Last month, I asked readers to share their experiences as targets of fraud. I did that because online and telephone fraud is a greater threat than ever, and I wanted to make it real -- to encourage everyone to be on their guard. Until a few years ago, I counted myself among those not overly concerned. After several near-brushes with danger, I am convinced: we are all at risk.
As expected, I heard about multiple creative scams. The bad guys have a lot of time to think of ever more clever ways to fool us -- fake offers of anti-virus software, texts claiming your credit card has been compromised, fake e-greeting card emails, scammer calls from the IRS, Social Security, credit card companies, insurers and warranty providers ... well, you get the idea.
While many of the stories were unique, there are a few lessons.
- Your Social Security number is the biggest pot of gold. Protect it at all costs. If a thief can get it, they will attempt to open a credit card in your name, apply for Social Security benefits in your name or apply for a loan in your name.
- Freezing your credit at the three credit reporting agencies will greatly reduce your risk. Even if someone has stolen your identity, they will have a hard time opening a credit card if your credit is frozen. A link for more info on credit freezes is here.
- Slow down. Before you click on any link (including the one above), ask yourself: do I trust this email, or this phone call, or this text? If you're not sure, delete it (or hang up). You can always contact the sender / caller to ask if the contact was legit.
- Be willing to pay for safety - with your time. I don't mean you should buy a service. But steps like freezing your credit (and then having to unfreeze it temporarily if you are getting a mortgage or new credit card) are a hassle. But talk with someone whose identity was stolen. You'll understand that the far greater hassle is fighting for months or years to clear your credit and take back your identity.
Probably not many of you made a new year's resolution to better protect your identity. But I hope you will.
Here's to a cyber-safe 2021.