Login
How to Protect Yourself During the  U.S. Government Shutdown

How to Protect Yourself During the U.S. Government Shutdown

Tax season and scams usually go hand in hand. With the longest government shutdown in history occurring during the same timeframe (January through April), there are added concerns.

Today marks the 32nd day that over 800,000 federal workers are not receiving pay, with 380,000 of them having to still report to work. Additionally, millions of government contractors are impacted, such as IT, research and project management professionals, as well as lower-wage janitors, security guards and cafeteria servers. While some federal employees may receive back pay when the government gets back up and running, contractors will not be reimbursed for this time off. Many are already receiving notices that their health insurance coverage has expired or will in the next few weeks[1]. With lapses in health insurance, medical identity theft will undoubtedly be on the rise.

Government shutdown or not, scammers are always hard at work trying to get your identity and money. During this time period it is going to be even easier for them to do so especially with nine out of 15 critical federal agencies and departments being closed.

The Federal Trade Commisson (FTC) is the government agency where you would file a report if your identity is compromised. The website that you would use to file said complaint with the FTC is identitytheft.gov. If you visit the website today, you will see that it has temporarily disappeared. Instead, a notice appears saying that operations will resume when the government is funded. If you can’t contact the FTC, where do you go for help if you suspect identity fraud has occurred?

What You Can Do

There are some immediate steps to take if you think your identity has been compromised:

  • File your taxes early. The best way to avoid a tax scam is to file your taxes as early as possible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will still be reviewing tax returns. Unfortunately, if you are due a refund, that money will not provided until the government is funded.
  • Partnering with a reputable identity resolution provider is critical. Make sure that the identity theft coverage includes monitoring and full resolution services. Advanced monitoring uses powerful technology to scour billions of identity records and non-credit sources to detect fraud in credit, non-credit and public records. Full resolution involves many steps required to replace government documents, such as your driver’s license and passport, as well as protect your credit score.
  • File a police report and request a copy of it. You will need to give copies of the report to creditors as well as the credit bureaus.
  • Contact your bank(s) and/or insurance institutions and dispute fraudulent activity on the accounts.
  • Consider a credit freeze or fraud alert. A credit freeze locks down your credit while a fraud alert allows creditors to receive a copy of your credit report. Fraud alerts can prevent someone from opening an account in your name but they will not stop your existing accounts from being compromised. For victims of identity theft, an extended fraud alert can protect your credit for seven years.

During this uncertain time when we as individuals have no control over the government shutdown, taking some proactive steps to help keep our family safe and identities secure is more important than ever.

[1] Nova, Annie. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/23/health-insurance-becomes-collateral-damage-for-workers-in-shutdown.html. January 23, 2019

How A Data Breach Can Impact You

How A Data Breach Can Impact You

Many of us are familiar with the term ‘data breach.’ However, not all of us are too familiar with how impacting a data breach can be, both for you personally, and for your business.

What does it involve?
A data breach involves the release of secure or confidential information. This information is then shared in an often unknown and always untrusted environment. In most cases, if your company finds that a data breach has occurred, it will have involved your private data being stolen and shared via an unauthorized source. Additionally, some data breaches are caused due to intrusive or harmful software. This malware can further disrupt your IT and computer processes, and may even delete, hold to random or steal valuable business data.

What data can be stolen?
The information acquired could include:

  • Your personal information, such as Social Security number and contact information
  • Your financial information including bank account details
  • Health information of individuals
  • Intellectual property such as material your business has developed
  • Legal information
  • IT security data.

What could this mean for my business?
A data breach can leave you at risk with various results. Identity theft is common, for example, if the hackers decide to act upon the information they find. Below outlines a few other ways that a data breach can impact a company and why it can be so damaging to your business.

  • Revenue loss

Your business could suffer a significant revenue loss as a result of a security breach. A non-functional website could contribute to this, as customers will potentially look elsewhere if it appears your company isn’t up and running as standard. Work patterns are often disrupted with a data breach too, which can also have an effect on your overall output and revenue. In general, the primary damage of data breaches and cyber-attacks is the loss of money for a company or individual. It has been forecast, for example, that by 2021, cybercrime damages will cost the world $6 billion.

  • Brand Reputation

Your long-term reputation could be severely impacted by a data breach. A breach involving emails, for example, can set back your company due to the ongoing issues this could cause. Taking it one step further, the information about your customers is vital to keep safe, too. Breaches may often involve customer payment information. Many will take their business elsewhere, or be hesitant in the first place to trust your company with their information if they hear a data breach has recently occurred. Some data breaches can potentially shut the doors of your business and be hard to come back from.

  • Loss of intellectual property

As well as private information, a data hack can be taken one step further and may involve hackers targeting strategies, blueprints, and designs that are your company’s by right. Many small businesses think that they will not be affected by this; however, small businesses are often targeted more, quite simply because they are easier to hack. A loss of intellectual property can impact your business’ competitive edge, and take you back to square one if specific software is accessed, for example.  

What now?
If you are concerned about where your company stands with its online protection, then talk to us, as we can recommend solutions and protection for you and your employees, meaning you can rest assured knowing your company is in good hands.

The Lasting Impact of Fraud

The Lasting Impact of Fraud

Unfortunately, fraud and identity theft are crimes which do not appear to be slowing down, with an incredible 44% increase in the number of data breaches last year. It is a prevalent issue throughout the US, with the crimes affecting all areas of society from stay-at-home parents to multibillionaire corporations with an outstanding 16.7 million of American’s impacted in 2017 alone.

The majority of Americans know what fraud and identity theft is. After all, it’s something we are taught in school, and the steps to take to protect yourself are widely discussed. We know the importance of keeping private data exactly that – private. What is less commonly known, however, is the lasting impact this terrible crime has for those who feel its effects. Often, the waves caused by identity theft and fraud can be lifelong, which can be categorized into two main pillars.

Financially

Perhaps one of the more well-known issues which arise due to identity theft is our financial wellbeing and stability. The damage this crime can do to your financial future can impact every area of your life, from your mortgage and rent payments, your retirement fund, even your child’s educational future. If a criminal accesses the pot of money you’ve saved to send your little one to college, the chances of recovering the amount is extremely slim.

Identity theft will also affect an individual’s credit rating, which then impacts on their financial future indefinitely. A low credit score can prevent you from being accepted for a mortgage, receiving investment for a new business, allowing you to take out finance for a new car, being rejected for a rental agreement, and so on. One way to protect your credit rating, however, is to ensure you regularly check it. This way, any anomalies you discover can be addressed sooner rather than later, minimizing the potentially damaging impact.

Similarly, if an identity thief gets their hands on your Social Security number, there’s no stopping them from committing Tax Refund Identity Theft, which means that sum of money you were looking forward to receiving is lost. The numbers for Social Security number data breaches is astounding: 158 million numbers were exposed in 2017. When a thief has hold of your Social Security number, it’s not something you can ignore or forget about; this number can then be sold on the dark web, potentially even years after the data breach has occurred. To recover from this specific identity theft, you will need to work closely with experts, and even the government.

Emotionally

There’s no denying that identity theft is an incredibly challenging and stressful situation to be in. The impact it has on your emotional well-being can be felt throughout the whole family. The most common emotional responses to fraud and identity theft include:

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Guilt
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Panic
  • Loss of confidence and self-worth

As this particular crime is one which there’s no way to predict, and often, it goes unnoticed for a period of time, the shock alone can trigger a horrible emotional response, one which doesn’t simply go away after a set amount of time. The emotional toll can play on a victim’s mind for many years. Anger is especially prevalent, but it is not always directed solely at the thief. It is common for victims of identity theft to blame themselves, and sometimes even blame family members. This blame then creates a domino effect, with a victim’s self-worth and confidence taking a knock, becoming especially anxious whether this crime could affect them again.

To Conclude

Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud appear to be growing in numbers, rather than decreasing. While this is a worrying statistic, there are ways to protect yourself against the unscrupulous individuals who seek to steal your data. By working with privacy experts, such as our team of specialists, you can resolve any worries and fears, recover any identity thefts, and work tirelessly to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

3 Common Back to School Scams

3 Common Back to School Scams

You may think your children are safe; however, no matter the age of your child, whether they are a pre-teen or young adults, they are never out of the reach of cybercriminals and scams. The best way to protect your children is to teach them the signs of an untrustworthy email or a suspicious phone call. By doing so, you are protecting them when you may not be present.

If you, yourself, are unaware of what to look for, here are the 3 common back to school scams you should be familiar with.

Phishing Scams

Students who are, for instance, heading to university should be wary when it comes to their emails. The phishing scams that usually circulate this time of year are trying to get you to share your personal details, for the purposes of identity theft and fraud. Be cautious of any emails sent with regards to any loans you may be taking out, or if your bank or university themselves are asking for financial or personal details.

The best way to snub these emails is to phone the company they are perpetrating to be. They will be able to say whether they sent you an email or not. If it is the latter, you can ignore the email. Of course, if you do accidentally fall prey to a phishing scam, there are professionals in identity fraud who can help you out. You should also notify your bank immediately.

High School Diploma Scams

Not all of us complete our high school diplomas in the usual settings, and so if you are returning to high school or completing your diploma via online learning, you need to be cautious about the company or facility you are putting your trust in. Not only do these types of scams cost you money, but at the end of the day, the victim still won’t have a diploma.

The usual red flags consist of you having to pay for a diploma, being able to earn a diploma in a short amount of time (a couple of days or so), and being able to take the test online (these tests are never administered over the internet).

Scholarship Scams

College is not cheap, and unfortunately, some students have to take out loans for them to be able to pay for their education. Fraudsters, therefore, have found ways to offer fake scholarships to soon-to-be students. To protect yourself, follow these following tips:

  • Never pay for your scholarship. You will never be expected to pay fees or taxes, so if they ask you for any payment, it is a scam, and you should ignore it.
  • If a company guarantees your scholarship, this is, sadly, a sign of a scam. While companies are looking to help students, they can never guarantee a scholarship, and so this is a major sign of fraudulent activity.

You can never be too trusting when it comes to protecting your identity and finances, especially when it comes to securing your future with regards to school and tuition fees. Therefore, be sure to question any unusual activity, and if you are ever unsure, ask for proof by phoning up the company and confirming the email of the person they are claiming to be.

Email Scams: What to Watch Out For

Email Scams: What to Watch Out For

Email scams, also known as phishing scams, are a popular fraudulent activity many criminals attempt to make use of. Usually, the emails are trying to steal your personal information such as bank details; they can pose as your bank or lull you into a false sense of complacently, by acting as if you’ve won a competition, for example. Other methods include infecting your computer with malicious malware, which will infect your computer or any other electronic device you’re using.

Luckily, there are many ways for you to stay one step ahead of phishing scams. Here’s what to watch out for when it comes to deciding whether an email is trustworthy or not.

Check the ‘From’ Address

The name may seem trustworthy and professional; however, if you hover over the sender’s name, you may be surprised to find out that it was sent by the email address ‘johndoe@hotmail.com’. Ask yourself, would your bank be contacting you through a Hotmail address? Of course, the answer would be a firm ‘no.’

How is the Greeting?

It’s easy to find out your name, but that doesn’t mean all scammers are likely to send you a personal email. They’re trying to hit as many people as they can, and so the email is more than likely to start with a simple and impersonal ‘Hi.’ Once this quick greeting is out-of-the-way, you’ll find that the email is rushing to get to the point: asking for your personal and bank details.

Cross-Examine the Branding

Anyone can work their magic with Photoshop, but that doesn’t mean the logo will be completely accurate. Check everything, from the line work to the coloring, to the slogan (if there is one), and whether they sit in the same place, they usually do. You should also check it against the last genuine email you were sent by them.

Are They Asking for Personal or Bank Details?

Not one company or business would ask you to input your personal or bank details through an email, and so if they are asking you to sign-in or update your existing details, it is likely going to be a scam. Personal details they may ask of you include:

  • Credit card number
  • PIN number
  • Credit card security code
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • The answer for any typical security questions, such as the name of your first pet or the street you grew up on.

Check the Grammar, Punctuation, and Spelling

Professional emails should not be littered with grammar, spelling or punctuation mistakes. Font styles and size should be consistent, and usually, a company will use the same font throughout all their company emails.

Make Contact with the Real Company

The safest route you can take is to contact the company directly and ask them whether they have sent a recent email to you. The company will be able to check, and with social media, they are incredibly quick at picking up these issues customers may be experiencing. Big companies are usually aware of scams that are currently circulating, and so they may already have an FAQ on scams to look out for.

How and Why to Make Sure the Website You Are on is Safe

How and Why to Make Sure the Website You Are on is Safe

You need to ensure the websites you are going on are safe and secure, to reduce the likelihood of hacks, viruses, and scams. A secure website is one that is completely free from malware and viruses while encrypting its data so that your personal and financial data cannot be compromised. Not all sites, however, are safe. Here’s how you can spot the difference between a website that is up to code and one that is not, and, most importantly, why you need to be checking the security of the websites you are using.

What to Look Out For

HTTPS

Before you enter any personal information, check the URL in the address bar and see whether it starts with ‘https://’. You should only use websites that have the ‘S’ present, as the ‘S’ signifies that the website is using a communications protocol for secure communications. Never enter any sensitive information on a website that only uses HTTP. You should also only use a website that makes use of SSL (Secure Socket Layering), as it can help fight against eavesdropping across servers.

You also need to ensure the website you are on has a padlock in the address bar, as this proves a website’s security features more so than the HTTPS does.

Secure and Verified Badge

Check the bottom of the website you’re on for a badge that marks the site as trustworthy and secure. While scammers could easily recreate the badge, hover over the badge to see if there is a pop-up that should display a legitimate certificate and verification information. If the information does not match up, then the website is likely not secure.

Contact Information

The website should have a detailed ‘contact us’ section, where you can find valid email addresses, phone numbers and social media channels that are active, personal, and look to be run by a real person. You could, of course, contact the site owner to see whether there is a human site to the website. If you phone up and a teenager answers, then you know the website isn’t legitimate.

The Website’s Privacy Policy

Websites should explain how your data is collected, what it is collected for, how it is used and what security measures the company have in place so that they can protect your sensitive data. Take your time to read through their policy; if a website is lacking an in-depth analysis, then take your business elsewhere.

Why You Need to Check a Website’s Security

If you are on a website to purchase something, then any personal or bank details you use can be stored and stolen, if not by the company, then by anyone who can hack into their unprotected systems. With your personal details, criminals will be able to access your accounts and either steal your money, identity, or both. Unsecured websites can also infect your laptop or other electronic devices with a virus which could steal your data or hold your data hostage. Ransomware is a problem for businesses of all sizes, as well as everyday people.

Child Identity Theft: It’s Not Only Adults Affected

Child Identity Theft: It’s Not Only Adults Affected

In today’s digital day and age, we are all more aware than ever before of the risk of identity theft, particularly in the form of cyber hacks, which result in our personal and private information being stolen and used by fraudsters to commit crimes under your name. We are often reminded of the risks involved in sharing our personal information, and the ways we can protect against becoming a victim of this very common crime.

When you hear the term ‘identity theft,’ one group of society that you may not immediately consider being the victim are children. However, a recent study comprised by Javelin Research found that in the United States alone, over 1 million children were victims of identity theft in 2017. Within this statistic, 2/3 of victims were under the age of eight, and 20% were 8-12 years old.

Why are children victimized?

Children are, in particular, victimized by fraudsters because, in general, it is much harder to detect identity theft of a child. This is mainly because children will have no idea that their identity and information is being used by someone else. It is harder to track because children will have clean credit card records, and there is no real way of knowing that the identity has been stolen. In terms of the type of information that is stolen, this includes your child’s social security number and paper documents such as birth certificates and any financial records. A child’s online footprints are now also developed much earlier due to digitalization, meaning school and medical records, for example, are much easier to track down.

How can I prevent it?

In terms of trying to prevent your child from becoming a victim of identity theft, steps to take include being vigilant with any important documents in the home. It may shock you to learn that statistically, in a third of cases of identity theft, family friends are the fraud perpetrator. Therefore, regarding any documents in the home, try and keep these under lock and key, as you never know who could potentially take advantage and try and steal your child’s identity.

Teaching your child early on about the importance of identity theft is essential, too, as it is near impossible to keep an eye on what your child is sharing with others once they are of an age to go online independently. Therefore, teaching your children about the importance of keeping their information private can be a vital step to take that can help prevent identity theft occurring. Remind them of information they must not reveal, such as their full name, address, phone number, and school details. If your child uses social media platforms or online forums, it is best to remain anonymous as any information can be picked up by a fraudster.

Furthermore, you need to be vigilant and teach your child to avoid clicking on any unknown websites that could be phishing websites or pop-ups that could give potential hackers the opportunity to access private information. You can also utilize identity protection software that can keep you and your family’s information private.

Identity theft is something adults may be all-too-aware of as they surf the online world. However, your children need protecting too at all times. While it’s hard to believe that someone would use your child’s details, it happens, and prevention is key in ensuring your child doesn’t become a victim.