By Marcia Conard
All too often we give our information away without even realizing the information may be used in ways we did not anticipate.
- Have you ever entered a contest or filled out a survey questionnaire that may not only ask you for name, age group, address, and email, but may ask you what earning group you are in by range of dollars, or do you like to travel, how do you travel, do you like to read, or other hobbies you are interested in, do you own your home, do you stay in hotels, what kind of restaurants do you frequent, what kind of car do you drive, are you married/single/divorced/widowed, are you in the market for this or that? Sometimes the questions seem endless.
- Have you ever completed and sent in a warranty card? They often ask similar questions
As innocent as it may seem to mail in that warranty card for the new toaster or leaf blower you just bought, it is a way for companies and marketers to collect your information and sell it. The same is true for the questions you answer when entering contests and answering surveys. The lesson is to make prudent decisions about entering contests and answering survey questionnaires. How much information are you willing to supply? Just because a question is there doesn’t necessarily mean you have to supply an answer. If you are online and the contest entry or survey won’t move forward without supplying an answer you don’t feel comfortable supplying, then you must decide if the contest or survey is worth posting your personal information over. The same is true when answering questions on a warranty card. Only supply information you feel comfortable with.
It is important to remember that much of our information is available and considered public information from city government offices right on up to federal government office levels. This information can be gathered through census information, criminal records, bankruptcies, tax liens, voter registration records and even websites on which you can find out who lives in your neighborhood! If a company, scammer, or identity thief doesn’t want to gather all this information on their own, they simply hire private companies who for a small fee can access this information very quickly and supply it to anyone who wants to pay. I know this may sound outrageous, but it is perfectly legal. You may have run across this yourself if you have ever tried looking someone up on the internet through the White Pages or any number of other websites.
In this day and age of posting and sharing information on social media, we need to remember it is not a warm and fuzzy place to post your personal information. You may be a target of a scammer, identity thief, or any type of thief watching for real-time posts that you are away on vacation or to learn about your personal habits and whereabouts. Be judicious and sensible when posting on social media. Limit your personal information and who can see your posts.
When someone close to us passes away, we want to honor them in an obituary. Unfortunately, scammers and thieves love to use obituaries as sources of personal information for people who are vulnerable and can easily become their victims. As in the sources of information already mentioned, keep personal information to a minimum.
We receive all kinds of mail and lots of it, much of which we might consider to be “junk” mail. Before you are tempted to toss it in the trash take another look. How much PII (personal identifiable information) or PHI (protected health information) might be included? Are your name, address, account numbers, or any other personal data included. Is it an application for a credit card that you don’t want? If in the trash, could a thief use it to obtain a credit card in your name? We’ve all heard about dumpster diving which is a good indication that thieves will not be deterred in searching through your messy trash bags!
Another target of cyberthieves is tax preparers. We hear of big and small company computer systems being breached on a regular basis with customers names, addresses, ages, phone numbers, SSN’s, credit card information, etc. being hacked. These identity thieves can belong to crime groups here and abroad. They can file fraudulent tax returns, collect refunds, and wreak all kinds of havoc for individuals and their families.
The good news is that in 2015 the Federal government joined forces with state tax agencies and those in the private sector putting more requirements in place “unseen” by taxpayers, but hard at work to assist in protecting taxpayers’ identities. Since taking these steps, the IRS has seen a sizeable decline in the following years with the numbers of taxpayers who have signed affidavits with the IRS reporting the identity theft problem. For more information about preventing identity theft, you can visit https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams.
The IRS urges you to:
- Use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections and use strong passwords
- Recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls or texts from thieves posing as the IRS or a bank or credit card company
- Do not click on links, or download attachments, in suspicious emails.
- Protect your personal data and your family’s
- Don’t routinely carry a Social Security card
- Keep tax records in a secure spot
Last, but not least, another popular trick of thieves are phone scams through robocalls or specifically targeted individuals where some thieves have even cleverly disguised phone numbers they are calling from to look like they are legitimate businesses or government agencies in which they offer deals or threats of some sort in an attempt to get you to disclose your personal information, even credit card information in order to steal your identity or defraud you in some way. Never, never, never give out your personal information over the phone or to anyone you don’t know or trust. Legitimate businesses or government agencies will not call and request your private information be given over the phone. If a threat is offered as if coming from a government agency, such as a warrant has been issued for your arrest for failure to appear for jury duty, please know that our legal system simply doesn’t work this way. If it is indicated you can avoid arrest by paying a large “penalty” over the phone, again government agencies will not be calling to collect payments over the phone. These are scams! Hang up the phone and, if concerned, look up the legitimate phone number for that government office (i.e. County clerk’s office about jury duty) and inquire about the call you received and the legitimacy of the call as it concerns you. If you are a victim or think you are a victim of a phone scam, it is always a good idea to report your experience to your local law enforcement agency. Chances are they will be aware of similar calls in your area, or if your experience was a first in your area, they will want to be aware and issue an alert that these calls are being made in your area.
The best advice, be ever vigilant with your personal, private information. Give that information out sparingly and only in situations and to sources you know and trust.
- Do not let callers on the phone rattle you. It is OK to hang up and/or make your own phone calls to investigate a situation. Do not trust caller ID. Validate the number yourself by looking up the number for the caller’s organization and call back to verify the call you received.
- Review your account activity regularly and report any suspicious activity promptly to your account holder(s).
- Services such as Zelle should only be used to send money to friends, family or others you trust and not to buy goods or services from people you don’t know.
- Never feel pressured to send money.
- Never feel pressured because someone is threatening you with law enforcement action.
- Don’t follow through if you are told to purchase gift cards and provide codes as a form of payment.
- If asked to cash a check for a stranger, don’t do it.
- Never make a cash deposit for sweepstakes if someone (a stranger) instructs you to.
- It is probably a scam if you are offered more than you are asking for something with a request to send the overpayment elsewhere.
Marcia Conard is a life-long resident of the Blue Water Area. Marcia has an Associate of Science Degree from St. Clair County Community College. Marcia was licensed by the Federal Government as a Customhouse Broker and worked in Management and as a Director for over 30 years in the Customs Brokerage business. Marcia has two grown sons also living and raising families in the Blue Water Area. Marcia joined the Grant Smith Health Insurance Agency as the operations manager in May, 2017.
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