3 Simple Steps YOU can take to Protect Yourself from Fraud…and key resources you can use if you think you are a victim!

This article is based on a real-life event…

A tricky scam happened this week to a dear friend of mine.  The names of the individuals, banks and their “vacation” details were changed to protect their privacy.

So here’s what happened…

Yesterday was July 4th – Happy Independence Day!  Your heart swells with pride…and you are smiling at the memories of the last 72 hours…

Flags, fireworks, BBQs, family time, and a warm and sunny three-day weekend where you simply “got away from it all…”

After an amazingly relaxing, three-day, “get off the grid” weekend, you are happily unpacking your car in the rosy twilight when your cell phone suddenly rings.identitytheft

Who on earth would be calling me after 9 PM on Sunday night – on a holiday weekend?

“Mr. Cotter, this is Robert from Fraud Protection at Bank of America…we have noticed a lot of unusual activity on your account.  Have you been ordering items from Serbia and China the past few days?”

Your heart sinks.

In the space of two sentences, the relaxed and happy feeling from the marvelous weekend is wrenched from you and is instantly replaced with anger, fear and a gnawing feeling of dread…

Your financial information has been stolen.  Oh great.

But wait a minute, this is a holiday.  Hello, this does not make sense.  “Are you sure?” you ask Robert, as your blood pressure continues to rise.  “Yes, sir,” he said.  “There are eight charges totaling nearly $3,400 in the last day or so.  We take your financial security seriously and wanted to alert you.  It sounds like these are not valid charges on your account.  Should we cancel your card immediately, sir?”

Well, here are three simple, brutal and basic truths…

  • Identity thieves and scammers DON’T take holidays – in fact, they double-down, banking on the fact that you are in a less-cautious “holiday mode”
  • Their phony tactics to swindle you – both in person and online – are becoming harder to spot
  • We are a “right-now, online convenience” society for shopping, banking and even what is being posted on social media…the volume and kinds of details we share is simply staggering…and risky

Thieves have a field-day with these truths…using our bank and credit card accounts.

Now, before you start saying, “oh this happens all the time – it’s no big deal,” here are a few facts regarding identity theft and just how big of a deal it really is.  (Data credit:  LifeLock)Identity Theft 2014

  • Identity theft is listed as the #1 complaint to both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the last 15 years!
  • It’s way more than money. Beside stealing your financial info, credit and savings; medical records, IRS, social security and even your character identity are becoming big, lucrative business targets for thieves.
  • In 2015, there has already been 6 million Identity Theft Victims – with an average of over $3,500 in fraudulent claims, per case. That’s $26.6 Billion in fraud losses so far in just the first 6 months of this year – that’s a big deal, right?

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

There are three simple things you can do…I call it “taking a 3-D approach” to protecting your identity.

DETER – Keep an eye on your financial and personal information.  Balance your accounts.  Only share what is really needed, in business and particularly on social media – in this case…less is better!

Also, be extra vigilant about e-mail scams (phishing – see resources below) as well as making sure that you are on genuine websites – not a really good fake with a name and title that look REALLY close.

A very astute man I know went to the US Postal Service site online (or so he thought) to do a simple change of address…and ended up a victim of a scam where his credit identity was stolen.  This is a big deal.  Banks, credit card companies, major stores and even certain government offices are being “expertly counterfeited” left, right and in the middle!

DETECT– Regularly monitor your financial accounts – bank, retirement, credit cards.  Also check your credit report on a regular basis.  You can even set up special alerts on your credit cards and other online accounts and get e-mail or text notices.

Three great alerts are:

  • “Transaction where card was not present” – this can be one-time or recurring online charges
  • “Transaction over a certain dollar amount” – this alerts you to larger, single transactions – say over $200
  • “Transaction initiated outside of the United States” – one of my favorites! I set this one to $1

DEFEND – As soon as you suspect something fraudulent, call your bank or card company immediately!  Use the phone number on the back of your card rather than go online.

Just taking these three simple “3-D” steps will dramatically increase your awareness and effectiveness in protecting your identity.ID Theft

Also as promised, here are a few helpful resources.

If you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft, do not delayThe sooner you take action, the less damage (and less headaches) there will be for you…and your credit.

IdentityTheft.info has lots of neat links about identity theft prevention, protection and recovery.  Please note: I am not endorsing any particular product or service on this site, but was impressed with the broad range of information available.  There is also an ID Theft To-Do List Video below the Phishing video – which is also very informative.

For assistance at the government level, you can also go to FAQs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) as well as download this free report, Remedying the Effects of Identity Theft from the CFPB.

In closing, I hope you had a wonderful, relaxing and safe 4th of July holiday.

I also pray that you do not suddenly experience what my dear friend did – or have to deal with the uncomfortable aftermath of such an insidious and far-reaching theft.

My heart’s desire, as your geeky online financial compliance CPA, is simply to provide helpful, accurate information on a growing, critical, yet tricky-to-manage fraud epidemic.

Please feel free to share this article with your friends and family…and let me know in the comments if you found this type of article valuable – or if you have any questions on identity theft!

After all, every single one of us has a valuable identity – and our identity belongs to us, NOT the identity thieves!

With kindest regards,

Debbie Stolen identity stolen

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