From large data breaches at international companies to individual consumers scammed out of hundreds or thousands of dollars, identity theft and fraud cases seem to become a bigger problem with each year that passes. Here in North Central Florida, Orlando Police are inundated with new identity theft and fraud cases every day. And statewide, Florida ranked second in a WalletHub list of states with the most identity theft and fraud incidents. At MIDFLORIDA Credit Union, we take your security very seriously. From consumer alerts about fraud and scams to basic security tips, our goal is to help our customers feel empowered to protect themselves from identity theft, fraud, and scams. In this blog, you’ll learn what to look out for and how you can make fraud prevention part of your daily routine.
The Top 5 Identity Theft Scams to Look Out For
While criminals are constantly changing the details, these 5 scam categories are timeless. Here’s what you need to know:
- Financial Fraud: This is the type of identity theft most people are familiar with. A criminal steals your physical credit or debit card, or simply the card information, and makes unauthorized purchases with your accounts. Credit fraud can also take the form of a criminal opening a brand new credit card or loan in your name, using your social security number and other sensitive information.
- How to prevent it: Monitor your existing accounts and credit report. For example, CBTFL’s Online Banking Service includes account activity alerts. Discover suspicious transactions as soon as they happen so you can take action immediately. Check your credit report three times a year by taking advantage of your free annual report from each of the 3 major agencies. You can also use free apps like Credit Karma or Credit Sesame to receive alerts about hard inquiries and changes to your credit score.
- Tax Scams: While tax fraud peaks during the filing season of January-April, scammers stay hard at work all year with phishing emails and telephone calls designed to trick you into sharing information such as your social security number, or paying money for alleged fines and penalties.
- How to prevent it: Visit the IRS’s “Tax Scams/Consumer Alerts” page to stay notified of the latest tax scam details. If you receive an email or phone call purportedly from the IRS, you can always visit their official website to find the customer service number and call to verify.
- Medical Identity Theft: This is when a thief uses your name and health insurance number (whether private insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare) to obtain medical care and/or prescription drugs. Medical Identity Theft doesn’t just affect your medical records. It can also have a negative effect on your finances and credit score. For example, you may receive bills for treatments or tests you never had. If a medical bill in your name goes unpaid and into debt collection, it will show up on your credit report and trigger a drop in your score.
- How to prevent it: Read about detecting and correcting medical identity theft on the FTC’s Consumer Information page.
- Theft of a Child’s Social Security Number: Child Identity Theft occurs when a criminal uses a minor’s Social Security number to open a bank or credit account or to apply for government benefits, utilities, or rental housing.
- How to prevent it: The FTC also has a Child Identity Theft page to help you learn about the warning signs and best prevention tips. For example, you could freeze your child’s credit until they turn 18, preventing anyone from using their social security number to open a new account.
- Senior/Elder Fraud: As with kids under 18, the 55+ population is also particularly vulnerable to identity theft. Seniors are an attractive target for scammers because they tend to have larger net worths than younger adults and they are more trusting. They may also live alone and not be aware of the latest scams. Most elder scams involve phishing phone calls or emails to obtain sensitive information or persuade the recipient to wire money. Unfortunately, family members and other familiars can also perpetrate elder fraud.
All-purpose Tips for Preventing Identity Theft and Fraud
Feel overwhelmed by the number of “red flags” you need to watch out for? Incorporate these “evergreen” fraud prevention tips into your everyday life. If you do that, you will have done more than many people and you can enjoy some peace of mind.
- Don’t share your Social Security Number. Legitimate financial institutions, companies, government agencies, etc. will never ask for your full social security number or other sensitive data. So whether the request comes via email or telephone, and no matter how credible it seems, don’t share personal information.
- Protect cards and documents. One of the most common causes of unauthorized charges is still physical theft of a credit or debit card. So think about whether you need to carry all of your cards out with you or can leave all but one at home. Speaking of your house, store confidential papers like tax returns, birth certificates, and social security cards in a secure place like a locked filing cabinet.
- Consider a credit freeze. This action keeps your credit report off-limits to banks, landlords, employers, and anyone else who might want to view it. A credit freeze can be inconvenient, as you will need to take the time to implement the freeze and also to lift it if you want to apply for a new account or loan. However, a credit freeze is one of the strongest proactive steps you can take. Without access to your credit report, no one can open a new account in your name.
- Pay for credit monitoring or DIY. Many companies offer “identity theft protection” services for a monthly fee. However, the word ‘protection’ is misleading because it isn’t really possible. What these services offer is monitoring, which you can also do on your own. As mentioned above, sign up for account alerts from MIDFLORIDA’S Online Banking service. Take advantage of your federal right to access your credit report from the 3 major agencies once a year. Use a free credit score app or find out if your credit card company provides free access to your credit score. If you don’t want to put the time into being your own credit monitor, signing up for a service might make sense.
- Secure your electronic devices. If you have a computer at home, you’re probably already using a firewall and anti-virus software. But what about mobile devices? Make sure you respond to software update notifications. These usually include the latest security fixes. Make sure your devices are password protected and avoid online shopping and account logins when you use public wifi.
What to Do if You Suspect Fraudulent Activity
If you notice anything suspicious in the course of your monitoring, contact your credit union and/or credit card companies right away. The Ocala Police Department has a list of links for online reporting based on the type of scam you experienced.
You can also set up a fraud alert on any of the 3 major credit bureaus’ websites:
IdentityTheft.gov is a free resource from the federal government designed to help people report and recover after identity theft.
MIDFLORIDA is here to help!
We want you to know that we will always invest in the latest security measures to keep your information safe. And no MIDFLORIDA employee will ever call or email you to ask for your social security or account number, username and password, or other sensitive information. If you have questions about identity theft or need assistance, contact us today!