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Free credit freezes and fraud alerts - New September 2018

Free credit freezes (security freezes) and year-long fraud alerts are now the law.

How to set the new free credit freeze.

You can now set and lift credit freezes for free. Fraud alerts, also free, now last for one year instead of 90 days as they used to. These changes are effective September 21, 2018.

Credit freezes, also known as security freezes, restrict access to your personal credit file. This makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts using your identity. You can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can do a free freeze for your children who are under 16. You can get a free freeze on behalf of a person if you are their guardian, conservator or have legal power of attorney.

How do the new freezes work? Contact the three nationwide credit reporting agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (Google or go to websites). If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request to lift the freeze, the credit bureaus must do it within one hour. If you request by mail, the agencies must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it receives your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee (this is really useful if you want to apply for credit.)

Important: A credit freeze is NOT the same as a credit lock. They work in similar ways. However locks may have fees and are not governed by law. If you want a free freeze guaranteed by federal law, then choose a freeze, rather than a lock. In our opinion, if you get a lock as free with another service, it's worth using. A freeze is the way to go for the best protection.

TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788

Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

How to use the new year-long fraud alerts

As of September 21, 2018, if you set a fraud alert, it will last one year, rather than 90 days. Fraud alerts will continue to be free. Victims of identity theft can still get a 7 year extended fraud alert. A fraud alert tells anyone that checks your credit that they should contact you before opening a new account. An alert does not mean that the credit bureaus actually send an alert to you. And it doesn't require that the business checking your credit contact you. In practice, most creditors and lenders will not extend credit if you have a fraud alert without contacting you first.

Military members will still have access to special active duty alerts. These let them place a fraud alert for one year, renewable for the time they are deployed. The active duty alert also requires that the credit reporting agencies take their name off their marketing lists for pre-screened offers of credit or insurance for two years.

To place a fraud alert or active duty alert visit the websites of any of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. You only need to contact ONE. The one you contact must notify the other two of the alert.

Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on September 21, 2018 at 10:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What is the difference between credit freeze and credit lock?

A credit lock is different from a freeze. A credit freeze (aka security freeze) is governed under state laws, credit locks are not.

These are the bureaus' credit lock services. A lock is one feature that may be included with other product benefits.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on September 28, 2017 at 12:53 PM | Permalink

Credit bureau fraud numbers

Phone numbers to call for customer service at the credit reporting companies if you suspect fraud or identity theft.
Experian 800-509-8495 option 2, 2, 3
TransUnion 855-681-3196 option 3
Equifax 877-528-6481 option 1

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on February 12, 2017 at 04:40 PM | Permalink

Medical identity theft tips

Medical ID theft is a dangerous and growing threat. This article provides some tips to protect yourself. more...

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on December 31, 2016 at 06:44 PM | Permalink

Protecting your identity in light of so many data breaches

With all of the media surrounding the Target, Neiman Marcus, and, now, Michaels data breaches (and potentially other retail outlets), it can be overwhelming to determine what you should do to protect yourself. Even though you can't prevent a breach, there are steps you can and should take to prevent future headache and harm.

This is an important alert to read even if you weren't a victim of the recent breaches. As privacy and security professionals say on a regular basis, data breaches aren't a question of "if", they are a question of "when." It is best to be prepared and proactive.

1. Monitor your accounts. Check the financial account(s) you used to make your purchase at the breached retailer on a regular basis – preferably online. Don’t wait for the monthly statement. If there is any charge -- including a very small charge -- that you did not make or authorize, call the financial institution immediately.

2. Credit cards are better than debit cards. Always. If you used a debit card at the breached retailer, call your financial institution and request that they issue you a new card (if they haven't already). And in the meantime monitor your account closely and report any loss as soon as you notice it.

3. Take advantage of free credit monitoring services, but realize their limitations. In the cases of Target and Neiman Marcus, they are each offering a single-bureau monitoring service (there are three credit bureaus). This can be helpful if someone gains access to your Social Security number and tries to open a new account in your name, but it does not protect you against other forms of fraud.

Go directly to to sign up for the service Target is offering. You will find Neiman Marcus' service here:

4. Watch out for fraudsters. If you follow these general rules, you will largely reduce your chances of falling victim to common scams.

Never give sensitive information out to anyone who calls you. Chances are no breached company is going to call everyone whose records were breached—even if your caller ID says otherwise. It's safe to say the same applies with any law enforcement or government agency, bank, or other entity that may have a reason to need sensitive information.

Watch for fraudulent emails. Don't open attachments unless you BOTH trust the sender and are expecting an attachment from them. Don’t respond to an email asking for any sensitive information even if it looks official.

5. Keep up with your credit reports. It doesn't matter if you've been the victim of a data breach, you are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. We recommend spacing them out and ordering one report every four months. Only do this through the official site, Don’t fall for websites with similar names.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on January 27, 2014 at 06:43 PM | Permalink

Credit Repair and The Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (known as FCRA) goes back to 1970 as an amendment to the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The FCRA provides consumer protection in the areas of fairness, accuracy, and privacy of the information collected by the credit bureaus. It also governs the credit repair and maintenance processes, verifying that the information in your credit report is correct.

Federal consumer rights under the FCRA include:

  • Access to your credit report. You have the right to know what is in your credit file. The FCRA requires Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax to provide you with a free copy of each report once per year. You are also entitled to receive a free copy of your report if:

    • A potential lender views it
    • You are the victim of identity theft and/or want to place a fraud alert in your credit file
    • You request public assistance
    • You are unemployed and plan to apply for a new job within 60 days
  • Access to your credit score. Your credit score provides potential creditors with a numerical indication of how likely you are to repay borrowed money. Based upon information found within your credit report, this number helps lenders, insurance companies, and other businesses decide whether or not to do business with you. The credit bureaus are required to provide your credit score if you request it, however it may come with a small fee attached.

  • Notification when your credit information is used against you. If your application for insurance coverage, auto loan, mortgage, or other type of credit is denied, the lender must inform you of the decision. They must also provide the contact information of the credit bureau that gave them access to your report.

  • The right to dispute information on your credit report. Incomplete or false information can drag your credit score down. In addition to viewing your credit report, the FCRA allows you to trigger an investigation with the credit bureaus if you spot an error. Once the information is verified as false or inaccurate, it must be deleted or corrected within 30 days. Keep in mind that our service demands that creditors and bureaus uphold two additional reporting standards pursuant to other applicable laws -fairness and substantiation - in addition to simple accuracy.

  • The right to delete outdated information. Negative citations such as collections and bankruptcies can remain on your credit report for a maximum of 7 to 10 years. After this time period has passed, the credit bureaus must remove them from your report. Remember, though, that there is no minimum reporting period, so creditors or credit bureaus can remove information even earlier if they choose to do so.

  • The right to decide who views your credit report. No one can view your credit report without your permission. The FCRA requires lenders, landlords, employers, and other interested parties to obtain consent before viewing your credit report.

  • The right to opt out of unsolicited offers. If you're tired of receiving pre-approved credit applications and insurance coverage offers, you have legal recourse. Businesses that send these offers must include a toll-free number that allows you to remove your name from their solicitation list.

  • The right to legal action. Your credit report is valuable, and the FCRA prevents outsiders from misusing it. For more information, contact a credit repair professional, or visit the Federal Trade Commission

We are not experts on the FCRA. The FCRA is a broad and detailed legislation with many areas. FCRA compliance and the details and requirements of the enforcement actions of the government regulators that handle FCRA are outside the scope of our knowledge.


Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 3, 2013 at 05:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What is Credit Repair?

Federal law says that information about you that is reported to the credit bureaus must be accurate and fair. However, the Federal Trade Commission reports that one in four consumers have errors on their credit reports that lower their credit scores.

Credit repair is about fixing these errors so your credit report and credit score are the best they can be. The process, which can be quite challenging, involves disputing the errors in your report directly with the credit bureaus.

What kind of errors might be on your report? Late payments, unknown accounts, collections, foreclosures, charge-offs, liens, judgments, or bankruptcies. Any of these can reduce your credit score by a significant amount. 

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 7, 2013 at 04:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How fast does your credit score recover from your goofs?

Experts say you can expect a late payment to hurt your credit score for seven years, with your score gradually recovering over that time frame as you make smart borrowing decisions -- though exactly how much and how fast your score recovers isn't entirely clear.

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act says that negative items can only appear on your credit report for seven years, but it doesn't say how the credit industry should treat the impact of those items after they happen. That vagueness, combined with the secrecy and complexity involved in credit scoring, mean that it's tough to say exactly how a borrower's credit score will recover from a late payment. Still, provided the borrower makes smart decisions following a slip-up, time will heal those credit wounds.

"Every consumer's situation is different, but generally speaking, the impact from a negative item, such as a late payment, will lessen as that item ages" says Steve Katz, spokesman for credit bureau TransUnion.

While FICO, creator of the most-widely used scoring model, largely keeps the details of its scoring model a secret, we do know the approximate damage a late payment will cause. FICO pulled the curtain back a bit on its scoring model recently when it acknowledged just how much certain credit mistakes can hurt a borrower's credit score. For example, in the case of two hypothetical consumers, FICO said that a 30-day late payment would reduce a FICO score of 680 by 60 to 80 points, while an identical late payment would reduce a FICO score of 780 by 90 to 110 points. (For more on this topic, see our story on FICO's damage points.) You can run FICO's credit score simulator to get an idea of how much damage various mistakes, including a late payment, may cause to your own credit score.

Read more

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How your credit utilization ratio is calculated

The calculation of your credit score combines a wide-angle view of your total combined credit utilization -- including any authorized credit card accounts -- with a close-up view of each individual credit card account. 

FICO says it takes that approach in order to get the most accurate view possible of a person's credit utilization, or their existing debt levels compared to their available lines of credit. As you already know, FICO's scoring model -- by far the most widely used in the United States -- pays close attention to that ratio, and you're wise to do the same.

"The utilization rate is an important indicator of lending risk. A person who is charging to the limit on their credit cards is far more likely to suddenly have repayment problems than a person who uses their credit cards sparingly," says Rod Griffin, director of public education with credit bureau Experian. For credit scores, "the lower the utilization rate, the better," Griffin says.

Read more 

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 11:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What everyone should know about credit reports and scores

Don't be overly concerned with your credit score. It can be a serious challenge to ever really "know" that number. That's because these scores vary based on when they are calculated (since they originate from a momentary snapshot of your credit report) and the scoring model itself. (There are many scores out there, including FICO, VantageScore, proprietary models and "educational" scores that aren't used by any lenders). Your credit score number can -- and does -- vary from day to day and lender to lender. As a result, at a given moment in time, it's extremely difficult to truly "know" your credit score with any certainty.    

So instead of placing emphasis on that score, focus on your credit reports. Those reports are the basis for lending decisions, regardless of the scoring model used. In some cases, they are even used for hiring decisions. Note that I said "credit reports" -- plural. That's because you've got a report with each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) that maintain a record of individual U.S. consumers' borrowing behavior. Unless lenders tell you, it's difficult to know what report they may be working with. Since the information listed in those bureaus' reports can differ, you need to look at each one for a complete picture of where you stand.

Read more  

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 11:29 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

5 traits that go along with a lower credit score

You know how important good credit is, so you watch your credit-related activity closely. You limit credit inquiries, maintain a respectable debt-to-income ratio and -- of course -- pay the bills on time.

But know this: The credit industry is watching right back. If you've checked your credit report, you can see it tracks your individual behavior, but did you know it tracks how we behave in groups? In search of ways to identify the most creditworthy customers, the industry and academics have studied where we live, who we are, how we behave -- and how these traits relate to credit scores.

So, the studies say, a pack-a-day smoker from Harlingen, Texas, is likely to have a worse credit score than a very patient woman from Wausau, Wis.

Hold the e-mails, though -- these unexpected traits that go along with lower credit scores are just correlations, not causations. It's not cause and effect. "None of these things are factored into your score, but have been studied alongside credit scores," explains Michele Raneri, vice president of analytics for Experian.

Keep reading to learn about five things that tend to go along with a lower credit score.

Read more

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 11:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

10 things you should know about identity theft

Identity theft is often in the news, but there are a lot of misconceptions swirling around about how to best protect yourself.

While some identity thieves focus on getting your credit cards and maxing them out before you even realize they're missing, an increasing number are using one piece of information about you -- often a credit card number -- in order to steal your entire identity.

Though many folks worry about keeping their credit card information secure when shopping online, the top methods that identity thieves use to steal personal data are still low-tech, according to Justin Yurek, president of ID Watchdog, an identity theft-monitoring firm. "Watch your personal documents, be careful to whom you give out your data over the phone, and be careful of mail theft," he says.

Read more

Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on March 20, 2013 at 11:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cybercriminals Recruit Dupes With Bogus Job Offer Emails

It’s not uncommon for users to receive links that point to a shady website that advertises work-from-home jobs. However, this is not the only method preferred by fraudsters and in some cases they’re looking for much more than someone who’s willing to pay a small fee for the key to success. The crooks continue by highlighting the fact that it’s not a scam and present a short list of basic requirements. Finally, they mention the amount of money that can be earned and, as expected, the amount is fairly high for a job that involves typing and making a few calls.

A noteworthy fact is that the emails originate from email addresses hosted at, a domain registered at a Chinese registrar that’s known to support shady operations. However, this is not just a regular job scam. In reality, it’s an attempt to recruit money mules – knowing or unknowing individuals who help fraudsters launder money.

So, if you reply to such an offer (we highly recommend against doing so), you shouldn’t be surprised if your “employer” would ask you to transfer some money to and from your bank account, send money via Western Union, or perform other suspicious transactions.


Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 8, 2012 at 11:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Medical Identity Theft: What it is and How to Protect Yourself

While it's the fastest-growing type of identity theft, a new Nationwide Insurance survey reveals few people know what medical identity theft is or how devastating it can be to your credit and your health.

The national telephone survey commissioned by Nationwide Insurance was conducted by Harris Interactive in February among 2,001 adults with health insurance. It found only 1 in 6 (15%) of insured adults say they are familiar with medical identity theft. Of that 15% only one in three (38 percent) could correctly define "medical identity."

"A stolen medical identity has a $50 street value -- whereas a stolen social security number, on the other hand, only sells for $1*," said Kirk Herath, Nationwide Chief Privacy Officer. "However, while most people are very careful with their social security number to protect their credit and personal information, they tend to be less careful when it comes to their medical information."

What is "Medical Identify Theft?"

Medical ID theft occurs when one person steals another's medical information to obtain or pay for health care treatment. It's a crime that can have a serious impact on your personal, financial and medical well being.

According to the World Privacy Foundation, medical identity theft has affected 1.5 million Americans at a cost of more than $30 billion.

If someone steals your medical information they illegally can use your health care insurance to obtain medical care, buy prescription drugs or submit false insurance claims in your name, all of which can lead to devastating financial results or potentially hazardous changes to your medical records.

The three most common ways your medical identity could be compromised are:

-- Financial medical identity theft -- Someone is getting medical help using your name and/or other information.

-- Criminal medical identity theft -- You are being held responsible for the actions of another's criminal behavior.

-- Government benefit fraud -- Your medical benefits are being used by another person.

Devastating Consequences, Difficult Recovery

According to a Nationwide Insurance survey, more than half (56%) of insured adults said it's likely that their credit card or credit card number would be stolen, while only one-third (32%) say they expect their medical identification to be stolen.

About one in five (22%) believe the most likely consequence would be that their health insurance could be cancelled, when in reality hazardous changes could be made to their medical records compromising their health.

"These are warning signs that should not be ignored," Herath said. "The cost and time associated with cleaning up a medical account is sizeable."

The personal expense of resolving a medical identity theft is about $20,000, according to actual victims. The same victims also said they had spent four to six months resolving the theft**.

More than half of the study participants underestimated how long it would take to restore their medical identity. Nineteen percent or about 1 in 5 said it would take less than two weeks. And more than half underestimated or didn't know how much it would cost.

When it comes to taking proactive measures to review their medical records for errors, 75 percent or 3 of 4 study participants "trust" that their medical records are correct.

"Blind faith in a medical record is risky behavior," Herath said. "Nationwide Insurance recommends being as knowledgeable about your medical records as you are about your financial reports."

Tips to protect your Medical Identity

Here are a few things you can do to safeguard your medical identity:

-- Closely monitor any "Explanation of Benefits" sent by health insurers

-- Pro-actively request a listing of benefits from your health insurers

-- Request a copy of current medical files from each health care provider

-- If you are victim, file a police report

-- Correct erroneous and false information in your file

-- Keep an eye on your credit report

-- Request an accounting of disclosures


Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on June 15, 2012 at 12:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

IRS Tax Return Identity Theft Hotline

If you think someone used your identity to file a fraudulent tax return and snatch your refund, call the new Tax Return Identity Theft Hotline.

Launched today by the IRS criminal investigations division and the U.S. Attorney's Office, the number is 412-395-4973.

Last summer, scam artists set up shop in Erie and began offering people help tapping into a fictitious federal stimulus program, then stole their identities, IRS criminal investigations spokesman Andrew Hromoko said. If anything similar happens this year, calls to the hotline could help the agency to identify the scheme quickly.

Callers who leave a message will receive a return call from a special agent within 24 to 48 hours.

A taxpayer who believes they are at risk of identity theft due to lost or stolen personal information should also contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490 so the agency can secure their tax account.


Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on June 15, 2012 at 11:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to protect personal data on old devices you sell

Thinking of selling or giving away your smartphone or laptop computer? If you have a BlackBerry or an iPhone, go right ahead. But if you have an Android phone or a computer running Windows XP, you may want to hold off.

It turns out that it's almost impossible to get rid of personal information from some devices, even if you follow the manufacturer's directions for wiping the device clean.

Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert for the technology security firm McAfee, found this out in an experiment he conducted over the fall and winter. He bought 30 electronic devices from Craigslist — mostly smartphones and laptops — to see how effective people were at removing personal information from their gadgets before selling them.


Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on April 2, 2012 at 03:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Children 51 times more likely to be ID theft victim

Why are kids so vulnerable? Because they have unused, unblemished credit profiles. Richard Power, Distinguished Fellow, Carnegie Mellon CyLab, recently published the first ever child identity theft report based on identity protection scans of over 40,000 U.S. children. It is extremely alarming that 10.2% of the children in the report had someone else using their Social Security numbers. That figure is 51 times higher than the rate for adults of the same population.

Most people can't imagine a child's identity would be valuable. That comes from a lack of understanding of how the credit system works in the US.

Because children have untouched and unblemished credit records, they are highly attractive targets. More importantly, their credit reports are usually never looked at for years and years, so the thief can get away with the crime for longer. Child identity theft is profitable, hard to detect and a nightmare to recover. Thieves steal a child’s identity early on, nurture it until they have a solid credit score, and then abuse and discard it. If it’s not discovered in time, fraudulent use of your child’s identity could mean the loss of educational and job opportunities and starting off adulthood at a serious disadvantage with someone else’s bad credit in her name. All an identity thief needs to ruin your child’s bright financial future is her name and Social Security Number.

Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on March 27, 2012 at 09:27 AM | Permalink

Social media use leads to increase in identity theft

Big users of social networks and smartphones have a higher risk of ID theft.

About 12 million Americans got hit by identity fraud in 2011, a 13% increase from a year earlier, thanks to consumers' growing use of social-media websites and smartphones, plus a sharp jump in security breaches, according to a recent report from Javelin Strategy & Research.

"The new ways in which people can communicate with each other create new risks," says Joel Winston, chief privacy officer at ID Analytics, a consumer risk-management company.
Some 7% of smartphone owners became identity-fraud victims in 2011, the Javelin survey of 5,000 consumers found. Smartphone users are about one-third more likely to fall prey to identity fraud than the general public, the report found.

Why? Because smartphones are minicomputers that store vast quantities of personal information, yet many users don't protect their smartphones the way they do laptops and PCs.


Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on March 25, 2012 at 04:00 PM | Permalink

When to Consider Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy is a process that many debtors turn to once they realize that they need help with a large debt load. Bankruptcy is a legal procedure that you can use to have your debt discharged right away. While there are some times that bankruptcy is not your best option, there are a few times where bankruptcy is definitely the best option to pursue. Read more...

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 8, 2012 at 06:10 PM | Permalink

Opt-Out of online behavioral advertising

The Network Advertising Initiative Opt-Out Tool was developed for the express purpose of allowing consumers to "opt out" of the behavioral advertising delivered by NAI member companies.

The companies that provide advertising for Websites typically gather data about consumers who view their ads. Often, that data is anonymous - linked only to a numbered "cookie" on a user's computer (a cookie is a small file of data that is stored by websites on your computer through your web browser). Advertising networks collect and analyze this data to make a variety of inferences about each consumer's interests and preferences. The result is a profile that attempts to predict the individual consumer's tastes, needs, and purchasing habits. That profile enables the advertising companies' computers to make split-second decisions about how to deliver ads directly targeted to the consumer's specific interests. The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) refers to this practice as "Online Behavioral Advertising" or "OBA."

These third-party advertising companies employ cookie and 1x1 pixel.gif (web beacon) technology to measure and improve the effectiveness of ads for their clients. To do so, these companies may use anonymous information about your visits to many websites. This information can include: date/time of banner ad shown, their cookie, and IP address among the data that is collected. This information can also be used for online preference marketing purposes. Information about your visits to such Web sites may be used to provide ads about goods and services of interest to you (or that they think are of interest to you based on your past web browsing).

Using the Opt-Out Tool, you can examine your computer to identify those member companies that have placed an advertising cookie file on your computer. To opt out of an NAI member's behavioral advertising program, simply check the box that corresponds to the company from which you wish to opt out. Alternatively, you can check the box labeled "Select All" and each member's opt-out box will be checked for you. Next click the "Submit" button. The Tool will automatically replace the specified advertising cookie(s) and verify your opt-out status.

Opting out of a network does not mean you will no longer receive online advertising. It does mean that the network from which you opted out will no longer deliver ads tailored to your Web preferences and usage patterns.

The opt-outs are specific to every browser so you must run the tool for every browser you use. The opt-outs will only remain in effect as long as the opt-out cookies it places into your browser's storage still exist. So if you get a new computer, uninstall your browser or delete all the browser cookies, you will have to run the Opt-Out Tool again.

Network Advertising Initiative Opt-Out Tool |  FAQ

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on January 12, 2012 at 09:33 AM | Permalink

EFF Raises Privacy Concerns About AOL Instant Messenger

The new preview version of AOL Instant Messenger raised privacy concerns for us when it was first introduced, first because it started storing more logs of communications and second, because it apparently scanned all private IMs for URLs and pre-fetched any URLs found in them. We met with AOL to discuss how these features work and why the company should take greater care with your data, and we’re happy to say that AOL is promising to make some important changes as a result, especially in response to our second concern.

However, we still recommend that AIM users do not switch to the new version, as it introduces important privacy-unfriendly features. Unfortunately, AOL's moves are in keeping with a general trend toward more pervasive cloud-based services in which your personal chat data is centrally stored in plain text and an easy target for law enforcement and criminals. This shift toward central logging is troubling in many situations, including in chat.  


We appreciate AOL's willingness to discuss these changes with us and we're extremely pleased to see AOL taking some steps to safeguard their users' privacy and give better notice, which only becomes more important as the company moves toward providing more cloud-based services. Nevertheless, we think there’s more AOL should do to respect its customers' privacy and to fully inform them about, and get opt-in agreement to, these significant changes.

Bottom line: Because signing onto the new version of AIM permanently changes your account settings to log all conversations to AOL’s servers by default, we recommend that existing AIM users do not upgrade. As always, we recommend users stay safer online by using chat clients that are compatible with OTR.

More at

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on January 5, 2012 at 10:42 AM | Permalink

BBB Top Ten Scams of 2011

Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. Our new Scam Source ( is a comprehensive resource on scam investigations from BBBs around the country, with tips from BBB, law enforcement and others. You can sign up to receive our Scam Alerts by email, and you can also be a scam detective yourself by reporting scams you’ve discovered. We’ve divided scams up into nine major categories and picked the top scam in each, plus our Scam of the Year. 

Top Job Scam 
BBB sees lots of secret shopper schemes, work-from-home scams, and other phony job offers, but the worst job-related scam can dash your hopes and steal your identity. Emails, websites and online applications all look very professional, and the candidate is even interviewed for the job (usually over the phone) and then receives an offer. In order to start the job, however, the candidate has to fill out a “credit report” or provide bank information for direct deposit of their “paychecks.” The online forms are nothing more than a way to capture sensitive personal data – Social Security number, bank accounts, etc. – that can easily be used for identity theft. And, of course, there is no job, either. 

Top Sweepstakes and Lottery Scam 
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is almost always this: You’ve won a whole lot of money, and in order to claim it you have to send us a smaller amount of money. Oh, and keep this confidential until we’re ready to announce your big winnings. This year’s top sweepstakes scam was undoubtedly the email claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the recipient was the winner of $1 million from the popular social networking site. These kinds of scams often use celebrities or other famous names to make their offer seem more genuine. If you aren’t sure, don’t click on the link but instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned. If they are really giving away $1 million, there will be some kind of announcement on their website. But don’t waste too much time looking. 

Top Social Media/Online Dating Scam 
On the Internet, it’s easy to pretend to be someone you are not. Are you really friends with all of your “Friends” on Facebook? Do you have a lot of personal information on a dating site? With so much information about us online, a scammer can sound like they know you. There are tons of ways to use social media for scams, but one this year really stands out because it appeals to our natural curiosity…and it sounds like it’s coming from a friend. Viral videos claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden’s death to the latest celebrity hijinks have shown up on social media sites, often looking as if they have been shared by a friend. When you click on the link, you are prompted to “upgrade your Flash player,” but the file you end up downloading contains a worm that logs into your social media account, sends similar messages to your friends, and searches for your personal data. The next time you see a sensational headline for the latest viral video, resist the urge to peek. 

Top Home Improvement Scam 
Always near the top of BBB complaint data are home improvement contractors who often leave your home worse than they found it. They usually knock on your door with a story or a deal – the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on your roof, the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give you a great deal on driveway resealing. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law…and angry consumers. The worst are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help and may not be as suspicious as they would be under normal circumstances. A large percentage of BBB’s Accredited Businesses are home contractors who want to make sure you know they are legitimate, trustworthy and dependable. Find one at 

Top Check Cashing Scam 
Two legitimate companies – Craig’s List and Western Union – are used for an inordinate amount of scamming these days, and especially check cashing scams. Here’s how it works: Someone contacts you via a Craig’s List posting, maybe for a legitimate reason like buying your old couch or perhaps through a scam like hiring you as a secret shopper. Either way, they send you a check for more than the amount they owe you, and they ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via Western Union. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces, you are out whatever money you wired…and you’re still stuck with the old couch. 

Top Phishing Scam 
“Phishing” is when you receive a suspicious phone call asking for personal information or an email that puts a virus on your computer to hunt for your data. It’s almost impossible to avoid them if you have a telephone or an email account. But the most pernicious phishing scam this year disguised itself as official communication from NACHA – the National Automated Clearing House Association – which facilitates the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions every year. The email claims one of your transactions did not go through, and it hopes you react quickly and click on the link before thinking it through. It may take you to a fake banking site “verify” you account information, or it may download malware to infiltrate your computer. 

Top Identity Theft Scam 
There are a million ways to steal someone’s identity. This one has gotten so prevalent that many hotels are posting warnings in their lobby. Here’s how it works: You get a call in your hotel room in the middle of the night. It’s the front desk clerk, very apologetic, saying their computer has crashed and they need to get your credit card number again, or they must have gotten the number wrong because the transaction won’t go through, and could you please read the number back so they can fix the problem? Scammers are counting on you being too sleepy to catch on that the call isn’t from the hotel at all, but from someone outside who knows the direct-dial numbers for the guest rooms. By the time morning rolls around and you are clear-headed, your credit card has been on a major shopping spree. 

Top Financial Scam 
In challenging economic times, many people are looking for help getting out of debt or hanging on to their home, and almost as many scammers appear to take advantage of desperate situations. Because the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs this year, all kinds of sound-alike websites have popped up to try to fool consumers into parting with their money. Some sound like a government agency, or even part of BBB or other nonprofit consumer organization. Most ask for an upfront fee to help you deal with your mortgage company or the government (services you could easily do yourself for free), and almost all leave you in more debt than when you started. 

Top Sales Scam 
Sales scams are as old as humanity, but the Internet has introduced a whole new way to rip people off. Penny auctions are very popular because it seems like you can get something useful - cameras, computers, etc. – for way below retail. But you pay a small fee for each bid (usually 50₵ to $1.00) and if you aren’t the winner, you lose that bid money. Winners often are not even the top bidder, just the last bidder when time runs out. Although not all penny auction sites are scams, some are being investigated as online gambling. BBB recommends you treat them the same way you would legal gambling in a casino – know exactly how the bidding works, set a limit for yourself, and be prepared to walk away before you go over that limit. 

Scam of the Year 
Yep, it’s us – the BBB phishing scam. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gotten emails that very much look like an official notice from BBB. The subject line says something like “Complaint Against Your Business,” and the instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus is launched on their computer…a virus that can steal banking information, passwords and other critical pieces of information needed for cyber-theft. BBB is working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of these emails, and has already shut down dozens of hijacked websites. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If your computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned, as well

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on January 5, 2012 at 10:38 AM | Permalink

What to Do if You Got Taken by 12 Daily Pro Scam

Do you have money in 12 Daily Pro (or StormPay) and don’t know what to do? Go here: Truston Identity Theft Blog

Category: Consumer Tips, FRAUD ALERTS, ID Theft News
Posted on February 19, 2006 at 01:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Consumer Protection: It's the Name of the Game! For National Consumer Protection Week 2006

Agencies in U.S. and Canada Promote Education, Awareness, and Partnerships

The Federal Trade Commission has launched the eighth annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), February 5-11, 2006, in cooperation with federal, state, and local agencies, and national advocacy organizations committed to consumer protection and education. At the Canadian Embassy today, the FTC, with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Postal Service’s Consumer Advocate, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, PhoneBusters, and Canada’s Competition Bureau announced their commitment to combat cross-border fraud as part of NCPW. The FTC also unveiled the “Grand Scam Challenge,” online, interactive games that teach consumers about topics such as identity theft, the National Do Not Call Registry, and spam.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on February 14, 2006 at 09:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

New identity theft law put into effect (NC)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A new North Carolina law that went into effect Thursday will make it more difficult for identity thieves to operate.

The Identity Theft Protection Act, signed last fall by Gov. Mike Easley, will allow consumers to put a security freeze on their credit reports to prevent identity thieves from opening accounts and generating credit using stolen information.

from News 14 Carolina

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on December 3, 2005 at 03:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New Identity Theft Laws Go Into Effect Over Next Two Months

November 28, 2005 – North Carolina and New Jersey both have strong, new identity theft laws that are set to go into effect. The North Carolina law will go into effect this coming Thursday and New Jersey’s law will be effective on January 1, 2006. Both laws give consumers a broad range of new protections. But both laws are also vulnerable to a proposed federal law misnamed the Data Accountability and Trust Act, which overturn certain provisions of the new state laws.

Both the New Jersey and North Carolina laws will allow consumers to place a freeze on their credit file. This is widely believed to be the only way to stop identity thieves in their tracks. Consumers who freeze their credit file are required to provide a Personal Identification Number (PIN) when applying for credit.

from GuardMyCreditFile

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on November 28, 2005 at 06:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Checked your homeowners policy lately?

Many homeowners insurance policies provide identity fraud insurance. So check your discosure and see what you get. And if you get a renewal disclosure, double check your ID theft coverage again. My renewal showed that Travelers broadened my coverage significantly this year. For example, they eliminated the deductible, increased the lost wages component, and several other benefits. And for those with renters insurance, check your disclosure for ID fraud coverage as well.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on November 24, 2005 at 09:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

California Bankers Association Helps you Avoid Identity Theft

SACRAMENTO, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 15, 2005--In an effort to help protect California's holiday shoppers from identity thieves, the California Bankers Association (CBA) today announced the launch of its identity theft prevention campaign.

"The California Bankers Association wants to help people protect themselves against thieves and fraudsters," said CBA president and CEO Janet W. Lamkin. "We have chosen the holiday shopping season to educate consumers because this is the time of year so many identity thieves choose to strike -- when consumers are caught up in and distracted by the frenzy of holiday shopping."

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on November 15, 2005 at 06:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Legislation update

This is an update on the rights consumers have regarding identity theft and what legislation has passed or is pending. Several states passed laws in just the last couple of weeks.

Security freezes: Things are changing fast here. As of today. residents of four states — California, Louisiana, Texas, Vermont — have the right to freeze access to their credit reports. To use this law, consumers generally must write — and often send a fee — to each of the three major credit bureaus, asking them to deny access to their credit reports. Without access to credit reports, lenders will not grant credit, and that stops identity thieves. (To unfreeze a credit report, consumers must use a personal identification number.)

Residents of additional states — Connecticut, New Jersey, Colorado, Maine, Illinois, Nevada and Washington — will have the ability to freeze credit reports within months, thanks to laws passed this year. Specific instructions on how to place a credit freeze on a California consumer's file can be found at .

Fraud alerts: All U.S. citizens have the right to place a 90-day fraud alert on their credit file, requiring banks to take extra steps to verify their identity before issuing credit. This is no where close to a guarantee; you have no way of knowing which creditors will look at the alert and what they'll do if they see it.

Longer fraud alerts, lasting up to seven years, can be placed on files by identity theft victims who can provide the credit bureaus with a copy of a report from police or the state department of motor vehicles verifying the theft.

Credit reports: Federal law also provides the right to one free credit report each year. (Unfamiliar items on a consumer's credit report are often the first telltale sign of identity theft.) Anyone wanting a report, or wanting to know when they can receive one, can call (877) 322-8228 or go to

Pre-approved offers: Federal law allows consumers to opt out of pre-approved credit card offers. To opt out, call (888) 567-8688.

Notification: Fifteen states, including California, have laws on the books requiring companies to notify consumers when they lose track of their personal information, exposing them to identity theft, Smith said. The other states, which passed their laws this year, are Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington. California law requires disclosure of only electronic data breaches, not loss of paper records.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 13, 2005 at 09:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You can help shut down job scams

Ok, readers. I've received thousands of emails (yes, thousands) from people that were victimized or have observed the bogus job postings on the job web sites. You know, the work-at-home, check cashing, & international shipping scams.

Now you can do something about it--at least on I received an email from them today with directions on what to do (see the end of this post).


Now we need Monster and the others to step up like careerbuilder has. And, despite this response from careerbuilder, we all should be intrepid and make sure actually shuts down these bogus postings FAST., thanks for your response...and we are watching. Readers--by keeping an eye on careerbuilder and reporting bogus job postings, you will actively be helping someone else out there in the world. Your time is appreciated.

--Tom, Editor,

[Here's the email...]

"Dear Editor of,

We are writing you in regards to the information that you are telling people on your web site and this specific quote that was used in regards to job boards "(The job boards continue to aid and abet international crime rings. )". does not endorse international crime rings or aid them in taking advantage of unsuspecting jobseekers or customers.  In fact we at have established an actual team of specialists called the Site Integrity Team that prides itself in protecting our users and using various methodologies to prescreen any kind of questionable opportunities that fraudulent users try to put on the web site.  As we know that you have a different perspective on this matter we would appreciate you giving people a place to contact the Site Integrity Team either by email at or by phone at 1-866-438-1485 x3099.  Again we appreciate what you do for your users and ask that you cooperate with us and allow us to assist you in any kind of questionable matters that may arise in regards to the web site.


The Site Integrity Team
1-866-438-1485 x3099"

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 8, 2005 at 05:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

What is FDIC-Insured?

Many consumers mistakenly assume that FDIC* insurance must protect them from a fraud or theft if the funds were taken from an insured account. But by law, deposit insurance only protects your accounts up to $250,000 (was $100,000) if your insured bank or savings institution fails.

*=Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on May 15, 2005 at 05:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Midwest Consumers Get Free Credit Reports

Midwest Consumers Get Free Credit Reports -- What to Know  Before You Get Yours

A new federal law, known as the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, or FACTA, was adopted by Congress in 2003 and gives consumers nationwide the right to receive a free copy of their credit report. The law is being phased in through the U.S., starting on the West Coast on December 1, 2004. Now individuals living in the Midwest can receive their reports as of March 1, 2005. By September 1, 2005, consumers east of the Midwest region will get the same right as the law is rolled out across the country.

Starting March 1, consumers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin are entitled to one free copy of their credit report annually from each of the nationwide credit bureaus.

With access to credit reports free of charge, individuals can more readily monitor reports to learn if they are victims of identity theft or if their credit reports contain errors. Often, errors on a credit report cause consumers to pay higher interest rates for credit. A recent survey by US PIRG found a high degree of inaccuracies in credit reports.

Consumers can request their free credit reports through a web site, or by calling toll-free 877-322-8228

The PRC suggests that consumers stagger their free reports over the course of a year by ordering one report every four months. Thus, consumers can monitor their credit throughout the year to alert them to possible identity theft.

For more information about free credit reports in the Midwest see

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on March 14, 2005 at 11:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Investment Fraud tips

Investment Fraud tips:

  • If an investment firm claims it can double your money (or more) in a short time, it is a scam.
  • You should never give cash to someone for an investment. Reputable businesses want you to have records of your transactions.
  • If you are told that there is a rumor about two companies planning to merge so now is the time to purchase lots of stock in these companies, go to a reputable source and find out if there is any truth to this information.
  • When making an investment, always have a knowledgeable third party look over the information.
  • Never accept a verbal contract.
  • Always check an investment firm's track record. In CA, call the Department of Corporation's toll-free number (866) ASK-CORP (275-2677), between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or go to

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on January 22, 2005 at 10:47 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Ohio Attorney general offers ID card to help identify theft victims

CLEVELAND -- By January, identity theft victims will be able to get ID cards from the state of Ohio to show creditors, banks and police while they try to recover from financial losses or crimes others committed using a victim's personal information.

Attorney General Jim Petro introduced the wallet-size Theft Verification Passport cards Tuesday.

from ONN

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on December 16, 2004 at 12:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Federal Law provides A FREE CREDIT REPORT

Beginning December 1, 2004, if you live in California or "Western states", you will be able to get a free copy of your credit report once a year from the three nationwide companies that compile these financial profiles. This right will be phased in nationwide, but goes into effect first in the western states.

These consumer credit reports compiled by Equifax, Experian and Trans Union reflect where you live, how you pay your bills, whether you've been sued or filed for bankruptcy. The reports affect whether you can get a loan or credit card - and how much you will have to pay to borrow money. These reports also can affect your ability to get a job, rent a home or obtain insurance.

Because of its significance, you will want to make sure the reports contain accurate, complete and up-to-date information before you apply for a loan for major purchases such as a house, a car, insurance, or apply for a job.

Checking these reports also can help combat identity fraud since you will be able to spot if someone has opened unauthorized accounts in your name or there have been delinquent payments reported for purchases you didn't authorize or didn't even know were made.

Once every 12 months, you may order your reports from one, two or all three of the nationwide consumer reporting companies, separately or at the same time. One way to make the most of this opportunity is to order a report from just one of the three credit bureaus, then wait four months to order a report from another and, four months later, order a report from the third credit bureau. By repeating this process annually, you can monitor your credit report regularly, at no cost.

Use one of the following centralized systems developed by the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies to order your credit report.


Toll-free number: ( 8 7 7 )   3 2 2 - 8 2 2 8

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on December 10, 2004 at 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Check 21: Check Clearing for the 21st Century

Details about the newly effective check clearing system in the U.S.

The Check Clearing for the 21st Century Act (Check 21) was signed into law on October 28, 2003, and became effective on October 28, 2004. Check 21 is designed to foster innovation in the payments system and to enhance its efficiency by reducing some of the legal impediments to check truncation. The law facilitates check truncation by creating a new negotiable instrument called a substitute check, which permits banks to truncate original checks, to process check information electronically, and to deliver substitute checks to banks that want to continue receiving paper checks. A substitute check is the legal equivalent of the original check and includes all the information contained on the original check.

For more info, see the Federal Reserve Board's Consumer Guide to Check 21 and Substitute Checks.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on December 8, 2004 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Inside the dark art of phone fraud

By Lea Thompson
Dateline NBC

I've been covering phone fraud for years and every time I try to tackle one of these criminal chameleons I am struck by how ruthless they are. Many are phone gangsters. They work in gangs, they are very tough and they are extraordinarily elusive. Their victims are often the most vulnerable and the least able to take the monetary or the emotional hit.

It is hard to explain how clever and sophisticated these guys are unless you can infiltrate them with hidden cameras or catch them somehow in the middle of their crime...

It's astounding how often people get taken in these phone schemes. The FBI estimates losses from telemarketing fraud emanating just from Canada exceed $100 million a year. That may be a low figure because victims often don't report the crimes because they are too embarrassed or they never do realize they have been taken.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on November 6, 2004 at 09:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sellers run risk of identity theft when selling on eBay

A rhinestone jewelry reseller treasured the significant sales she was making on eBay until an identity thief trashed her account. They dragged her rhinestone reputation through the mud by selling a John Deere tractor for $19,000, among other things, under her screen name.

As a powerseller, the woman, who did not want to be identified, said she was popular with customers.

from The Daily Times

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on November 1, 2004 at 05:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Credit Bureaus Shun Identity Theft Weapon

NEW YORK - Little by little, a weapon against identity theft is gaining currency - but few people in the United States know about it.
It's called the security freeze, and it lets individuals block access to their credit reports until they personally unlock the files by contacting the credit bureaus and providing a PIN code.

from AP Wire

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on October 31, 2004 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


The Identity Theft Resource Center wishes to alert the public of several potential identity theft-related situations that might arise from a natural or man-made disaster. This information is based on observed criminal behavior in disaster situations. It is unfortunate but thieves do take advantage of all natural and man-made events. It is important that no one assumes that they are victims of identity theft if information is missing. It could be so badly destroyed by the disaster that NO one could read it again.

Category: Consumer Tips, FRAUD ALERTS
Posted on September 16, 2004 at 10:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

New law offers help for ID theft victims

Free credit reports, more useful fraud alerts and less frustration for victims are all great. But Congress could have done much, much more to protect the public as it revised the law.

Congress’ recent update of the Fair Credit Reporting Act wasn’t the hideous train wreck it could have been. The new rules actually provide some significant protections to identity-theft victims in most areas of the country.

Unfortunately, the reforms may turn out to be a step backward for residents of California, Texas and some other states that have much tougher laws in place. And lawmakers could have done a lot more to attack the real reason behind identity theft’s huge rise: lax practices by lenders.

from MSN

Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on August 25, 2004 at 02:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Anti-identity theft freeze gaining momentum

The security freeze on your credit file (which is different from an "alert") is not for everyone. But it offer the most protection possible from identity theft--at a price. See the FAQ for more about freeze and alerts. Also note that freezes are only available in California, Texas, Louisiana & Vermont. --ScamSafe Editor

NEW YORK (AP) -- Little by little, a weapon against identity theft is gaining currency -- but few people know about it.

It's called the security freeze, and it lets individuals block access to their credit reports until they personally unlock the files by contacting the credit bureaus and providing a PIN code.

The process is a bit of a hassle, and the credit-reporting industry believes it complicates things unnecessarily.

from CNN

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on August 3, 2004 at 09:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

7 tips to protect yourself from phishing scams

Although complete prevention is virtually impossible, there are some logical precautionary measures that both consumers and corporations can take in an attempt to reduce the potential of being conned by phishing scams. Here are 7 tips to protect yourself, from Fraud Watch International

1. SPAM Filters
Effective SPAM filters can reduce the number of fraudulent and malicious emails consumers are exposed to. SPAM filters can be applied at the Internet Service Provider's email gateway, or as software on the user's computer. It is recommended that both filters be applied to all emails.

2. Anti-Virus Software
To protect against Trojan and worm attacks, anti-virus software can detect and delete virus files before they can attack a computer. It is important to keep all anti-virus software up to date with vendor updates.

3. Personal Firewall
Firewalls can monitor both incoming and outgoing Internet traffic from a computer. This can protect the computer from being hacked into, and a virus being planted, and can also block unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet, such as Trojans, worms and spyware.

4. Padlock & “https://”
When submitting sensitive financial and personal information on the Internet, look for the locked padlock on the Internet browser's status bar or the “https://” at the start of the URL in the address bar. Although there is no guarantee of the site's legitimacy or security if they are present, the absence of these indicates that the web site is definitely not secure.

5. Links in emails
Consumers should not click on hyperlinks within emails that are apparently from a legitimate company. Instead, directly type in the URL in the Internet browser address bar, or call the company on a contact number previously verified or known to be genuine.

6. Update Software
Always ensure operating and browser software is kept up to date using legitimate upgrades and patches issued by the software vendor. This can help protect against known security issues within some software.

7. Education
Internet Fraud methods are evolving at a rapid rate. Consumers need to be aware they are vulnerable as fraudsters are persuasive and convincing; many victims thought they were too smart to be scammed. Consumers should educate themselves on Internet Fraud, the trends and continual changes in fraudulent methods used. FraudWatch International offers consumer education as a free service to the Internet community.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 24, 2004 at 03:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Freezing your credit file in California

Important information for California consumers

California residents have the option of "freezing" their credit file. A security freeze means that your credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors, insurance companies or employers doing background checks. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft. Most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer's credit history first. If your credit file is frozen, even someone who has your name and Social Security number would probably not be able to get credit in your name (it is NOT a guarantee however). This security freeze is different than a fraud alert. It came about from the California Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies Act, Penal Code Sections 1785.1 - 1785.36

Should I get a security freeze on my file?
ScamSafe does not recommend that everyone use a security freeze, since it can be a substantial inconvenience at times. It depends on your situation. However, it does provide the strongest protection for you if you are an identity theft victim or suspect that you may be. If the fear of ID theft is keeping you awake at night, your best bet may be a credit monitoring service (available on this web site), although that costs more.

How do I enable a security freeze?
To freeze your credit file, you have to write to all three of the credit bureaus. You must give them information to identify yourself. A security freeze is free for identity theft victims with a police report of identity theft. The charge for placing the freeze is $10. The freeze stays on until you end it. There is no charge for ending the freeze. The fee for lifting the freeze temporarily is $10 for a date-range lift and $12 for a lift for a specific creditor. The request must be sent by certified mail. The addresses and sample letters for the three credit bureaus can be found here: Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. Give your first name, middle initial and last name, with Jr., etc. Give your home address, your Social Security number and your birth date. You may pay by check, money order or credit card. If paying by credit card, give name of card, account number and expiration date. Experian apparently requires two proofs of residence. A proof of residence may be a copy of your driver's license, a copy of a utility bill, or a copy of a bank statement.

How do I contact the credit bureaus by telephone?
You can get current information on security freezes from the credit bureaus. Call them at the numbers listed below. Equifax 800-685-1111; Experian 888-397-3742 [Select the option to hear California Notice of Rights]; Trans Union 888-909-8872 (this is the special freeze line).

How is a fraud alert different from a security freeze?
A fraud alert means that a special message is placed on the credit report that a creditor receives when checking a consumer's credit rating. It tells the creditor that there may be fraud involved in the account. A fraud alert can help protect you against identity theft--but does not guarantee that the creditor will act in a certain way. A fraud alert can also slow down your ability to get new credit. It should not stop you from using your existing credit cards or other accounts. The three credit agencies use a fraud alert in this way:
· Experian: The fraud alert tells creditors to verify the identity of the person applying for credit.
· Equifax: The alert tells the creditor to call the consumer at a given phone number before issuing new credit.
· Trans Union: The alert may say either to verify identity or to call the consumer at a given number.

How do I open new credit accounts if my file is frozen?
If you want to open a new credit account or get a new loan, you can lift the freeze on your credit file. You can lift it for a period of time. Or you can lift it for specific creditors. After you send your letter asking for the freeze, each of the credit bureaus will send you a Personal Identification Number (PIN). You will also get instructions on how to lift the freeze. You can lift the freeze by phone, using your PIN. The credit bureaus must lift your freeze within three days. The fee for lifting the freeze temporarily is $10 for a date-range lift and $12 for a lift for a specific creditor.

How long does it take for a security freeze to take effect, and to be lifted?
Credit bureaus must place the freeze no later than five business days after receiving your written request. Credit bureaus must lift a freeze no later than three business days of receiving your request.

What will a creditor who requests my file see if it is frozen?
A creditor will see a message, or a code, indicating that the file is frozen.

Can a creditor get my credit score if my file is frozen?
No. A creditor who requests your file from one of the three credit bureaus will only get a message, or a code, indicating that the file is frozen.

Can I order my own credit report if the file is frozen?

Can anyone see my credit file if it is frozen?
When you have a security freeze on your credit file, certain entities still have access to it. Your report can still be released to your existing creditors or to collection agencies acting on their behalf. They can use it to review or collect on your account. Other creditors may also use your information to make offers of credit-unless you opt out of receiving such offers. See below for how to opt out of pre-approved credit offers. Government agencies may have access for collecting child support payments or taxes or for investigating Medi-Cal fraud. Government agencies may also have access in response to a court or administrative order, a subpoena, or a search warrant.

Do I have to freeze my credit file with all three credit bureaus?
Yes. Different credit issuers may use different credit bureaus. If you want to stop your credit file from being viewed, you need to freeze it with Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.

Will a freeze lower my credit score?

Does freezing my file mean that I won't receive pre-approved credit offers?
No. You can stop the pre-approved credit offers by calling 888-5OPTOUT. This will stop most of the offers, the ones that go through the credit bureaus. It's good for two years or you can make it permanent.

Source: California Bureau of Consumer Affairs, Office of Privacy Protection

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on July 8, 2004 at 05:40 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

How phone companies enable fraud

ScamSafe has been reporting on a work-at-home check cashing scam (operating under various names, i.e. Xian Energy, Nextdayfinance, In the past we commented on how job web sites post ads for these thieves and thus enable their crimes--even after being notified that these are illegal operations. Another culprit is the phone companies which provide the telephone and fax lines. Dick Hambrice, a victim of this crime ring, has been doggedly trying to shut them down by contacting job boards, web hosters and telephone companies.

Dick reports, "The Compton phones (for Nextdayfinance) belong to PacWest Telecom. I emailed them a couple of weeks ago letting them know about the criminal enterprise using them. Their reply was 'This information is being sent to our customer who the number is leased out to. They will investigate and take the appropriate actions. Thank you, Network Operations Security.'" Dick continues, "I called the numbers this morning and they are still working."

It appears that PacWest is asleep at the wheel, while thousands of consumers are being ripped off by this international crime ring. Shame on PacWest--and whichever company is leasing their lines.

Category: Consumer Tips, Identity Theft News
Posted on June 17, 2004 at 09:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Reporting check cashing & other Internet scams

ScamSafe has been contacted by a number of victims of the check cashing work-at-home scams asking what they should do. So we contacted the FBI and this is what we were told.

"Anyone who responded to these fraudulent schemes--whether you lost money or not--should file an online report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). Your report will be analyzed and disseminated to the appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement to help ensure a coordinated investigation. Anyone who lost money should also report the matter to law enforcement, whether it be the local FBI office* or Police Department."

Also, if you lost money, wired money or gave out your account number, you should contact the fraud department of your bank and probably close the account immediately. Although checking or savings accounts don't have the same protections against fraud as credit cards, your bank may provide recompense for lost funds--it's worth asking. And you'll need a police report to back up your claims.

* To find your local FBI field office go to

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 16, 2004 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack

Reporting check cashing & other Internet scams

ScamSafe has been contacted by a number of victims of the check cashing work-at-home scams asking what they should do. So we contacted the FBI and this is what we were told.

"Anyone who responded to these fraudulent schemes--whether you lost money or not--should file an online report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). Your report will be analyzed and disseminated to the appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement to help ensure a coordinated investigation. Anyone who lost money should also report the matter to law enforcement, whether it be the local FBI office* or Police Department."

Also, if you lost money, wired money or gave out your account number, you should contact the fraud department of your bank and probably close the account immediately. Although checking or savings accounts don't have the same protections against fraud as credit cards, your bank may provide recompense for lost funds--it's worth asking. And you'll need a police report to back up your claims.

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 16, 2004 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (165) | TrackBack

Stolen Wallet Can Lead to Stolen Identity

As the summer vacation season approaches, a former master forger -- and leading fraud prevention expert -- warns the theft of your wallet or purse may be the first step in the theft of your identity.

"Pickpockets used to get their money by using stolen credit cards right away before a theft could be reported," Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. warned. "But now, some of these thieves are using a stolen wallet or purse as the first step in stealing someone's identity.

"Here's how the scam works: After stealing your wallet, a thief goes to a pay phone and calls your home to report finding your wallet and offers to return it shortly thereafter. While you wait, the thief uses information from your wallet and credit cards. You may get your wallet back, but the thief makes a lot more money by stealing your identity."

from Yahoo!

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 16, 2004 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stolen Wallet Can Lead to Stolen Identity

As the summer vacation season approaches, a former master forger -- and leading fraud prevention expert -- warns the theft of your wallet or purse may be the first step in the theft of your identity.

"Pickpockets used to get their money by using stolen credit cards right away before a theft could be reported," Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. warned. "But now, some of these thieves are using a stolen wallet or purse as the first step in stealing someone's identity.

"Here's how the scam works: After stealing your wallet, a thief goes to a pay phone and calls your home to report finding your wallet and offers to return it shortly thereafter. While you wait, the thief uses information from your wallet and credit cards. You may get your wallet back, but the thief makes a lot more money by stealing your identity."

from Yahoo!

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 16, 2004 at 01:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Single-use credit-card numbers help fight identity theft

NEW YORK - Cyberspace shopper Roger So relies on a 16-digit tool to prevent his personal information from being stolen: a single-use credit-card number.

When shopping online, the 52-year-old information-technology consultant periodically uses this randomly generated number - provided by his credit-card issuer, Citigroup Inc. - in place of his actual account information because, he said, it "gives me one more line of security."

"I use it primarily with merchants that I'm dealing with for the first time," said So, a resident of Morristown, N.J.

FULL STORY from Tucson Citizen [pop up]

Category: Consumer Tips
Posted on June 16, 2004 at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack