Identity Theft: Tips to Protect the Whole Family

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By Rick Boeth

Like millions of other Americans, you’re probably spending more time online during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. While the extra screen time is keeping you connected, it can also pose a higher risk, thanks to the efforts of opportunistic scammers. Staying alert can help protect you and your loved ones during this time.

Stay Alert to New Tricks

Pay close attention to emails, sites and mobile apps dealing with the pandemic and stay vigilant.

Some email scams appear to come from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Others lure people to fraudulent treatment or vaccine websites in attempt to steal credit card and other personal information.

During your time at home, here are some tips to keep yourself and your family safe.

Scammers Target Your Loved Ones

It's important to talk to your kids about the dangers of revealing too much personal data, either intentionally or unintentionally. Seniors, too, are online more and more, and as new adopters to technology, they may click on unsafe links or more easily get caught up in scams.

Social media, gaming communities, surveys and other websites often ask for a variety of data. And when buying items online, kids and seniors may not always think about whether the website is secure and encrypted.

But your family's internet use isn't the only gateway to your data. Knowing how to manage your personal information online and offline  can protect your finances and guard against identity theft.

14% of identity theft victims are children or seniors.

Source: Identity theft reports made to the Federal Trade Commission, 19 or younger and 60 and older. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2019.

How to Protect Those You Care About

Children

Children become targets as soon as they are born and leave the hospital with a Social Security number. If an identity thief manages to learn a child's Social Security number, they can apply for government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, apply for loans, set up utility service or rent a home or apartment. And because you may not think to check a child's credit report, this type of fraud can go on a long time before being detected.

As your child grows, many schools and organizations will require you to provide information. Ask how your child's data is collected, used, stored and discarded, and pay close attention if you are notified of a data breach.

Additionally, children themselves often divulge more personal data than they realize. Kids often willingly provide their name, birthdate and other specifics via social media or online communities. There's also a surprising link between fraud and online bullying. Vulnerable children may overshare information, and this could lead to emotional or financial manipulation by online perpetrators.

Children who were bullied online were 9 times more likely to be identity theft victims.

Source: Javelin Strategy & Research, 2018 Child Identity Fraud Study.

Financial Warning Signs

  • The child is turned down for government benefits.
  • The IRS sends a notice saying the child didn't pay income taxes, or that their Social Security number was used on someone else's tax return.
  • You get collection calls or receive bills for products and services you didn't receive.

One million children were victims of identity theft in 2017.

Source: Javelin Strategy & Research, 2018 child Identity Fraud Study.

Parents and Elderly

Seniors' regular income and accumulated assets put them at greater risk for financial exploitation, online and offline.

Financial abuse can take many forms. An individual may be pressured by a friend or family member to make uncharacteristic financial decisions and provide access to accounts only to funnel assets away. A phone or online scammer could convince the individual into paying for fraudulent services or investment schemes.

Financial Warning Signs

  • The individual is unwilling to discuss or seems confused about financial or estate plans.
  • You notice unusual bills, collection notices, payments, withdrawals, new accounts or sudden account closures.
  • Expected checks are missing or never deposited.
  • Relationships seem to influence financial decisions.

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Fraud Resources

  • For more on specific COVID-19 fraud risks and prevention, visit fbi.gov/coronavirus  .
  • Learn about the Department of Justice’s response at justice.gov/coronavirus  .
  • Report COVID-19 fraud by contacting the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or at disaster@leo.gov.
  • For accurate and up-to-date information on the COVID-19 outbreak, visit coronavirus.gov   and cdc.gov/coronavirus  .

If You Suspect Identity Theft, Act Fast

Hackers and identity thieves may obtain data before you even know it's missing. Whether it's your data that has been exposed, or that of your child or aging parent, it's important to act quickly to minimize any potential financial damage.

  1. Contact financial institutions.
  2. Change passwords.
  3. Close fraudulent accounts.
  4. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  5. File a report at IdentityTheft.gov .
  6. Order copies of credit reports through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau  or through the major credit bureaus.
  7. Capture all communications in writing.
Rick Boeth
Rick Boeth
Vice President
Information Security &
Business Continuity

Additional Identity Theft Resources

Federal Trade Commission
www.identitytheft.gov 

www.annualcreditreport.com 

1-888-567-8688
www.optoutprescreen.com 

1-888-382-1222
www.donotcall.gov 

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