Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Identity Thefts and Scams: What You Should Do

Identity theft and scams that target boomers and older Americans are much more common than those against younger Americans. 

According to a survey by the Investor Protection Trust, one out of every 5 citizens over the age of 65 has been the victim of a financial scam, and a MetLife survey estimated that older Americans have lost nearly $3 billion a year to financial abuse. Unfortunately a great many of these scams are perpetrated by people known by the victims.

Art KoffThis information is intended to assist those who have been scammed as well as to provide information and resources to help you avoid being scammed in the future.
First the obvious: If you have been scammed or are a victim of credit-card fraud, notify all credit card companies and tell them to issue you a new card. Place a credit-card freeze on your account with the three main credit agencies. You must also remember to place a credit freeze on the account of deceased persons. If you fail to freeze their credit a thief can steal their identity and apply for credit in the deceased person's name. The companies and their contact numbers are Equifax, 800-525-6285; Experian, 888-397-3742 and Trans Union, 800-680-7289.
You should also contact your local law enforcement agency. Complaints can be filed as well by calling 877-IDTHEFT.

How you can protect yourself

If you think you have been scammed or wish to check what you should watch for so you are less likely to get scammed, click here for more complete information on fraud & scams.
Stolen identities: Anyone who believes his or her personal information has been stolen and used for tax purposes should immediately contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit: www.IRS.gov/identitytheft.

Phishing scams

Phishing is usually carried out with the help of unsolicited email or a fake website that often looks like a legitimate site. The target is prompted to provide valuable or secret personal and financial information. The scammer then uses this information to commit identity theft or financial theft.
Anyone who receives an unsolicited email that looks like it might be from the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, like the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System should report it immediately to phishing@irs.gov.

Phone scams

Under no circumstances should you ever dial 90# on your telephone. If you receive a telephone call from individuals identifying themselves as service technicians from your phone company who say they are conducting a test on the telephone lines and tell you that in order to complete the test you should touch nine (9), zero (0), the pound sign (#), and then hang up. Do not do this. According to all phone companies, if you push 90#, you give the requesting individual full access to your telephone line, which enables them to place long distance calls billed to your home phone number.

Tax-return preparer fraud scams

Most taxpayers use tax professionals to prepare and file their tax returns. Most tax-form preparers provide honest service, but unfortunately there are some that practice fraud and arrange to skim off their clients' refunds or charge vastly inflated fees. Every paid tax-form preparer needs to have a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN) and enter it on each return prepared. Do not sign a form that does not include a Preparer Tax identification Number on it, and make sure you get a copy of your tax return. If you have questions, contact the IRS exam unit at 866-897-0161.

How to best protect yourself

Is your investment a scam? With just four questions, FINRA's Scam Meter can help you tell whether an investment you are thinking about might be a scam. Check the Scam Meter at http://apps.finra.org/meters/1/scammeter.aspx.
The most common scams that affect older Americans are:
  • Health-care and insurance fraud and scams
  • Counterfeit prescription scams
  • Medical identity fraud
  • Funeral and cemetery fraud
  • Fraudulent “anti-aging” products
  • Telemarketing fraud
  • Internet fraud
  • Investment schemes
  • Reverse-mortgage scams
Common sense suggestions to help you avoid being scammed:
  1. Never give anyone you don't know your personal information, even if they represent themselves as your bank, IRS, credit-card issuer, etc.
  2. Never give money to anyone you don't know regardless of the opportunity.
  3. Never give money to friends or relatives calling from out of the country or some obscure location without carefully checking to make sure it is actually your relative or friend.
  4. Be careful of any unsolicited request for funds.
Art Koff, Founder

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