Enterprise Security Magazine has once again recognized Guard Well Identity Theft Solutions as a Top 10 Identity and Access Management (IAM) Solutions Provider. The magazine first featured Guard Well’s Founder and CEO, E. Allan Hilsinger, in 2019. Their article, “An Intelligent Way to Protect Your Employees,” can be found HERE.
It’s tax season! For some, preparing and filing taxes is an hour or two-long process; for others, it’s a week or more. By year-end, the majority of us know if we will owe or if we are due to receive a refund … it’s just a matter of how much … and we are happy that everything is completed once tax season is over. Things don’t typically go awry, but tax-related fraud does happen. Knowing how to lower your risk and knowing what to do if it does occur to you, will help prevent the lasting damages to your wallet and credit score.
Let’s say for this example that you will be receiving a refund. Imagine looking forward to getting that money so you can pay off those holiday bills or plan that special vacation you’ve been day-dreaming of (or perhaps both if you’re lucky). After preparing your taxes, you happily press “send.” But then WHAM! … your return is rejected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) because they already received one for you. How could that happen and what do you do if it does?
Tax identity theft is when someone uses a stolen Social Security number (SSN) to file a tax return. You may be wondering, “Why would someone want to do this if I will actually owe taxes?” Even if you aren’t expecting a refund, you are still at risk. Thieves can enter fake income using your SSN in order to trick the IRS into giving a refund but, instead of that money going to you, it is actually wired to the criminal’s account. Even though the IRS has made significant efforts to help stop fraud cases in their tracks in recent years, it still happens.
Is tax fraud preventable? No. Are there steps you can take to help reduce your risk? Yes.
– Time is of the essence. Prepare and file your return as quickly as possible before someone else does it for you.
– Protect your personal identifying information (PII) by: 1) shredding documents that you do not need for tax preparation; 2) keeping your SSN card in a safe deposit box; 3) taking any outgoing mail to your local post office (do not put any mail with PII in your own mailbox – even though federal mail theft is a felony, it still happens); 4) getting your mail as soon as possible after it is delivered; 5) not responding to a phone call asking for or requesting that you confirm any PII (the IRS and legitimate companies will not initiate contact with you for this information unless you have reached out to them first); 6) not opening email attachments or clicking on any links that are not familiar to you; and 7) keeping your personal devices on lockdown unless you are using them (utilize firewalls and keep your anti-virus protection software up-to-date).
– If you think your PII has already been compromised, consider putting a free fraud alert on your credit file. There are two options: 1) an initial fraud alert, which is free and will last 90 days or 2) an extended fraud alert, which can be $10 or more but can last up to seven years.
– Actively monitor your accounts. You can access your tax account history (and see if someone has already filed for you) at https://www.irs.gov/.
– Get a trustworthy tax preparer. There are people who pose as tax preparers as well as online filing services that may promise you a bigger refund and/or may make questionable deductions for you in order to increase their fee. If you are seeking professional help, make sure it is from a certified tax professional or certified public accountant.
If your tax return is rejected due to being a ‘duplicate,’ an Identity Theft Affidavit (IRS Form 14039) should be filed as soon as possible to let the IRS know that someone else is using your identity. Contact Guard Well’s Member Services at 1.888.966.GUARD (4827) immediately if needed. A team member is always available 24/7/365. You can also email us at email@example.com. Happy filing!
Did you know that the first documented ransomware attack was more than 30 years ago in 1989? That was around the time when a mobile phone was called a bag phone because it sat in a big black bag in your passenger seat … and that curly cord was wound so tight it hardly let it extend to your ear. If you were lucky, you could store about 30 numbers in it. But back then, that was pretty amazing storage. Then flip phones started to make our lives easier in later years. It was pretty simple but the fact that it could actually fit in your pocket made it truly mobile. There was rarely a thought that anyone was listening in on your conversations or tracking your locations (which they probably were but the average person didn’t think doing so was devious). Boy, have times changed.
Attacks involving ransomware, which were originally designed to target individuals, are occurring every 14 seconds now. Shocking isn’t it. After you read this sentence, focus on how long it takes you to breathe … inhale and exhale. Your full circle breathing process is likely anywhere from six to eight seconds, which is how long hackers are trying to increase the speed of ransomware attacks by this time next year.
Dave Wallen discussed some of the expected 2020 cybersecurity trends in a blog last week for Security Boulevard so we all can be “better prepared against the ever-evolving nature of cyber threats.” He wrote, “With today’s pervasive use of the internet, a modern surge in cyberattacks and the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see how ignoring security decades ago was a massive flaw.” It’s not just the speed of the attacks that is alarming, it is the variety of them that are going to keep things interesting for 2020.
So what are some of the trends we will be seeing in 2020?
– Fear will drive spending. Gartner forecasts that worldwide spending on cybersecurity is going to reach $133.7 billion in 2022. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) have pushed businesses and government agencies to a more sophisticated cybersecurity infrastructure than ever. Wallen noted that 76% of organizations plan to increase their cybersecurity budgets this year.
– The cybersecurity labor market will continue to experience labor shortages. There are many reasons for this skills gap. Not only are there more cybercriminals, but there are also more places for scammers to hide with our ever-expanding reliance on technology. Also, there still needs to be a balance of expanding skills in a very specific area with teaching broad skills that can be useful across many sectors. Think of those with titles such as chief information officer (CIO) and chief information security officer (CISO) – they are currently undervalued.
– Cloud security will require a more pragmatic approach. The assumption that our data is secure on ‘the cloud’ in applications such as Microsoft and Google will be a thing of the past. In 2019, we saw massive attacks against Office 365 and G Suite that can bypass two-factor authentification making shared accounts exceptionally vulnerable.
– Mobile devices will become even a greater target. As the number of mobile users increases, so will the amount of business data stored in them. Wallen wrote, “It’s a compelling reason why mobiles are seen as the primary cyberattack vector in 2020.”
– Election security will be off the charts. With over 70 elections globally planned in 2020, there will be an intense focus on the spreading of disinformation.
– 5G, the fifth-generation wireless technology, will cause an increase in loT-based (Internet of Things) attacks. There will need to be a higher level of security which many current vendors are not able to provide yet. Hackers will take advantage of this gap to “sneak in malware and steal large volumes of your SaaS data at breakneck speed.”
– AI (Artificial Intelligence) will become even more two-faced. While the benefits of AI are countless and help to protect our security, defakes (fake videos) that can spread misinformation will become more prominent and new types of cyberattacks will result because of them.
– Organizations will continue to see their biggest asset, their employees, become their biggest threat. As reported in Governing.com, “The problem is that now our most important information, whether it’s sales prospects or customer lists or source code … is spread across the organization and is highly portable on a thumb drive or e-mail … information is less ‘siloed.'” Their study shows that “63 percent of people admit that they took data from their last job and brought it to their current job.”
We will also continue to see more fake apps and shopping cart viruses, new account fraud, apps that share our data along with phishing scams (and whaling scams if you’re a high-ranking executive or banker). Identity theft will also be rampant through social media. Lastly, child identity theft will continue to rise. It is suggested that every child have a credit freeze on their file. If you would like more information about how to do so, please reach out to our Member Services team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1.888.966.4827. We are here to help 24/7/365.
It’s not just a new year … it’s a new decade. Not quite the ‘Age of Aquarius’ type of timestamp, but a new decade brings hope and positivity for our families and futures. It’s around this time in mid-January that many of us realize, “Hey, that exercise plan I agreed to do on January 1st at 12:06 am, that was just an example, not something I actually have to do on a daily or weekly basis and certainly not for the next ten years!” By the way, the same goes for those clean eating goals, too. If you can eat clean four or even five out of seven days, you’re likely in the bonus.
On average it takes about two months for a new behavior to become a habit (or if you are a supporter of the 21/90 rule, it may take a bit longer). Why is this a topic in our blog? Because how we write the year out today is going to have to break an old habit of abbreviating it, as many of us have done for the last nine years. The simple truth is that scammers are trying to forge our documents when we just write ’20’ instead of ‘2020.’
As reported by CNN’s Harmeet Kaur, “When the year 2020 is abbreviated on official forms and documents, those looking to exploit unsuspecting people can easily manipulate those numbers and leave people potentially vulnerable to fraud.” Auditors and police departments around the country have been notifying the public that when you write a date on a document, to not shorthand the year 2020 to just ’20.’ A document dated 1/4/20 can easily be changed to 1/4/2021 by adding two numbers at the end. Or, it could go the opposite way … a creditor could say you owed money from 2019 just by adding ’19’ after the ’20.’
Just putting forth a little effort in writing 2020 out in full, which will eventually become habit if done often enough, is a small step toward protecting you and your family from check or document fraud.
From the entire team at Guard Well, we wish you a wonderful, happy and prosperous 2020. If you suspect that fraud has happened to you, we are available 24/7/365 at 888.966.GUARD (4827) and email@example.com.
On December 5, 2019, Guard Well Identity Theft Solutions Founder and CEO, E. Allan Hilsinger, was interviewed by Rocky and Rachel on Cincinnati’s News Radio 700WLW. Topics discussed during the ten-minute segment (51:50 to 60:52) include the risk of living in a technologically advanced society, what a digital footprint is and how to reduce the risk of your data being collected and sold online.
Hilsinger remarked, “We all have a social security number. We are all at risk. If you haven’t already been victimized by identity theft or identity fraud, it’s going to happen. It’s a sad reality…” He stated that there are 3.5 million Google searches every minute and 4.3 billion Facebook posts every day “…all of that information is being collected and sold.”
What can be done to help reduce this risk? Hilsinger suggested the following in the podcast:
– Be careful about what information you put on social media. For example, remove your birthdate from your Facebook account.
– When you search online, do it privately. Don’t allow cookies if possible when looking at websites.
– Try not to share your location with Google Maps.
– Inactivate and delete any old email accounts.
– Search for your own name on Google and see what pops up. If your name is listed on People Search or People Finder, you can submit a request for them to pull your information down.
Hilsinger also discussed a service site called DeleteMe.Com that will facilitate users in deleting their presence on other sites and will provide information on privacy laws in multiple countries to better educate the users on their rights in relation to data privacy.
On November 15, 2019, Cincinnati’s WLWT5 Investigates featured our Founder and CEO, E. Allan Hilsinger. Dan Griffin, Investigative Reporter, reached out to Hilsinger to be the identity theft industry expert in his segment “How Do You Control Your Digital Footprint.”
In today’s world, our personal information is easier than ever for anyone to access. Where you live, where you work, your phone number, and even information about your relatives is available for free.
So how do you control your digital footprint? WLWT talked with an identity theft expert to figure out ways to lessen your exposure. One of the most surprising things we learned is that you don’t need to use the internet for your data to live online. Just like footprints in the snow, your digital footprint can lead anyone right to your front door. With a simple click, a crook could cause devastating damage.
“There are 3.5 million searches on Google every minute. There are 4.3 billion posts on Facebook every day. All of that information is being stored and sold,” Allan Hilsinger said. Hilsinger is the founder and CEO of Cincinnati-based Guardwell Identity Theft Solutions. He said that that is one way your data can be exposed. Hilsinger also said massive data breaches put your information in a digital wild west.
“The 80-year-old lady that never gets online, that shreds all of her documents, that has never given her Social Security number to anybody, she doesn’t have a social media account,” he said. “She doesn’t post pictures. She’s virtually as unavailable online as anybody, anywhere. She still may have shopped at Target. She still could have a credit file with Equifax. She still could have gone to Home Depot during their breach.”
Your digital footprint lives online and it builds a picture of who you are, with your name, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, social media presence and more.
Websites we found like FamilyTreeNow.com and TruePeopleSearch.com reveal that kind of information to anyone free of charge. Hilsinger said that makes it easy for someone to steal your identity.
“They might buy a house. They might get a job. They might buy a cellphone. They might have a medical procedure,” he said.
Hilsinger said that while you likely can never scrub your data from the digital world, you can remove it from some websites by looking for the “Frequently Asked Questions” or “Help” sections.
“And we get toward the bottom and we’re going to stop here. ‘How do I remove myself from this site?’ In the paragraph, there is a ‘click here’ button. Once I click on here, I am navigated to a page that gives me the exact instructions on how to remove my information from this website. So I don’t have to worry about this website being an issue for me any further,” he said.
He also said people should use their web browsers in private mode, should stop sharing their location on their devices and should disable cookies.
If you do think your identity may have been compromised, experts like Hilsinger and his employees can help you navigate what could be damaging situations.
“We all, every one of us, have a digital footprint. We have to have an understanding that the more digital that we want to be and we become, the more risk of exposure and identity fraud and identity theft that we have,” he said.
Hilsinger’s company provides protection for families, including children, which is why he said getting protection before problems happen is important. He said that children are just as vulnerable to their data being exposed, and even identity theft, because they also have digital lives.
The Washington Post just reported that U.S. consumers are expected to shell out a record $9.4 billion today on Cyber Monday, a 19% increase from last year. While Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Amazon are many holiday shopping ‘go-to’ websites, there are many others that you may visit, especially when looking for that perfect personalized gift. Unfortunately, fake eCommerce websites and scams during the holiday season are on the rise.
How do you decipher a legitimate website from a fake one? Yes, it is confusing … and that is by design. It’s not easy. There are some detailed things to watch out for:
– Scammers’ tactics include manipulation and will urge you to purchase. If you’re trying to make a purchase online and are offered help with the checkout process, do not give any personal identifying information (PII) in a chat room. If you are asked to do so, exit immediately.
– Hover over hyperlinks to make sure they’re going to a legitimate website. If there isn’t a padlock symbol and an ‘https’ in the address bar, exit immediately.
– A legitimate retailer will have full contact details, including address, email and phone number, on the website. If any of those are missing, exit immediately.
– Check out the website’s customer reviews. While many are legit, if you read beyond the star rating and check the reviewer’s history (especially if it is a very positive post), you may find that the reviewer uses the same phrases for other products and companies. Red flag! Also, if their reviews are not specific about the product, they have reviewed the same product before or they do not give useful feedback, recognize that they may not be legitimate and … guess what? … exit immediately. There are online tools such as Fakespot that can help you determine a customer’s review reliability.
– Don’t use a debit card for online purchases. Credit card companies won’t insure your purchase if you use a debit card. Dedicate one credit card for all online purchases and check the statement often. If you see any unusual activity, dispute the transaction immediately.
If you suspect identity theft or fraud, please contact us day or night at 888.966.GUARD (4827) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve got your back and are always open for you.
Yes, it’s that wonderful time of year. The holidays are quickly approaching … and at lightning speed! Will you be traveling to see family in the next few weeks? Or, maybe you’ll be skipping off to a great vacation instead of decking the halls? Whatever your plans are, having time off of work, fun with friends and family, and hopefully a few days of laziness … are wonderful to look forward to. But, when we are caught up in the excitement about buying those last-minute gifts (or sunscreen and new flip-flops), we need to remember that there are some other ‘things to do’ on our checklist to help keep our family and identities safe during this special time of year.
In addition to stopping the mail, finding that special neighbor with a green thumb to water your plants, and arranging for pet care for your fur babies, there are some pre-trip actions that you can take to help prevent identity theft from becoming a huge holiday memory. Just some small preventative measures, such as updating the operating system and antivirus software on your mobile devices, can go a long way toward fending off a few identity thieves. Below are some tips for what you can do before you leave home, as well as while you’re away and after your return.
Before you leave home:
– Password protect your devices and update operating systems
– Alert your bank(s) about your travel plans
– Visit your post office and put your mail on a vacation hold
– Keep the number of credit cards you travel with to a minimum and have copies of your driver’s license, medical id cards, passports and travel confirmation numbers at home in a safe place
– Turn off auto-connect Wifi and Bluetooth connections
– Consider adjusting your social media account settings so posts aren’t tagged with GPS data
While out of town:
– Avoid using public Wifi and even your hotel’s if at all possible
– Do not use public computers
– Keep your travel documents in a hotel safe
– Log out of websites on your smart phone and any websites if you bring a laptop or other device with you on your trip
Upon your return home:
– Consider changing passwords for your major accounts
– Thoroughly go through your account statements for any irregularities
– Check your credit report to make sure no new accounts were opened in your name while you were away
We hope you have a wonderful holiday vacation. If you suspect identity theft or fraud, please contact us immediately at 888.966.GUARD (4827) or email email@example.com. Day or night, we’ve got your back and will always be open for you.
Did you know that there are at least 48 different types of identity theft and the number of scams involved in each is growing daily? Romance scams, residence scams, utility scams, employment scams, telephone scams, email scams, charity scams, Apple care scams, AirBNB scams, PayPal scams, census scams, ticket scams, government scams, medical scams, insurance scams, real estate scams, investment scams, lottery and sweepstakes scams … there really isn’t one facet of our lives that isn’t ‘scam-able.’ As the weather turns colder, it kind of makes you want to curl up under an electric blanket and hibernate for a bit doesn’t it!
Although everyone with a social security number is at risk for identity theft, there are two groups that are targeted more often: children and seniors. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has studied why. They explain, “Children are targeted to establish a ‘clean slate.’ Seniors are targeted over the telephone and through phishing scams. Some studies suggest that people become more trusting as they age, which helps to explain why it’s more difficult for older adults to detect fraudsters.”
The next high-risk group that follows children and seniors are the military mostly due to deployment, which impacts their ability to respond to a threat in a timely manner. According to the Federal Trade Commission, military consumers are most affected by credit card and bank fraud. Another high-risk group is identity theft repeat victims. As reported in Consumer Affairs, “people who have previously been affected by identity theft are at a greater risk for future identity theft and fraud.” According to the Center for Victim Research, “7-10% of the U.S. population are victims of identity fraud each year and 21% of those experience multiple incidents of identity theft.”
Lastly, the deceased are targeted. Stealing a dead person’s identity, commonly known as “ghosting,” will often go unnoticed by surviving family for months or years. A report dating from 2012 stated that 2.5 million deceased American identities are stolen each year. Of those 2.5 million stolen identities, 800,000 were used to open lines of credit or get a mobile phone plan.
Fraudsters oftentimes repeat their favorite most lucrative scams, which are driven by major financial life moments, such as taxes and holiday shopping. Yes, it’s getting to be that time of year, and, guess what … the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon, is seeing a huge increase in fake Amazon.com order cancellation scams. If you receive an email about an order cancellation from Amazon, there’s a good chance it’s a scam. Click on links in the email and you could unintentionally download malware onto your device. Or you might be sent to a site that aims to collect your Amazon account information, like your username and password. If you receive such an email and recently placed an order, go to Amazon.com directly to check your order status.
Most of our blogs offer tips to help protect yourself and your family from identity theft. There is one tip in this blog: Remain aware of scams and that they can touch every facet of your life. By staying in-the-know, you can help every month be National Cybersecurity Awareness month … not just October.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has suffered identity theft, please reach out to us as soon as possible. Our Guard Well member services team is available around the clock, every day of the year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888.966.GUARD (4827) for help.
Imagine no texting, no service, and no data for a minute. Yikes! Halloween or not, the lack of being able to connect is a very scary thought and it can happen to any of us due to a tiny piece of plastic called a SIM card. There is a SIM (subscriber identity module) in every mobile device and it is what connects the user to a cellular network. Unfortunately, there is a wide-spread SIM swap hack that allows a thief to hijack your cell number.
Also known as a port out scam, simjacking, swim swapping, and SIM splitting … this latest scam can wreak havoc in all of your accounts associated with your mobile phone number. Everyone with a cell phone is at risk of this type of takeover. The PEW Research Center, a nonpartisan organization based in Washington D.C., reported this year that 96% of Americans have a cellular device and 92% of them go online daily. Considering that there are approximately 330 million Americans, that’s a pretty large target market from a hacking standpoint. No one is immune. A number of high profile attacks have occurred via Instagram and Twitter. The website wired.com reported that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s own twitter account was hacked via this method this year.
What is a SIM Swap?
This type of scam is an account takeover fraud. It targets a weakness in two-factor authentication and two-step verification in which the second factor (step) is either a text message or a call placed to a mobile telephone. This is achieved by the fraudster impersonating the victim using personal details to appear authentic and claiming that they have lost their phone. The victim’s phone will then lose connection to the network and the fraudster will receive all the SMS and voice calls intended for the victim. This allows them to intercept any one-time passwords sent via text or telephone calls sent to the victim, and thus to circumvent any security features of accounts (such as bank accounts, social media accounts, etc.) that rely on text messages or telephone calls.
Damage from a SIM swap can have a snowball effect. Since the scammer would be armed with your login credentials, not only can they steal your money, take over your email and social media accounts, but they can lock you out of them all and open up a new cellular account in your name … or buy that new phone you’ve been eyeing for months but won’t have the joy of using yourself.
Is a SIM swap preventable?
No. It’s impossible to completely prevent someone from gaining access to your phone number through a SIM swap due to the fact that the scam requires no misstep on your part (such as clicking on a bogus link). All the scammer needs to do is convince your carrier that they are you and to transfer your phone number to their SIM. As described by Michael Grothaus with Fast Company, “There’s nothing inherently shady with doing a SIM card swap. If you lose your phone or your SIM card is damaged, for instance, you might go to a mobile carrier store or even call up customer service to have your number transferred to a new SIM.”
Even though you can’t prevent a swap from happening to you, there are ways to make it more difficult for a scammer. Grothaus suggests to use an authenticator app such as Authenticator by Google, Microsoft Authenticator, LastPass Authenticator, and 1Password. A single authenticator app can handle all your authentication codes no matter how many different accounts you use.
Other courses of action you can do to help prevent a swap include:
– Limit the personal information you share online. Identity thieves will find information to answer the security questions you may have set up to verify your identity. For example, if one of your security questions is, “What is my high school mascot?” and you list your high school name on your Facebook account and that information is not on a private setting, it’s not difficult for a good sleuth to figure out your mascot’s name.
– Set up a PIN for your cellular account and do not share it with anyone.
– Do not reply to calls, emails and SMS messages that could be a phishing attempt to request your personal data. Make sure to read our blog “Accidentally Clicked on a Phishing Link – Now What” to get up-to-speed on phishing scams.
The Federal Trade Commission offers a few tips on what to do if you suspect that you’ve been swapped:
– First, contact your cellular service provider immediately to take control of your phone number. After you re-gain access to your phone number, change your account passwords.
– Check your banking, credit card and insurance statements for unauthorized charges or changes to your profile.
– Call your identity theft resolution provider. A Guard Well Member Services team professional is always on hand for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year … yes, even Halloween. There are enough tricks flying around. Here’s to receiving a treat this year!