▪ Government imposter scams. Scammers frequently target older adults by impersonating officials from U.S. government agencies that are often well-known or provide services to older adults, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA), Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (HHS/CMS), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), among others. The scammers may threaten the individuals with arrest or seizure of their bank accounts for crimes they supposedly committed, such as tax evasion. Scammers may also claim that victims’ Social Security numbers are suspended due to suspicious activity and demand personally identifiable information and payment to resolve the supposed matter with the government.
▪ Romance scams. These scams (also referred to as “online dating,” “confidence,” or “sweetheart” scams) grew to a record level in 2021 with $547 million in reported losses. Romance scams involve fraudsters creating a fictitious profile on an online dating app or website to establish a close or romantic relationship with older adults to exploit their confidence and trust. Online scammers may offer to meet in person (though they almost never do) and ask victims to send money for travel expenses, a sudden “hardship” they experience such as medical costs or legal fees, or a supposed investment or business deal. The scammers often solicit payments over an extended period of time and victims may also send personally identifiable information as the perpetrators gain the trust of the victims. In some cases, romance scam victims are convinced to open bank accounts and limited liability corporations (LLC) to receive and send funds as money mules so the scammers can launder their ill-gotten gains from third-party scams.
▪ Emergency/person-in-need scams. These schemes (also known as “grandparent scams”) involve scammers contacting older adults and impersonating a grandchild, another relative, an attorney, emergency medical personnel, or a law enforcement official to deceive victims into believing that a loved one is in an emergency situation (e.g., a car accident, medical emergency, under arrest, or stranded in a foreign country) and needs money sent immediately to resolve the situation.
▪ Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These scams are a type of advance-fee scheme in which scammers, typically located in jurisdictions outside of the United States, impersonate lottery or sweepstakes representatives, and lawyers claiming that the victims have won a lottery, prize, or sweepstakes. Scammers may target older adults regardless of whether the victims have previously played the lottery or entered in a sweepstakes. The scammers instruct the victims to pay for supposed shipping, taxes, or other fees in order to claim their prize or lottery winnings. Victims never receive their prize or lottery winnings and are often re-victimized with additional requests for payments throughout the scheme until they run out of money.
▪ Tech and customer support scams. These scammers impersonate well-known companies as tech and customer support representatives to falsely claim that a virus or other malware has compromised the victims’ computers. Scammers may request remote access to diagnose the alleged problem and will typically attempt to solicit payment for fraudulent software products and tech support services. They also often exploit the remote access to install malware and steal personally identifiable information and credit card numbers to further defraud the victims. After victims make payments, perpetrators often call back and offer refunds to the victims, claiming their tech and customer support services are no longer available. Perpetrators then will claim to send refund money to the victims’ bank accounts but falsely claim that too much money was refunded. The scammers then induce victims to send payments purportedly to reimburse the tech and customer support company for its “over-refund.” Victims can lose hundreds or thousands of dollars to such refund schemes. A recent evolution of the refund scheme involves perpetrators claiming to be online retailers and purporting to offer a refund for unauthorized transactions on the victims’ accounts.
If you fall victim to any of these scams, please shut down your computer immediately and contact the bank.
Also, be advised, that:
Bank staff will never remotely access your phone/tablet/computer.
Bank staff will never ask for login credentials.
Bank staff will never ask for your full debit card number or PIN.
By Edward Pugh, CAMS, CFP; Consultant
Distributed by Wisconsin Bankers Association
Thinking About Buying Your First House?
FDIC Consumer News
June 3, 2022
Take some proactive steps
A house could be the biggest purchase you will ever make, and the process of shopping for a home and obtaining a mortgage can be overwhelming. However, there are steps you can take to make the process more manageable and the purchase more attainable.
Know Your Credit History and Score
One of the key factors in getting approved for a loan is your credit score. Your credit history determines your score, and the higher the score, the better the loan terms become. You are entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit bureaus: Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. Go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com, the official site for consumers to obtain free credit reports, or call 1-877-322-8228. If you notice any errors on your report, work on correcting them as soon as possible. The Federal Trade Commission offers helpful suggestions on how to fix errors on credit reports at Disputing Errors on Credit Reports.
A high credit score helps you not only get approved for a mortgage, it also improves the terms available. Here is a breakdown of the five major components that make up your credit score.
Payment History – Reported payments account for 35% of your total credit score. Late payments will affect your score negatively, so it’s important to consistently make payments on time.
Credit Utilization – How much of your credit is in use makes up 30% of your score. If you reach the credit limit on your credit cards, it lowers your credit score. Do your best to start paying down credit card balances to free up your credit.
Length of Credit History – How long you have been using credit and making payments as well as the amount of time each of your credit accounts have been open is 15% of your total credit score. If you’re trying to clean up your credit, closing accounts may not necessarily be the answer. It may be best to pay off accounts and keep them open to maintain long standing accounts.
New Credit – Be cautious when opening new credit accounts, which accounts for 10% of your score. Opening too many new accounts in a relatively short period of time could hurt your score.
Credit Mix – The remaining 10% of your score relies on the variety of credit accounts you have. Having a mix of revolving credit accounts, such as credit cards, and installment loans, including auto loans and student loans, with positive payment histories show that you can manage different types of credit and will increase your score.
Remember, the higher your credit score as a potential buyer, the lower the risk to a potential lender.
How Much Can and Should You Spend?
When reviewing mortgage applications, lenders pay close attention to your debt-to-income ratio (DTI). DTI shows how much of your monthly gross income – your income before taxes or other deductions are taken out – goes to monthly debt payments. Many lenders prefer that your total monthly debt payments, which include housing payments, auto loan payments, student loan payments, and minimum credit card payments, not exceed 40% of your gross monthly income. Some lenders prefer a DTI of 36% or less. Others may accept a higher ratio.
When looking at your finances to determine how much you can afford for a monthly mortgage payment, keep in mind that the payment will include not only the loan principal and interest but also taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and possibly mortgage insurance (lenders require you to pay mortgage insurance when your down payment is less than 20% to protect the lender in the event you default on the loan). While you will need more information to get an exact figure of the house price you can afford, such as the interest rate on your loan and how much of a down payment you will have to put toward the purchase, look at your DTI as discussed above to get a better idea of the monthly payment that will fit your budget.
Many websites have calculation tools that can help you determine how much you can afford and the amount your monthly payment will be under different scenarios. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) maximum financing calculator is a good place to start and can be found at FHA Maximum Financing Calculator.
For more information on figuring out how much you can afford, visit:
Figure Out What I Need and Want in a Home.
Estimate What I Can Afford for Housing.
Mortgage Moves: How much can you afford?.
Decide how much you want to spend on a home.
Save, Save, Save
Having savings makes it easier to purchase a home. Saving can be hard given the challenges many first-time home buyers face with high housing costs and student loan debt, but most lenders require a down payment, and you will likely be responsible for closing costs. You will also want to have money available once you complete the purchase for maintenance or repairs in your new home. So let’s look at the possibilities.
To increase your savings, see if there is a way to tighten your budget and lower your current housing costs. Automating your savings may help keep you on task with obtaining your savings goals too. Check with your bank about linking a savings account to your checking account and creating a regular automatic deposit to the savings account. In addition, automatic savings apps, which help you save by rounding up certain purchases to the nearest dollar and setting the money aside, can add a little extra to your savings.
You may also be able to take advantage of down payment and closing cost assistance programs offered by government agencies and non-profit organizations. Be sure to take the time to research what is available and what your qualifications are to apply for these special programs. Start with HUD’s website for more information about assistance programs in your state: HUD - Local Information. HUD also provides lists of approved housing counselors in each state that can help with the home buying process: HUD Approved Housing Counseling Agencies.
For suggestions on how to save money with worksheets to help you plan to save visit: Money Smart - Your Savings.
Start Organizing Documents
When you apply for a mortgage, most lenders will want one or two months of paystubs, two years of tax filings, three to six months of bank account statements, information about any retirement savings, and other documentation specific to your financial situation, such as explanations of any recent large deposits or withdrawals from your bank account. It can be overwhelming to pull together so much information in a short timeframe, so start early. By getting these documents in order at the beginning of your house hunting journey, you give yourself time to ensure you have all of the documents the lender requires.
When you’re ready to buy a house, understanding the costs and benefits, researching your credit and housing options, and building your savings are the best first steps toward owning your first home. In the next article, we’ll take a look at the next step in the home buying process: applying for a mortgage.
FDIC Decide If I am Ready to Buy a Home
FDIC FDIC Affording Mortgage Lending Center
For more consumer resources, visit FDIC.gov, or go to the FDIC Knowledge Center. You can also call the FDIC toll-free at 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342). Please send your story ideas or comments to ConsumerNews@fdic.gov.
Where to put that money from a summer job and maintain a bank account
It is common for young adults—ages 14 to 21—to have a summer job. Once you start earning a paycheck, where is the best place to save your money? In an FDIC-insured bank account with direct deposit! Bank accounts can help keep track of your new earnings, while keeping your money safe until you need it.
Account options for youth and young adults
Banks may have various account options for young adults. Weigh your options to select the best one for you. The FDIC Money Smart banking checklist may be helpful when comparing accounts. When deciding on an account, consider things like minimum opening and monthly balance requirements, monthly maintenance, overdraft and Automated Teller Machine (ATM) fees, fee waiver policies, and mobile banking features.
If you are under a certain age, often under the age of 18 or 21 depending on the state, you might need to open an account with a custodian, generally a parent or guardian. If you are interested in a noncustodial account, ask the bank what the requirements are. Visit the FDIC #GetBanked website for more information on how to search and open a bank account that fits your needs.
Know how much money you have before you spend
How much money is in your bank account? Knowing the answer to this at all times is essential to successfully managing your finances, so you don’t overspend. A budget helps you track your income, saving goals, and expenses. Visit FDIC Budget Tools for more help.
Using money transfer services and mobile banking services
Technology has made banking much more convenient. You can transfer money, pay bills, and review account balances all on a smartphone or tablet. To keep your bank account secure, as well as your devices, make sure to create strong passwords. Also, avoid logging into your accounts through public Wi-Fi networks, such as a coffee shop, public hotspots, etc.
Person-to-person (P-to-P) payment services and mobile payment apps have become part of everyday life. Payment services and apps let you send money to other people without having to write a check, swipe your card, or hand them cash. These services allow you to divide things like rent with a roommate or split the bill at dinner. Before sending money via apps, verify that you have the correct payment information so you don’t send it to the wrong person.
Many banks allow customers to use remote deposit capture (RDC) by taking a picture of a check with a mobile device and depositing that check electronically without ever visiting a branch or using an ATM. When using RDC, carefully track the checks you deposit. For example, write the date you deposited the item on the front of the paper check, then hold onto it until the check has cleared and the money is in your account. Ask your bank more about how these services work.
Watch out for phishing, smishing, and vishing scams
Phishing is a term for scams that use email to ask you to provide personal financial information. Smishing is similar to phishing, but instead the scammer uses text messaging to reach you. Vishing, similar to phishing and smishing, is when a scammer uses phone services such as a live phone call, a “robocall,” or a voicemail to try to trick you into providing personal information by sounding like a legitimate business or government official. Be mindful of these scams in order to keep your money safe. For more information on frauds and scams, visit: Avoiding Scams and Scammers.
You have a job now! Be sure you have an insured bank account with direct deposit, and create a budget to help you maintain your account, even after your summer job is over, so as to keep your hard-earned money safe.
For more consumer resources, visit FDIC.gov, or go to the FDIC Knowledge Center. You can also call the FDIC toll-free at 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342). Please send your story ideas or comments to ConsumerNews@fdic.gov.
Many Register of Deeds Offices Make Alerts Available for Property Filings
In recent years, another area of fraud that has hit Wisconsin is the unauthorized transfer of real property. Fraud occurs when documents are filed with the applicable Register of Deeds Office by unauthorized persons without the real property owner knowing of the property transfer. Once a property has been illegally transferred into an unauthorized name, the bad actors often then sell the property all while the true property owner has no knowledge of the transfer.
Many Register of Deeds Offices throughout Wisconsin have recently made available a free monitoring tool where consumers and businesses can monitor whether a filing has been made under their name. The system does not stop a filing from occurring; instead, an alert will be sent if a filing has occurred for the monitored name. Being sent an alert of a filing will help a true property owner remedy a fraudulent filing sooner than if there had been no alert. The monitoring systems are free and easy to sign up for. If offered, monitoring systems may be found on a County’s Register of Deeds Office website.
Click the button below to access Dodge County Register of Deeds Land Notification Tool.
CONSUMER FIRST ALERT: Streaming service scams and driver’s license scams
By Tammy Elliott
Published: Dec. 26, 2021 at 5:32 AM CST
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Scammers are targeting people signing up for streaming services and preying on Wisconsin drivers.
If you’re signing up for a streaming service, make sure you’re on the real website. The Better Business Bureau says to beware of fake activations.
If you’re signing up for a service like Netflix or Hulu, be careful when you activate the account. Scammers have set up lookalike websites to trick you into clicking on links and downloading malware.
Scammers cannot copy a website’s official URL. Watch for spelling errors.
Make sure you’re on an official website before you enter a user name and password.
Consumer experts are also warning consumers about fake text messages that look like they’re from the DMV. Scammers are targeting Wisconsin drivers.
SCAM ALERT: Don't let grinches steal Christmas, or your identity. Imposter scammers continue to target Wisconsin DMV customers with fake texts like this. We remind you not to click on links embedded in unsolicited or unexpected text messages. pic.twitter.com/BjnPdEr0CE
— Wisconsin DOT (@WisconsinDOT) December 22, 2021
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation says do not click on links coming from these fake accounts. For example, one says the DMV requires you to validate your driver’s license due to a security upgrade and threatens suspension. That’s not real. Do not click on those links.
Copyright 2021 WBAY. All rights reserved.
When shopping online during the holiday season—or any time of year—always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true. Do your part to avoid becoming a scammer’s next victim.
Every year, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams. Scammers can rob you of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a festive mood.
The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes. In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online, but those items are never received. Conversely, a non-payment scam involves goods or services being shipped, but the seller is never paid.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center’s (IC3) 2020 report, non-payment or non-delivery scams cost people more than $265 million. Credit card fraud accounted for another $129 million in losses.
Similar scams to beware of this time of year are auction fraud, where a product is misrepresented on an auction site, and gift card fraud, when a seller asks you to pay with a pre-paid card.
The IC3 receives a large volume of complaints in the early months of each year, suggesting a correlation with the previous holiday season’s shopping scams.
If You’ve Been Scammed
Call your credit card company or you bank. Dispute any suspicious charges.
Contact local law enforcement.
Report the scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
Tips to Avoid Holiday Scams
Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself—and your wallet.
Practice good cybersecurity hygiene.
Don’t click any suspicious links or attachments in emails, on websites, or on social media. Phishing scams and similar crimes get you to click on links and give up personal information like your name, password, and bank account number. In some cases, you may unknowingly download malware to your device.
Be especially wary if a company asks you to update your password or account information. Look up the company’s phone number on your own and call the company.
Know who you’re buying from or selling to.
Check each website’s URL to make sure it’s legitimate and secure. A site you’re buying from should have https in the web address. If it doesn’t, don’t enter your information on that site.
If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, do your research and check reviews.
Verify the legitimacy of a buyer or seller before moving forward with a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check their feedback rating. Be wary of buyers and sellers with mostly unfavorable feedback ratings or no ratings at all.
Avoid sellers who act as authorized dealers or factory representatives of popular items in countries where there would be no such deals.
Be wary of sellers who post an auction or advertisement as if they reside in the U.S., then respond to questions by stating they are out of the country on business, family emergency, or similar reasons.
Avoid buyers who request their purchase be shipped using a certain method to avoid customs or taxes inside another country.
Be careful how you pay.
Never wire money directly to a seller.
Avoid paying for items with pre-paid gift cards. In these scams, a seller will ask you to send them a gift card number and PIN. Instead of using that gift card for your payment, the scammer will steal the funds, and you’ll never receive your item.
Use a credit card when shopping online and check your statement regularly. If you see a suspicious transaction, contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.
Monitor the shipping process.
Always get tracking numbers for items you buy online, so you can make sure they have been shipped and can follow the delivery process.
Be suspect of any credit card purchases where the address of the cardholder does not match the shipping address when you are selling. Always receive the cardholder’s authorization before shipping any products.
And remember: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Scammers are sending fake IRS emails about Economic Impact Payments
October 27, 2021
by Cristina Miranda
Division of Consumer and Business Education, FTC
There’s a fake IRS email that keeps popping into people’s inboxes. It says that you can get a third Economic Impact Payment (EIP) if you click a link that lets you “access the form for your additional information” and “get help” with the application. But the link is a trick. If you click it, a scammer might steal your money and your personal information to commit identity theft. It’s yet another version of the classic government impersonator scam.
Here are ways to avoid this scam:
Know that the government will never call, text, email, or contact you on social media saying you owe money, or to offer help getting a third Economic Impact Payment (EIP). If you get a message with a link from someone claiming to be from the IRS or another government agency, don’t click on it. It’s a scam. Scammers will often send fake links to websites or use bogus email addresses and phone numbers that seem to be from the government. Your best bet is to visit the IRS’s website directly for trustworthy information on EIP payments.
Say no to anyone who contacts you, claiming to be from a government agency and asking for personal or financial information, or for payment in cash, gift cards, wire transfers, or cryptocurrency. Whether they contact you by phone, text, email, on social media, or show up in person, don’t share your Social Security, Medicare ID, driver’s license, bank account, or credit card numbers. And know that the government would never ask you to pay to get financial help.
Report government impersonators to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Your report makes a difference. Reports like yours help us investigate, bring law enforcement cases, and alert people about what frauds to be on the lookout for so they can protect themselves, their friends, and family.
Visit ftc.gov/imposters to find out more about government impersonators. And to learn more about the signs of a scam, what to do, and how to report it, check out ftc.gov/scams.
Blog Topics: Money & Credit
Scam Tags: Scammers Impersonating the Government
Avoiding Scams and Scammers
Cybersecurity is key
When cybersecurity is inadequate, it can lead to stolen identity and financial loss. Most scams and scammers have two main goals--to steal your money and your identity. You should know what to look for, how they work, and what to do, so you can protect yourself and your finances.
Maintaining cybersecurity is very important, even for consumers. It is not simply something that concerns large corporations and other businesses. Here are some steps you can take:
Do not open email from people you don’t know. If you are unsure whether an email you received is legitimate, try contacting the sender directly via other means. Do not click on any links in an email unless you are sure it is safe.
Be careful with links and new website addresses. Malicious website addresses may appear almost identical to legitimate sites. Scammers often use a slight variation in spelling or logo to lure you. Malicious links can also come from friends whose email has unknowingly been compromised, so be careful.
Secure your personal information. Before providing any personal information, such as your date of birth, Social Security number, account numbers, and passwords, be sure the website is secure.
Stay informed on the latest cyber threats. Keep yourself up to date on current scams. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) can provide you with Alerts.
Use Strong Passwords. Strong passwords are critical to online security. Review CISA guidance on Choosing and Protecting Passwords.
Keep your software up to date and maintain preventative software programs. Keep all of your software applications up to date on your computers and mobile devices. Install software that provides antivirus, firewall, and email filter services.
Update the operating systems on your electronic devices. Make sure your operating systems (OSs) and applications are up to date on all of your electronic devices. Older and unpatched versions of OSs and software are the target of many hacks. Read the CISA security tip on Understanding Patches and Software Updates for more information.
Here are some trending scams to look out for:
Scammers use people as “money mules” to receive or move money obtained from victims of fraudulent activities. Scammers proactively recruit people to be part of fraudulent activity without their knowing it. If a stranger asks you to open a bank account, or asks for access to your bank account or debit card, be extremely guarded. A scammer may ask you to move money and direct you to deposit funds into your bank account, or ask you to purchase virtual currency or gift cards for someone else’s benefit. In these scenarios, you may be unknowingly hiding someone else’s money for them. Be very cautious if a stranger asks you to receive or forward packages containing money or goods, which may also be part of a similar fraudulent scheme.
If you believe you have engaged in, or contributed to, money mule activities, stop transferring money or merchandise, and stop communicating with the person giving you direction. Then, immediately report your concern to your bank. Your banker can assist you with the appropriate steps toward protecting your bank account and money. You should also report the suspected activity to law enforcement. Visit the U.S. Department of Justice webpage on money mules for more information.
Romance scammers, as they are often called, create fake profiles and try to develop relationships with their targeted victims through online dating apps or social networking websites. Once the relationship develops and they have earned your trust, the scammer makes up a story and asks for your money. Be aware that scammers are lurking in these areas, so you can keep yourself and your money safe. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has additional information on romance scams.
Impostor scams are when a scammer pretends to be someone you know or trust to convince you to send them money. They may even claim they are with the FDIC or another government agency. These scams are communicated through emails, phone calls, letters, text messages, faxes, and social media. The messages might ask you to “confirm” or “update” confidential personal financial information, such as bank account numbers. In other cases, the communication might be an offer to help victims of current or previous frauds with an investigation or to recover losses. Some scams request that you file official looking forms, such as insurance claims, or pay taxes on prize winnings. They might claim that you have an unpaid debt and threaten you with a lawsuit or arrest if you don’t pay. Other recent examples include check endorsements, bankruptcy claimant verification forms, stock confirmations, and investment purchases.
The FDIC or other government agencies do not send unsolicited correspondence asking for money or sensitive personal information, and we will never threaten you, or demand that you pay by gift card, wiring money, or digital currency. FDIC Consumer News: Scammers Pretending to be the FDIC has more information on impostor scams.
Mortgage and Foreclosure Scams
Watch out for scammers who falsely claim to be lenders, loan servicers, financial counselors, or representatives of government agencies who can help with your mortgage. These criminals prey on vulnerable, desperate homeowners. For more on mortgage scams and how to protect yourself, visit the FTC Mortgage Relief Scams.
Foreclosure scams usually come from multiple advertisements stating that a company wants to save you from foreclosure. This scam allows fraudsters to take the equity out of your home. They may even try to evict you from your home and sell it. Learn more at Common Foreclosure Rescue and Loan Modification Scams under the FDIC Consumer Assistance Topics.
One cyber threat often discussed in the news is ransomware. Typically, this scam targets businesses, not individuals. Ransomware is a type of malware created to lock or encrypt files on an electronic device like a smart phone or computer. The sender of the ransomware then demands a ransom in exchange for unlocking or decrypting the information on your electronic device. The scammer typically threatens to publicly disclose or sell the compromised information, if the ransom is not paid.
If you believe your business is a victim of a ransomware attack, contact law enforcement immediately. You can also contact a local field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or U.S. Secret Service to report a ransomware attack and ask for assistance.
Maintaining your cybersecurity will help prevent you from being a victim of identity theft and potential financial loss. Staying current on the latest types of scams can help you to identify the risks and learn how avoid them, so you can protect yourself and your finances.
FDIC Podcast: Banking on Innovation: Building a More Resilient Banking System
FDIC Consumer News: Beware It’s a Scam
FDIC Video: #FDICExplains Phishing
CISA: Ransomware 101
FDIC Press Release: Online Dating Scams
FCC: Auto Warranty Scams
For more help or information, go to FDIC.gov or call the FDIC toll-free at 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342). Please send your story ideas or comments to email@example.com.
Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Think of how many times a day you share your personal information. You may write a check at the local grocery store, apply for a credit card, make a call on your cell phone, charge tickets to a Milwaukee Bucks game, mail your tax return or buy tickets over the Internet.
With each transaction, you share your personal information: your bank and credit card account numbers, your income, your Social Security number, your name, address and phone number.
In 1998, Congress passed a law, making identity theft a federal crime. The U.S. Secret Service, FBI and U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigate violations of the Act. Persons accused of identity theft are prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
Wisconsin also has passed legislation, making identity theft a felony, and criminals here have been convicted of the crime.
Consumer complaints about identity theft continue to grow. More than 40 percent of all complaints filed with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last year were for identity theft.
Unless you live your life in a bubble, you can’t prevent the stealing of your personal information, but you can minimize the risks of this crime happening to you by following these suggestions:
Never divulge information about your Social Security number, credit card number, account passwords and other personal information unless you initiate contact with a person or company you know and trust.
Don’t carry around more checks, credit cards and other bank items than you really need. Don’t carry your Social Security number in your wallet, and be sure to pick passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) that will be tough for someone to figure out. Don’t write your Social Security number on your check.
Protect your incoming and outgoing mail, especially envelopes that may contain checks, credit card applications or other information valuable to a fraud artist. Deposit outgoing mail, especially something containing personal financial information in the official Post Office collection boxes, hand it to the mail carrier or take it to the local post office instead of leaving it in your home mailbox.
Before discarding credit card applications, cancelled checks, bank statements or other information useful to an identity thief, tear them up as best you can, preferably by using a paper shredder.
Safely store extra checks, credit cards and documents that list your Social Security number.
Contact your financial institution immediately if you lose your checkbook or bank credit card, if there is a discrepancy in your records, or if you notice something suspicious such as a missing payment or unauthorized withdrawals.
If your credit card bill doesn’t arrive on time, contact your credit card company. This could be a sign that someone has stolen your account information, changed your address and is making large charges in your name from another location.
Once a year, check your credit record with the three major credit bureaus. To order your report, call the following toll-free numbers: Equifax at 1-800-685-1111, Experian at 1-888-397-3742 and Trans Union at 1-800-888-4213
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following steps:
Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and request a “fraud alert” be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
Close any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened.
File a local police report and get a copy of the report to your bank, credit card company or others that may need proof of the crime.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, it can assist victims by providing information to help resolve problems that can result from identity theft. Should you find yourself a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by calling toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).
Most of us assume that thieves are only interested in the cash in our wallet or purse, when in many cases, they are more interested in access to sensitive information that can be used to steal our identity. Use caution and don’t be the next victim of identity theft or other financial fraud.
FTC Consumer Alert - How Not to Get Hooked by a Phishing Scam
Internet scammers casting about for people’s financial information have a new way to lure unsuspecting victims: they go “phishing.”
Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords or other sensitive information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), phishers send an email or pop-up message that claims to be from a business or organization that you deal with — for example, your Internet Service Provider (ISP), bank, online payment service or even a government agency. The message usually says that you need to update or validate your account information. It might threaten some dire consequence if you don’t respond. The message directs you to a website that looks just like a legitimate organization’s site, but it isn’t. The purpose of the bogus site? To trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.
The FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency, suggests these tips to help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:
If you get an email or pop-up message that asks for personal or financial information, do not reply or click on the link in the message. Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email. If you are concerned about your account, contact the organization in the email using a telephone number you know to be genuine, or open a new Internet browser session and type in the company’s correct web address. In any case, don’t cut and paste the link in the message.
Don’t email personal or financial information. Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information. If you initiate a transaction and want to provide your personal or financial information through an organization’s website, look for indicators that the site is secure, like a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the “s” stands for “secure”). Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof; some phishers have forged security icons.
Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Some phishing emails contain software that can harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet without your knowledge. Antivirus software and a firewall can protect you from inadvertently accepting such unwanted files. Antivirus software scans incoming communications for troublesome files. Look for antivirus software that recognizes current viruses as well as older ones, effectively reverse the damage and update automatically. A firewall helps make you invisible on the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources. It’s especially important to run a firewall if you have a broadband connection. Finally, your operating system (like Windows or Linux) may offer free software “patches” to close holes in the system that hackers or phishers could exploit.
Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from emails you receive, regardless of who sent them.
Report suspicious activity to the FTC. If you get spam that is phishing for information, forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC’s identity theft website at www.consumer.gov/idtheft to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from ID theft.
Visit www.ftc.gov/spam to learn other ways to avoid email scams and deal with deceptive spam. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.