Scams, Scams and More Darn Scams

Scams, Scams and More Darn Scams

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 memberservices@guardwellid.com or call 888.966.GUARD (4827) for help.

SIM Swap Attack – the New Hijack

SIM Swap Attack – the New Hijack

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 AuthenticatorLastPass 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!

 

 

DNA – Genetic Testing Hacks

DNA – Genetic Testing Hacks

Yes, we all would love to know more about our pasts … some from a medical necessity and others just from plain curiosity. Unfortunately, genetic testing is one of the newer “gotcha” identity theft hacks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of Inspector General has just alerted the public about this new fraud scheme.

 

What is Genetic Testing?

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, genetic testing is a voluntary medical test “that identifies changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins. The results of a genetic test can confirm or rule out a suspected genetic condition or help determine a person’s chance of developing or passing on a genetic disorder.” With more than 1,000 genetic tests currently in use, genetic testing labs are sprouting up all over the country, and in some circumstances, health insurers now pay for the testing. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pays for next-generation sequencing for people with advanced cancer or a family history if the test is medically necessary and ordered by a treating physician. These tests may cost $10,000 or more.

 

How Does Genetic Testing Fraud Happen?

Genetic testing fraud occurs when, in this case, Medicare is billed for a test or screening that was not medically necessary and/or was not ordered by a treating physician. For example, Mr. Smith, a retiree, attended a county fair and stopped by a booth offering “free genetic testing.” Not realizing that a treating physician’s orders would be needed for Medicare to cover the cost of the test and being naturally curious about his family’s risk of cancer, Mr. Smith provided his Medicare personal identifying information to the booth worker prior to getting his cheek swabbed. In some cases, sample kits are mailed to the victim. He was then told to expect test results in about three weeks. Medicare was billed for the test and denied the claim. Mr. Smith was then charged the full amount of the test and likely never received his results. Basically, Mr. Smith’s scammer found a laboratory willing to split the profit from the testing once the DNA samples were in hand.

 

How Can I Prevent This?

– If a genetic test is mailed to you unsolicited, do not accept it. Just write ‘return to sender’ on the envelope and send it back.

– Understand that there are schemes that say genetic testing is free. Although it may falsely appear as a no cost test, realize that there are no free genetic tests. Someone always has to pay.

– Only a physician that you know (and trust) should be discussing genetic testing with you or ordering it.

– If someone you do not know asks for your health insurance or Medicare information, do not provide it. Only provide this type of information in person at your physician’s office.

– Be aware that anytime your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes. Closely monitor your credit report and make sure your identity theft resolution services coverage is current.

 

If you suspect genetic testing fraud, please contact the HHS OIG (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General) hotline at 1.800.HHS.TIPS or email spoof@oig.hhs.gov immediately. Not sure what to do or have concerns about this topic? Contact us day or night. We are always open for you.

 

 

Financial Tips for 2019 Grads

Financial Tips for 2019 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.

Ten Signs You Have Been a Victim of Identity Theft

Ten Signs You Have Been a Victim of Identity Theft

Identity theft is rampant. One in three data breach victims will experience fraud according to a 2018 study by Javelin Strategy & Research. The number of identity fraud victims in the United States alone is at 16.7 million with over $16.8 billion stolen. Read More

 

Do you know the latest signs of identity theft? Here are the top ten red flags that trouble is brewing:

– You receive a notice, either in the mail or via email, that you have been a part of a data breach.

– Your credit score quickly drops without explanation.

– Withdrawals from your bank account start to occur … and they are withdrawals that you haven’t scheduled or already made.

– Although you haven’t filed any insurance claims, your rates rapidly rise.

– Your Social Security statements aren’t matching your records.

– There are suspicious charges on your credit card.

– You are turned down for a loan or credit card unexpectedly.

– Your credit report shows accounts that you have not opened.

– Either federal, your state or local taxing authority alerts you to their receipt of multiple filings in your name.

– You receive a bill for an item or service that you have not purchased … and from a company that you have never done business with.

 

Have you experienced any of the above? If yes, contact a fraud resolution specialist immediately.

The Rise in Health Care Fraud

The Rise in Health Care Fraud

Health care data is increasingly becoming a top target for scammers and hackers. A reason why fraudsters may be going after health care data more is because of its longer shelf life and rich potential for identity theft. Financial data has a finite lifespan and loses its worth as soon as the consumer notices the frauds and cancels their accounts or cards. However, health care data contains information that can’t be cancelled or changed as easily as a credit card.

Every year, with the exception of 2015, the number of healthcare data breaches has increased 70%, rising from 199 breaches in 2010 to 344 in 2017.[1] According to a study published by the Journal of American Medical Association, “those breaches have resulted in the loss, theft, exposure, or impermissible disclosure of 176.4 million healthcare records. 75% of those records were exposed or stolen as a result of hacking or IT incidents.” Medical identity theft not only affects the patient (consumer), but has potentially disastrous ramifications on insurance providers as well as the healthcare providers.

What is medical identity theft?

Medical identity theft occurs when a fraudster illegally obtains and uses a patient’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as name, Social Security number, and/or medical insurance identity number, to fraudulently obtain or bill for medical goods or services. This kind of fraud also includes the unauthorized personal gain of insurance benefits, prescription drugs, employment, government benefits, or other financial gain acquired through the theft of another individual’s PII. Hackers have also been known to sell stolen health care records on the black market.[2]

The ten largest data breaches of patient data in 2018 involved email, targeted phishing attacks, and database misconfigurations. The largest health data breach during this same time was caused by a hack on a billing vendor, AccuDoc Solutions. 2.65 million Atrium Health patients were involved in the breach.

Who is at risk?

Everyone is at risk for medical identity theft but seniors are increasingly targeted. Navigating the Medicare system isn’t easy to begin with. When confusion enters the picture, scammers view it as an especially ripe time to take advantage of the ever-growing aging population. Always keep in mind that Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information.[3]

How can you help protect yourself?[4]

  • Review the Explanations of Benefits (EOB) statement or Medicare Summary Notice that your health plan sends after treatment. Immediately report any mistakes or unfamiliar charges, such as a doctor’s visit you did not make or prescriptions that you did not fill.
  • Check in with your doctor(s) to ensure your medical records are accurate. Make sure the records contain your procedures, treatments, prescriptions, and other medical activities. If you notice inaccurate health details such as the wrong blood type, pre-existing conditions, or allergies, it may be a sign that an identity thief has accessed your records.
  • Get a copy of your medical records periodically and keep them in a safe.
  • Do not share your medical or insurance information with other individuals.Especially do not provide your medical information over the phone or via email unless you initiated the contact and have verified the entity you are contacting.
  • Treat your medical identity with the same care and caution you do any of your other sensitive information, such as your financial credentials. Shred health documents you no longer need. Peel the labels off of your prescription bottle and shred them as well.
  • Read the Privacy Policy on a website before you provide your Personally Identifiable Information. Find out why your Social Security number or insurance account numbers may be needed and how the website will keep it safe, or if it will be shared, and if so, with whom. (Websites with “https” in their URL are secure.)

If you are unsure about sharing your personal information with someone who says they are from your health plan—DON’T. Directly contact the Member Services number on your ID card so you can be sure the person is a verified health representative.

Taking the Mystery out of Shopping Scams

Taking the Mystery out of Shopping Scams

It’s no secret that being a mystery shopper for a reputable company is a legitimate way for an individual to earn some income. Mystery shopping, also known as secret shopping, is estimated to be a $1.5 – 2 billion dollar industry with over 8.1 million mystery shops conducted a year. This profitable enterprise has been around for decades.

Contrary to what many believe, mystery shoppers don’t get paid to shop. They are independent contractors who pose as shoppers in order to gather data about the customer experience in a specific environment. Mystery shoppers complete reports, often using an online form, after leaving the establishment they observe. They get paid for their work and do not front any money first in order to work.

Fake check fraud is an exploding epidemic and scams involving the mystery shopping industry have made a big comeback … unfortunately, our tech-savvy teenagers are the targets of late.

Anyone with a bank account and the desire to make some extra cash on the side can be a victim. High school and university students across the nation are increasingly being pursued. Why students? Students are easy targets for scammers due to their need for money to help fund their education.

Thousands are being contacted and thousands of dollars are being lost. The latest mystery shopping scam reported in the media last month disclosed that University students in Fargo, North Dakota had been targeted. One devastated student ended up losing $3,850.75. Being educated on how this type of scam operates will help prevent this from happening to you and your child.

How Does a Mystery Shopping Scam Work?

  • Scammer reaches out to victim with an offer in the mail to be a secret shopper and a check is included. Often times the amount on the check is for over a thousand dollars. The victim is told to deposit the check and understands that they will eventually keep several hundred dollars as payment for their upcoming shopping services.
  • Victim deposits the check and waits the expected day or two for the funds to clear. Note that even if the bank says the funds are available in a couple of days, the process of uncovering a fake check can take financial institutions weeks.
  • Victim is asked to buy something. Typically, the first shopping task is to test the in-store money transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram by sending some of the money that was deposited back to the company.
  • Victim is then asked to buy a product, “often from a Walmart,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. Common items purchased are reloadable gift cards, such as iTunes. Part of this task requires the victim to send pictures of the purchased cards or to give the numbers on the cards to the company.
  • Two to three weeks later, the victim receives a notification from their bank that the deposited check was a fake. The realization that they have been scammed sets in. Victim is responsible for paying back the amount to their bank. Another unfortunate bonus is that the reloadable gift cards that the victim had purchased are suddenly empty of funds.

 

What Can You Do?

Help stop these scammers from making money. Educate your children about the issue. Explain what check fraud is. Let them know that they should never pay to become a mystery shopper. The fact that these scammers are targeting our children is another great reason to make sure that your identity theft protection covers every member of your immediate family.

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.