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identity theft

5 Tips To Protect Your Social Security Number

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Your Social Security Number (SSN) is an extremely valuable piece of personal information. It is unique to you, and with it identity thieves can commit multiple crimes in your name, including tax and credit card fraud. Follow the 5 tips below to help you protect your SSN and your identity as a whole.

1. NEVER Carry Your Social Security Card

Carrying your social security card with you is the easiest way to get your SSN stolen or compromised. Most people already carry some form of state issued ID in their wallets or purses, so if you were to lose your entire wallet (including your SSN card), someone would have all the necessary information to successfully steal your identity.

2. Create a mySocialSecurity Account

A mySocialSecurity account allows you to see all things associated with your Social Security number. You can view and manage benefits you may be eligible for; order a new card in the event that you lose yours; and, you can also see all earnings that have been associated with your SSN to verify that the information is accurate.

3. Never Send Your Social Security Number Electronically

Most reputable institutions will not ask you to send your full Social Security number electronically (i.e. email, text message, etc.), but if they do, it is imperative that you refuse. Not only is this an electronic documentation of your information, but it also leaves your SSN vulnerable.  Hackers may gain access to your information through the same WiFi network you are using, or if you or the recipient’s email gets hacked at a later date.

4. Guard Your Final Four

The last 4 digits of your SSN are completely random and specific to you, therefore they’re most important. The first 5 digits are assigned based on where and when you were born. It is easy for identity thieves to learn the first 5 digits of your SSN based on your birthdate and birth city, so if a thief also gains access to your last 4 digits they could easily learn the entire 9-digit string.

5.  Avoid Providing Your SSN When Asked

There are only a few agencies that require your SSN in order to obtain services from (i.e. employers, financial institutions, medical insurance providers, etc.). If someone outside of these essential services asks for your SSN, you should not provide it to them.

5 Tips To Avoid Tax Fraud

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You may already be aware that identity theft is the fastest growing crime – occurring once every 3 seconds. However, what you may not know is that over 26% of identity thieves are aiming to use your personal information to commit tax fraud. Please follow the tips below to help ensure that you avoid being scammed and receive your rightfully earned tax refund.

1. File Early

Scammers that are looking to commit tax fraud are hoping that you delay filing your taxes, so that they can file a fraudulent tax return in your name and collect your refund before you are even aware that it is happening. With that being said, not only will filing your taxes early guarantee you a faster tax return, but it will decrease the likelihood of someone committing tax fraud with your name.

2. Protect Your Social Security Number

Most tax-return identity theft cases involve a stolen Social Security Number (SSN). With your social security number, identity thieves can file fraudulent tax returns and collect your refund. In order to avoid this happening, it is best not to carry your Social Security Card with you, but rather to store it somewhere securely. You also should ensure that you never send your SSN through email, and only provide it to people when ABSOLUTELY necessary.

3. Beware of Phishing

Phishing is when online scammers impersonate reputable businesses in order to receive personal identifying information such as your SSN, DL #, address, etc. A popular scam has been hackers sending emails pretending to be IRS in order to receive your personal identifying information. Beware of these emails and remember that the IRS, your bank, or any other reputable businesses will never ask for financial or personal information through email.

4. Shred Your Bank and Tax Documents

Tax documents, bank statements, W-2’s, and any other information that goes into filing your taxes is very sensitive information, and must be protected at all costs. People who are looking to commit identity theft and tax fraud are not above digging through your trash to acquire these sensitive documents, so in order to be safe it is best to shred all of these documents when you are done with them.

5. Protect Your Mailbox

Bank statements, W-2s and pay stubs are all pieces of mail that can be used against you to commit identity theft. Some scammers will take advantage of you by simply sifting through your mailbox to see what they can get their hands on. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it is best to consider using a PO box to ensure that no one can access your mail other than you. If this isn’t an option for you, you should change your account preferences to sensitive bank and tax info to receive them electronically.

7 Tips To Protect Yourself & Your Identity During The Holiday Shopping Season

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The holiday season is the most joyful time of year – spent enjoying family, friends, and food. The last thing you should have to worry about is the threat of someone stealing your credit card information, or even worse, your entire identity. With today’s increased dependence on technology, and significant data breaches announced almost daily; cyber crimes like identity theft and credit card fraud have skyrocketed. Follow these 7 tips to make you and your identity less vulnerable this holiday shopping season.

1. ONLY Rely On Secure Wifi
It is a good rule of thumb to avoid unsecured networks at ALL TIMES, but it is imperative to avoid them when you enter personally identifiable information (PII) such as credit card numbers, shipping and billing addresses, etc. When you enter this valuable information through an unsecured network, you are more vulnerable to hackers penetrating the network and stealing your information. You can identify a secure network by the lock in the top left corner of your URL bar and the web address will begin with “https://” such as the image below.

2. Watch Out For Fakers
Hackers can create a webpage that is a visual replicate of the website they are imitating. However, they cannot completely replicate the domain name. Often times these fake websites will include domains with a hyphen in them or the words “shop” or “secure”. Examples of fake websites to be aware of are “amazonsecure-shop, targethome.today, and walmart-outlet.ga”. The image below points out different ways to spot a fake email from a company.

3. Recognize The Risk of Rushing
You could be well versed in the various online risk factors, but when you are in a rush you are more likely to make simple mistakes such as clicking on a malicious email link you normally would not, or providing your information without thinking through how it will be used. The extra 30 seconds it takes to slow down and think before you give access to your personal information could cost your months of trying to restore your identity.

4. Don’t Take The Bait
A common method of phishing is sending fake order confirmation or delivery failure emails to consumers. Don’t fall victim to these fake email alerts. With the increase in online shopping orders it is sometimes hard to keep track of what packages you ordered and when you received them. Hackers send these phishing emails to entice you to either share information about you or spread malware that will infect your computer when you click the link. Examples of email scams to look out for include order confirmation emails from Walmart and delivery failure emails from FedEx.

5. Be Mindful in Marketplaces
When using online marketplaces you must be careful to protect yourself not only financially, but also physically. There have been some Amazon.com resellers that have scammed people by delivering their packages to other addresses in their zip code, but not to the actual purchaser. For example, if you order a phone from an Amazon reseller to be delivered to your address in Austin, Texas, the reseller will send the phone to someone else in Austin, Texas and communicate to Amazon that it was delivered to you, preventing you from receiving a refund even though you never received the package. The best way to avoid this is to order directly from site vendors or meet up with the reseller rather than having them ship the product to you. If you do choose to personally meet a reseller, it is important to remember physical safety. Although, cyber crime is constantly growing, petty theft and violence is also still prevalent. If you have to meet with a reseller in person, try to find a public spot, with some type of surveillance. Some even suggest meeting at a police station, so that if something goes wrong, authorities can arrive immediately.

6. Credit Reigns Supreme
Think twice before choosing debit over credit in the checkout line. It is much easier to dispute things that were fraudulently purchased on a credit card versus a debit card. If your debit card falls into the wrong hands, the thief could easily drain your bank account and it could take months to get your funds back, if at all. Also, many credit card companies may offer rebates or “points”  and extended warranties to incentivize your holiday gift purchases.

7. Is It Too Good To Be True?
As disappointing as it may be, 99% of the time an offer you receive claiming to provide a free gift card is not real. Before you fall victim to a phishing or malware scam be sure to ask yourself, “Why would Amazon or Footlocker be sending me a free gift card?” Typically, if you can’t think of a legitimate reason, then you’re dealing with some type of scam. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Pro Tip: When you are suspicious about an email you receive or the company you received it from, call their customer service line. Everything is digitized in this day and age so if their agents don’t have a record of a communication with you, then 9 times out of 10 the communication may be fraudulent.