Keeping Your Holidays Happy and Fraud-free

Keeping Your Holidays Happy and Fraud-free

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 ‘before your trip’ actions 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 Wifi if at all possible

– Do not use public computers

– Keep your travel documents in the hotel room 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 memberservices@guardwellid.com. Day or night, we’ve got your back and will always be open for you.

Experian Boost is Here

Experian Boost is Here

It is now possible to raise your credit FICO score instantly with Experian Boost! This new feature has been added to our website to help you increase your score by an average of 13 points*.

 

In seconds you can get:

– Credit for the utility bills you’ve been paying from your bank account.

– Credit for streaming subscription payments.

– Matched with better credit cards based on your boosted score.

 

Results are instantaneous and, best of all, it is a free service. No credit card is required. You do not need to be a Guard Well member to utilize this special feature. Take better control of your credit and try it today. Boost HERE.

 

Be vigilant. Be strong. We are always available 24/7/365 if you have any questions or concerns. Call us at 888.966.GUARD (4827) or email memberservices@guardwellid.com.

 

*Results may vary. Some may no see improved scores or approval odds. Not all lenders use Experian credit files, and not all lenders use scores impacted by Experian Boost.

Hurricane Ian Scams: Protecting Yourself from Charity and Disaster Fraud

Hurricane Ian Scams: Protecting Yourself from Charity and Disaster Fraud

On September 28th, Ian, the fifth strongest hurricane on record in the United States, slammed into Florida as a category four. Devastation, flooding, loss of life and significant property damage along the rest of Ian’s path occurred in multiple states over the next few days. Following natural disasters like Ian, charity and disaster schemes from scammers quickly come to surface to those who were directly impacted and others that want to help.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has sent out reminders and tips on how to avoid falling victim to charity and disaster fraud.

– All government officials are required to carry official identification and show it if requested. If you are hesitant to believe them, contact the FBI directly to confirm their identity.

– All Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and assistant agencies will not ask for money to apply for assistance and they will not ask you for any financial information. If someone comes door-to-door, calls, texts or emails you, do not immediately give out your personal identifying information (PII), such as your social security number or bank account information, without first confirming their identity as legitimate and not a scammer.

– If you would like to donate to the many charities that are assisting survivors, understand that there are some fake charities out there. Unless you are giving to a charitable agency that you know and trust, go online and research the reviews and ratings as established by the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If you do donate, use a credit card. Gift cards and wire transfers are highly discouraged. Also remember that no legitimate agency is going to pressure you to donate.

We would like to remind you to not click on links from sources you do not know. The FBI suggests to manually type out the links instead of clicking them to prevent attempts to download viruses on your cell or laptop/computer.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns or suspect that you or a family member has been a victim of fraud, please contact Member Services immediately. We are open and always available for you 24/7/365 at 888.966.GUARD (4827).

 

Photo credit: NASA under license via unsplash.com.

Student Loan Scams Are On The Rise

Student Loan Scams Are On The Rise

On August 24th, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the one-time federal student loan debt relief plan. While the forgiveness plan is designed to help many low and middle-income families, we are now seeing an increase in scams that have the potential to hurt them badly.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests some ways to avoid being a victim of a student loan scam:

Never pay an up-front fee. Companies that charge you before they help you are breaking the law. Don’t fall for the ads that promise to help you with student loan debt. If you have federal loans, go to the Department of Education at StudentAid.gov.

Don’t sign up for quick loan forgiveness. Even though they might say they can wipe out your loans by disputing them, they can not.

Don’t trust a Department of Education seal. Even though it might look like an official seal and logo, it likely isn’t.

Don’t rush. Scammers will ask you to act fast so you don’t “miss” qualifying for repayment plans, loan consolidation or forgiveness programs.

Don’t provide your FSA ID to anyone. This is your private information and can be used to steal your identity.

The FTC also stressed that there is nothing a company can do for you that cannot do yourself for free. Again, if you have federal loans, start with StudentAid.gov/repay. If your loans are private, contact your lender directly.

To learn more about the debt relief plan from the U.S. Department of Education, click HERE.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Member Services immediately. We are always available for you 24/7/365 at 888.966.GUARD (4827).

 

Photo courtesy credit: Muhammad Rizwan via unsplash.com.

How to Avoid Disaster-Related Scams

How to Avoid Disaster-Related Scams

Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster is always difficult. Unfortunately, scammers will jump at the chance to take advantage of those who are trying to assess and recover from the tremendous damage that weather-related events, such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornados, along with pandemic-related COVID-19 can cause.

 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests a few ways to help avoid common post-disaster scams:

 

Be skeptical of anyone promising immediate clean-up and debris removal. Some fake vendors will quote sky-high prices and demand payment up-front.

 

Do a background check on them. Before you pay anything, ask for identification, licenses along with proof of insurance in writing.

 

Never pay in cryptocurrency, wire transfer, cash or via a gift card. Only make the final payment until the work is completed satisfactorily.

 

Always guard your personal identifying information (PII). “Only scammers will say they’re a government official and then demand money or your credit card, bank account or social security number.”

 

Understand that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will never ask for an application fee. FEMA has provided over $1 billion to more than 165,000 people to assist with COVID-19-related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after January. “If someone wants money to help you qualify for FEMA funds, that’s probably a scam.”

 

Spot and report disaster-related charity scams. If you are fortunate enough to be able to help others, visit this link for advice on how to donate wisely and avoid charity scams.

 

For more information and other tips, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/dealing-weather-emergencies

 

Be vigilant. Be strong. Stay in the know. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Member Services immediately. We are always available for you 24/7/365 at 888.966.GUARD (4827).

 

Photo courtesy credit to Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com.

Guard Well Appoints New Chief Technology Officer and VP of Operations

Guard Well Appoints New Chief Technology Officer and VP of Operations

Bradley Amster

CINCINNATI, OH – September 1, 2022 Guard Well Identity Theft Solutions today announced the appointment of Bradley Amster, Owner of Data Design Systems, as Chief Technology Officer and Vice President of Operations.

Amster holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing/Management from the University of Cincinnati. Since 2011, Amster has provided web design and in-depth IT knowledge and solutions for the Cincinnati-based company. Guard Well’s Founder and President remarked, “We are pleased to appoint Brad as a new director. He’s been a large part of our eleven year growth and we are very happy to bring him in house. We are confident that he will continue to provide valuable perspectives as we grow into larger markets and develop new technologies.”

For over a decade, Guard Well has provided award-winning identity theft protection support and complete resolution services after having built a strong partnership with industry powerhouse Experian. Distributed largely through the employee voluntary benefit space, Guard Well’s mission is to provide affordable, yet effective, multi-layered protection for every American household with 24/7/365 protection. Guard Well’s core belief is full resolution for the Member and their household including unlimited access to best-in-class fraud resolution specialists.

18 Social Media Apps Parents Should Know About

18 Social Media Apps Parents Should Know About

As children get older and become more independent, their time on smart phones and laptops increase substantially. Yes, you can set screen time limits for them but, as a parent, you likely won’t be able to implement that control continuously through the years. It is important to help your children be aware that predators have the ability to find them through some of the apps they use.

Ways to Help Protect Your Children:

  • Approve every app on your child’s phone
  • Understand how to use privacy settings and check them regularly
  • Discuss what you expect of your children in regard to phone usage
  • Educate yourself and your children on social media etiquette
  • Research the popular apps in your particular geographic area
  • Check your child’s phone periodically for any new apps

 

These 18 apps can be dangerous and expose your children to a range of events from bullying and unwanted sexual messages to kidnapping and identity theft.

  • HOUSEPARTY – a video chatting app that allows friends to communicate with each other through live video and texts in chat groups. The app has no parental controls and by default, is not set to private.
  • YOUTUBE KIDS – a separate version of the popular video-sharing site aimed squarely at children 4+. There have been reports of videos that have kid-friendly titles but are clearly not kid-friendly content.
  • TUMBLER – a micro-blogging site that allows users to share photos, videos and short blogs with a built-in chat function. Although Tumbler banned pornographic content in 2018, it is still possible to see sexually suggestive images and there have been reports of pro-anorexia, and pro-selfharm posts.
  • TELLONYM – a cross-platform messaging app to have questions answered. It was created as a means to give and receive anonymous feedback.
  • BUMBLE – similar to the Tinder dating app but requires females to make the first contact. Children have been known to use Bumble to create fake accounts with a false age.
  • ME – a live-streaming video service that utilizes geolocation so users can find out each broadcaster’s exact location. Users of this app can earn”coins” as a way to “pay” minors for their photos and videos.
  • ASKFM – a cyber-bullying app that encourages anonymous people to ask anonymous questions. The answers are then used to cyber bully the account holders.
  • SNAPCHAT – most popular app amongst middle and high schoolers. Users can take photos/videos and create “storie” that can be viewed for 24 hours before it disappears. This app also has geolocation so users can see each person’s exact location.
  • HOLLA – is one of the most self-proclaimed addicting video apps where users can chat with people all over the world in just seconds. Racial slurs, explicit content and identity theft are to be expected.
  • CALCULATOR% – is one of several secret apps used to hide photos, videos, files and browser history. The app looks like a calculator but functions like a secret photo vault.
  • KIK – provides account holders unlimited access to direct message anyone anywhere. This app also has built-in apps and web content that would be typically filtered on a home computer.
  • WHISPER – another anonymous social network that promotes the sharing of secrets with strangers. A user’s location can be revealed so people can meet up.
  • HOT OR NOT – this app encourages users to rate your profile, check out people in their geographic area and chat with strangers with the goal of hooking up.
  • OMEGLE – is a free online chat website that promotes chatting anonymously with strangers.
  • YELLOW – another “tinder” like app that allows teens to flirt with each other.
  • BURN BOOK – known to be the app where anonymous rumors can be spread through audio messages, text, and photos.
  • WISHBONE – allows users to compare kids against each other and rate them on a scale.
  • INSTAGRAM – is a very popular photo/video sharing app that allows users to assign filters to photos and share them with their followers. Everyone who creates an Instagram account has a profile as well as a newsfeed. There are privacy settings that can make accounts public or private. It is popular for children to create fake accounts with fake names, ages and pictures.

New apps are developed daily so stay in the know regarding the social media scene and what your children are talking about with their friends. Utilizing the same apps your children use can also help you keep up-to-date on what privacy controls are available and how they work.

Financial Tips for 2022 Grads

Financial Tips for 2022 Grads

It’s that exciting time of year! Cap and gowns are coming in and Pomp and Circumstance is running through your head as you prepare for the big event. If you’re a parent of a soon-to-be high school graduate, dollar signs may be running through your head as well, along with advice … and lots of it!

 

If you’re a grad, get ready to hear life experience stories from your graduation speaker and many others. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has some advice for you as well. Learn how to recognize financial scams. Younger people report losing money to fraud more often than older generations. According to Colleen Tressler, Consumer Education Specialist, FTC, 43% of those who reported fraud were in their 20s, while only 15% were in their 70s. Read More

 

What can you do to help avoid financial fraud?

– Never give out money or any personal identifying information (PII) in response to an unexpected request. Be wary of texts, phone calls and emails. Scammers commonly pretend to be someone you trust.

– Do your research. Be smart with your online searches and use terms like “complaint,” “scam” or “alert” along with the company name when you search.

– Understand that there’s no such thing as truthful caller ID anymore.

– Don’t wire money. Government and legitimate companies will not require you to pay for products or services with a reloadable gift card. Even using cards like iTunes and Google Play are risky.

– Recognize that robocalls are illegal and should be reported to the FTC. If you mistakenly answer one of these calls, hang up immediately.

 

Looking for a job?

– Check out job placement firms closely. These companies should not be charging high fees in advance for any type of service without a guarantee of placement.

– Keep in mind that the promise of a job isn’t the same thing as job. If you have to pay for that promise, it’s likely a scam. Read More

– Realize that there are many fake jobs listed on social media. Google the company name and visit their website along with the search term “career.” If jobs are not listed on their website and nothing comes up on Google, those are red flags.

– Don’t give out any credit or bank account information over the phone to a company unless they have hired you and have agreed to pay you something.

– Get job details in writing and take time to go over the small print. A legitimate company won’t pressure you into making an on-the-spot decision regarding your career.

 

Congratulations and make sure you enjoy your special day. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors!

 

For more information, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov.

Guarding Against Business Identity Theft

Guarding Against Business Identity Theft

Individuals aren’t the only targets for identity theft. Corporate, also known as commercial identity theft, saw a 46% increase last year according to the National Cybersecurity Society (NCSS). Although businesses of all sizes are at risk, small businesses are particularly vulnerable. “Small business identity theft—stealing a business’ identity to commit fraud—is big business for identity thieves,” remarks Mary Ellen Seale, CEO of NCSS.

 

She explains, “Unlike larger corporations, small businesses don’t always have the required security controls in place to detect and deter fraudulent activity, which can make them easier targets. There is also a general unawareness, among large and small businesses alike, of the magnitude of the threat and the devastating effects that business identity theft can have.”

 

Stealing an organization’s identity takes a lot less work than one might think. State laws require the public disclosure of proprietary business information in annual reports, names and addresses of key company personnel as well as the employee identification number (EIN). All of this information can be used by thieves to apply for a line of credit or loan as well as intercept business credit card information.

 

What can business owners do to help mitigate their risk?

 

– Educate your employees about phishing scams. Phishers aren’t just targeting your business … they are grabbing your customers, employees, partners and vendors. Make sure your employees know what red flags to look for when they receive an email that is asking for an action from them. Examples include bad grammar, misspelled words, links to unfamiliar websites and attachments.

 

– Don’t post sensitive company information on your website.

 

– Stay on top of computer security updates.

 

– Check your credit reports regularly.

 

– Follow the IRS new procedures to protect businesses. Visit https://www.irs.gov/individuals/identity-theft-guide-for-business-partnerships-and-estate-and-trusts for detailed information.

 

– File your company’s annual report on time and regularly check the secretary of state’s website. Keep in mind that if you operate your business in more than one state, each state may have their own due date.

 

Unfortunately, identity theft is here to stay. With the number of incidents growing each year, and financial losses piling up, it’s more important than ever for businesses to be vigilant. Do you have an anti-phishing plan for your business? Please contact us if you need assistance developing one or educating your employees about the topic.

 

Be vigilant. Be strong. Stay in the know. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Member Services immediately. We are always available for you 24/7/365 at 888.966.4827 (GUARD).

 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

8.4B Passwords & 25M Records Stolen

8.4B Passwords & 25M Records Stolen

Just recently our security team found two new breaches involving 25,000,000 stolen records and that 8.4 billion passwords have been stolen and sold on the dark web. We see these breaches all the time. The reality is that out of the 8.5 billion IP addresses worldwide, 3.5 billion of them are malware. That’s correct! Almost half of the worldwide web is created to commit fraud. That’s why we have proudly built a strong partnership with industry powerhouse Experian who jointly provides our member’s identity protection, support, and complete resolution service.

 

Guard Well Identity Theft Solutions exists to protect you, your family, and your employees from the damages of identity theft. It has been a pleasure protecting America’s workforce for the last decade. We look forward to many years and much more growth to come!

 

Be vigilant. Be Strong. Stay in the know. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Member Services immediately. We are always available for you 24/7/365 at 888.966.4827 (GUARD).

 

Photo courtesy of unsplash.com Bermix Studios