Summer Vacation Tips
As summer quickly approaches, keep Benjamin Franklin’s words of wisdom in mind: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are some tips to keep you, your family and identity safe while enjoying your vacation.
- Notify your bank. Traveling out of state or overseas while using your bankcard could cause a fraud alert to appear and suspend your account. A quick phone call would prevent this hassle.
- Be cautious when searching for rental properties on websites like Craigslist. A legitimate rental will not ask for payment via wire transfer.
- Avoid stand-alone ATMS’s. Scammers like these because they are able to attach a credit card skimmer with less risk of detection.
- Stay on guard even in your hotel. If you receive a phone call from the “front desk” asking you to confirm your payment method, hang up. It is scam. If the hotel really has an issue, they will ask you to the front desk.
- Stay alert. Identity thieves’ techniques evolve. Especially in the technological age but some will always rely on good old-fashioned pickpocketing. Safeguard your wallet, purse and phones.
- Save the social media posts. Wait until you are home to share the photos of your family vacation. You don’t want to announce when your home will be empty.
- Make sure you place on hold on newspaper and mail deliveries. A full mailbox or several newspaper on your porch are sure signs no one is home.
- Only take what you will need. Leave the extra credit/bank cards at home. Do you really need your social security card with you? Birth certificate? If not leave it at home.
- Take photocopies or a picture of all the information in your wallet. That includes front and back photos of your credit/bank cards, I.D., passport, etc. Keep the copies in a safe place, not your wallet or purse. One option is to email the copies to yourself so it will always be available.
- Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Free means open airwaves and everything you do is transmitted over an unsecured connection and makes you vulnerable. Some Wi-Fi are fake and are set up by hackers just to steal your information. Always double check with the location to see if it is official.
- Don’t leave expensive or important belongings in the hotel room. Use the safe if one is provided in the room. If not, ask the front desk for another alternative.
- Many credit/bank cards are now equipped with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, which makes stealing your information easier for high-tech scammers. Consider using a RFID blocking wallet, purse or case.
- Most importantly, if anything does happen, act fast. Contact the bank or credit card company as well as the credit reporting bureaus. If your ID is stolen, file a police report immediately. This is necessary for creating a paper trail as well as a timeframe for the theft. If traveling overseas and your passport is lost or stolen, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, they can help you with a replacement. You should also call the local police and file a report.
Sources: Lifelock and the Better Business Bureau
Smishing Scam Awareness
Scammers are now targeting people through text messaging. It’s called “smishing”. Like in all scams, these criminals prey on your sense of urgency. However, with “smishing” scammers also hope to catch you with your guard down. Most people have a tendency to trust their text messages.
This particular scam can come across your phone in various ways. Here are some examples:
Financial Institutions: Dear Bank Customer, Due to a possible breach of some of our account holders, we need you to verify your PIN immediately.
Personal Accounts: Did you request a password reset at firstname.lastname@example.org? If not, please reply STOP. Or Dear Customer, Your Apple ID is set to expire, please follow this link to prevent loss of service.
Seasonal Opportunities: IRS Notice: Tax Return Overdue! Click here to prevent penalties.
Sweepstakes: Dear Walmart Shopper, you just won a $100 gift card. Click on www.fakewebsite.com to claim your prize. Type STOP to cancel.
Personal Message: Spring is finally here! Do you want to go? Jane gave me your number, check out my profile here at (fakelink).
These are all scams. If you receive a text message like these examples, do not text or call the number. By texting STOP, you are verifying that your phone number is valid. Just delete the text message. If you are concerned, call the company directly.
Sources: Brentwood Police Dept. (Facebook Page), fortune.com and USAToday.com
New Medicare Cards = New Scams
Beginning April 2018, Medicare will begin the year-long process of issuing new Medicare cards. The new card will have a unique Medicare number listed,not your social security number. You will NOT have to do anything to receive this new card.
This change will encourage scammers to try new tactics. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from Medicare asking you to confirm your social security number for the new card, it is a scam. If you receive a call telling you to pay for a new or temporary card, it is ascam. Here are a few reminders while Medicare changes to the new card:
- A legitimate agency is NOT going to call and ask for your Social Security number in order to issue you a new Medicare card.
- If you are not sure if the call is authentic, hang up and call the agency back on their customer service line. Call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 and Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.
- There are NO fees associated with the new Medicare cards. You will NOT lose benefits while you wait for the new card.
Utilities are Rising and so are Utility Scams
Many businesses and individuals across the Middle Tennessee have filed reports about scam phone calls from utility companies. Scammers appear to be ramping up their efforts due to higher than average electric bills this time of year.
The scammers are cloning electric company phone numbers, like NES and MTEMC and reporting that customer’s accounts are past due and payment is due immediately or their service will be disconnected. In some instances, the customers are even given a reference number and/or phone number to call where the line is answered promptly and professionally and the past due amount is confirmed. Middle Tennessee Electric Management Corporation and Nashville Electric Service officials both issued warnings to all clients about this scam as well as some tips:
- If someone calls threatening disconnection, hang up. Don’t pay
- Do not use the reference number or phone number provided by the caller. For NES call 615-736-6900 and for MTEMC call 1-877-777-9020
- Never give out personal and/or financial information
- If you have doubts about a call, email, text or visit, call your utilities provider first
Sources: Tennessean.com, NES.com and MTEMC.com
Tis the Season for Holiday Cheatin’
Tips to Avoid Charity Scams
- Chose a trusted organization. Avoid new agencies that have been established for the specific crisis. Be cautious of organizations with names similar to well-known charities.
- Be on the lookout for phony emails, phone calls, social media accounts and crowdfunding requests. That includes email attachments from familiar contacts.
- Evaluate the charity. If you are unsure about a particular organization, ask for the official name, phone number and website. Then you can verify the agency via reputable websites like the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, etc. (see list below). A legitimate nonprofit will be happy to give you time to verify their mission.
- Understanding crowdfunding requests. Some examples of crowdfunding websites are GoFundMe, YouCaring, Kickstarter, etc. Most of these sites do very little vetting in regards to donation requests. In some instances, scammers start donation requests for a “friend” or “family” that actually have nothing to do with that person. Unless you know the person personally and can verify that the funds will go to them, forgo that donation.
- Avoid giving cash. Cash can be lost or stolen. A check or credit card record is helpful for tax purposes. DO NOT give out your credit card/bank information to a solicitor. If you write a check, make sure it’s made out to the organization NOT a person soliciting on behalf of the agency.
- Ask questions. How will the money be spent? What percentage of donations go to the people and how much goes to overhead or fundraising? You may want to compare these costs between different nonprofits before making a decision. You also have the right to make your donation a “designated donation”, which means the organization can only use your donation for what you designate. Just make sure you notate that in writing.
- Scammers will attempt to keep you on the phone
- The calls will not come from the pretend victim’s phone
- They will try to keep you from calling the person who has been “kidnapped”
- The ransom money will need to be paid by wire transfer to Mexico
- The ransom amounts might drop quickly
- Hang up the phone
- Don’t use your loved one’s name
- Ask to speak with the “kidnapped” victim directly. If they do talk, listen to the voice carefully.
- Do not share information about yourself or family
- Ask only questions the “victim” would know
- Attempt to contact the supposed victim and ask them to call you from their cell phone
- Slow the scammers down by repeating their instructions, tell them you need time to get the money together
- Do not agree to pay the ransom demands, by wire transfer or in person. Delivering money in person can be dangerous
NEW Social Security Scam
Gift Card Fraud
If you buy gift cards…use caution! Don’t judge the card by its package. Let me tell you about Kenneth. He has two grandsons in another state that he does not get to see as often as he would like. So for holidays and special occasions he likes to send them a gift to say he is thinking of them. During Christmastime, he purchased a major brand gift card from a big box store and mailed it to his grandsons. Of course being so young, their mother was responsible for the gift card. Once, she opened the sealed packaging, she realized that her dad and sons had been scammed. A scammer took a photocopy of the original card’s barcode, affixed that to a different, worthless gift card, and put that into the packaging. Just with a quick glance, everything looked legit. Now all the scammer had to do was wait for money to be loaded on to it. According to a unit chief with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it is very easy for scammers to see when the gift cards are activated because they use computer software that constantly checks the card balance.
A couple of extra seconds spent looking at the visible barcode and Kenneth would have noticed that it was a fake. How many of us actually take the time to flip over a sealed, intact cardboard package? What about the stack of loose gift cards that stare at us while in the checkout line? How simple is it to grab a couple and copy the numbers? Once again, the scammer just has to sit back and wait for money to be loaded on it. Here are some tips to protect yourself and the recipient of your gift.
- Double-check the packaging. Does it look like it has been tampered with?
- Look at the barcode on the back. It should be shiny not dull.
- The FBI suggests purchasing the gift cards straight from the retailer online. Scammers do not have access to these cards.
- Avoid purchasing gift cards displayed in the open. If you must, chose one from the middle of the stack.
- Always keep your purchase receipt AND activation receipt just in case there is a problem. Ensure that the gift card number matches the one on your activation receipt.
- Reputable bill collectors, online sellers, law enforcement and/or government officials will NEVER ask you to pay via gift cards.
Source: Consumer Reports, Giftcards.com & CBS News