reports or scores are actually signing you up for a continuing service that you may not either desire or need.  These sites generally ask for your credit card number, but tell you that they only need the credit card number for verification purposes.  Of course, that it is a lie.  If you were getting something free, you would not need to provide a credit card number.   They are getting your number to use it to charge you monthly fees for services that you may not have thought you ordered.  Even worse however, are scams in which the company offering to provide you with your free credit score is actually just scamming you in order to get your Social Security number which they will use to make you a victim of identity theft.

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As I always say, you cannot trust any email or text message to be legitimate.  Never click on links, download attachments or provide personal information in response to unsolicited emails or text messages.  The risk is too great.  If you want your free credit reports from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian, the only place to go is the website www.annualcreditreport.com.  It is important to monitor your credit report not just to find evidence of identity theft, but also to find mistakes that may appear on your report that can adversely affect your credit score.  As for your credit score, the website www.creditkarma.com is a legitimate website that you can trust, that encrypts your data and provides your credit score for free.