Spring has sprung! Iowans are out in the yard clearing brush collected over the winter, and indoors on rainy days cleaning up from a winter inside. While you are sprucing up the house, also make sure to set aside time to review, check-up, and clean up your personal and financial privacy settings and protection plans.
Step 1: Update your passwords!
Identity thieves love it when people and businesses set and keep the same passwords for years. If you don’t update your passwords an identity thief who gained your password through a privacy breach has an open road to your personal data. You can prevent fraud by changing your password at least once every year.
When you change passwords, don’t just change a digit or two, use a more complex phrase or sentence, or consider using an online random password generator to produce a password that virtually no human or machine could crack. Try to be unpredictable, don’t use common words, phrases, or other passwords that would be easy to guess. Use a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols. Don’t use the same passwords for separate accounts.
Step 2: Make sure your device software is up to date and install and update computer security software.
Check your smart phones, tablets, laptops, PC’s and other devices to ensure they are updated with the latest software versions. Providers routinely upgrade security settings and patch security holes with their updates. Better yet, set your web browser to update automatically. If you haven’t installed computer security software on your laptop or PC, check out these free providers, or choose others, but get it done:
Don’t leave your computer as a sitting target for identity thieves. Make sure you are using the latest versions. A privacy firewall is no good if it has weaknesses scam artists can use to easily access your private data.
Step 3: Check your privacy settings in social media.
Today, social media providers such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and others have more incentive than ever to protect users’ personal data. They give users tools to set varying levels of privacy. Make sure you understand your options and choose the privacy settings that are right for you.
While spring is a great time for a security check-up and clean-up, make computer and device security a regular habit. For more information about all forms of identity theft, go to our website: IowaIdTheft.org.
April 15 is right around the corner, and we all want to file our tax returns on time. What we don’t want is to learn that someone already filed for us and tried to claim our refunds!
Since 2000, tax-related identity theft has grown significantly. The IRS, the Iowa Department of Revenue, state and federal consumer protection agencies, and taxpayers have all fought back. But tax-related identity theft remains a threat.
Identity thieves may try to steal an income tax refund by using the taxpayer’s Social Security number to file a tax return. Similarly, they may use a victim’s SSN to earn wages that are reported to the IRS as the victim’s income, thereby avoiding paying taxes themselves on the earnings.
Identity thieves get hold of Social Security numbers through various means. They make telemarketing calls to trick victims by saying they are with the IRS or some other agency and want to confirm the number. They buy Social Security numbers obtained through data breaches. They also trick victims through scam e-mails.
You may find out you’ve been a victim of income tax identity theft when you receive a letter from the IRS or the Iowa Department of Revenue saying more than one return was filed in your name or that you earned income you didn’t report.
If you have been notified someone has committed tax-related identity theft with your personal information report it promptly. Go to IdentityTheft.gov to complete and send the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit. By doing this, you will also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and obtain an ID theft recovery plan. Report it, even if you just think you are a victim but haven’t gotten confirmation.
Do not delay filing your income tax returns! Though you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft, you are still obligated to file your returns on time.
Unfortunately, tax-related identity theft affects Iowans every year. But, you can decrease the chances you will become a victim by filing your return as early as possible. Also, avoid giving personal information to someone who calls or e-mails you unexpectedly and says they are with the IRS. The IRS will generally only contact you by mail. If you are mailing your return, place it in a postal mail box – do not leave it in your home mailbox to be picked up by the mail carrier. Finally, when filing your return online, make sure you are using a secure server and never file your tax return on a public wifi.
Iowa public and private agencies that assist identity theft victims
are urged to use a new Victim Handout.
The Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition has unveiled a new Handout designed specifically for Iowa victims of identity theft. The Coalition is a public/nonprofit partnership of 21 Iowa law enforcement and other organizations.
Among other things, the Handout’s advice includes immediate steps victims should take such as reporting the problem to law enforcement. The Handout also covers longer-term actions victims should consider such as closely reviewing all future bills and financial account statements for signs of fraud.
Coalition Director Bill Brauch said that Coalition members wanted to provide advice that was short, thorough, and easy to understand. “Our members did a great job in designing the Handout. It’s already being used by our members throughout the state and we are actively promoting its use by others, including municipal police departments, the Iowa Area Agencies on Aging, constituent service offices of Iowa’s members of Congress, and others.”
Brauch noted that the Handout can be given to victims online or in person on a single, two-sided sheet. “This gets information into victims’ hands right away and gives them solid advice so they can start immediately doing what they need to do to clear up their accounts and records.”
Brauch said that the “immediate steps” include reporting the fraud to the company or agency where the fraud occurred. “Nothing is more important that preventing any losses right away,” Brauch said.
Brauch noted that the next step is vital. “Every identity theft victim needs to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) by going to www.Identitytheft.gov.” Brauch noted that the FTC’s website offers victims hands-on tools, including a victim report to present to law enforcement and to creditors, model form letters to send to lenders and credit card issuers, and further advice. Brauch noted another immediate step is for victims to file a report with their local police or sheriff’s offices.
After completing immediate steps, the Handout recommends victims:
“Victims often don’t know where to turn for help,” Brauch said. “Using the advice on the Coalition’s Handout will help them focus on the most important steps to take, and in the right order, so they can minimize the time and cost of recovering from identity theft.”
The members of the Iowa Identity Theft Victim Assistance Coalition include:
AARP Iowa, Children and Families of Iowa, Iowa Attorney General’s Office – Consumer Protection Division, Iowa Attorney General’s Office – Crime Victim Assistance Division, Iowa Bankers Association, Iowa County Attorneys Association, Iowa Credit Union Foundation, Iowa Department of Corrections - Office of Victim and Restorative Justice Programs, Iowa Department of Revenue, Iowa Department of Transportation, Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, Iowa Insurance Division, Iowa Legal Aid, Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer, Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance, Iowa State Bank, Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Polk County Attorney’s Association, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa.
The Coalition was formed through a 2017 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Justice Assistance Programs, and is as part of the National Identity Theft Victim Assistance Network overseen by the Department of Justice. The grant establishing the Iowa Coalition was made to the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance, a non-profit organization that has been active since 1983 in advocating for the rights of Iowa crime victims.
Coalition Director Brauch retired in 2015 after 28 years as an Assistant Iowa Attorney General, the last 20 years as Director of the Iowa Attorney Generals’ Consumer Protection Division.
Identity Theft Victim Handout PDF
(The Coalition’s Website was produced by the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance under award #2016-XV-GX-K004, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.)
It’s New Year’s resolution time again. You may be planning to lose weight, get in shape, or firm up your finances. But here’s one resolution we should all follow – to better protect our privacy in 2019!
Resolving to do a better job protecting your privacy will not show up when you get on the scale, but the hidden benefits can be enormous. For example, who wouldn’t want to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft?
By following the simple steps below, you’ll be much less likely to fall victim to an identity thief. Resolve to:
December holidays are just around the corner. Many Americans choose this time of year to be generous to others. Most charities are legitimate and deserving of support. But, scam charities are out there and thrive by lying about the percentage of donations used for charitable purposes. Some may simply pocket all the money.
Identity thieves are also aware that charitable giving is much higher in December than in any other month and are all too ready to exploit it.
Here are some tips to protect you and your family against identity thieves who will take advantage of your generosity:
The leaves are changing and falling. Halloween is soon upon us. Pumpkins have been carved and decorate many a porch across Iowa. Little ghosts and goblins will soon be out for trick or treat. Halloween can be a fun time for all.
While the ‘frights’ of Halloween are all in jest, consumers’ fears about falling victim to identity theft are all too real. However, there is much we all can do to prevent the identity theft ghouls from getting hold of our important financial and other information.
Here are some tips to protect you and your family against identity thieves who lurk, both day and night:
Keep the lights on and the treats ready for the little ones this Halloween, but slam the door on tricky identity thieves!
Parents of teenagers might think, “My son (or daughter) doesn’t have a credit report, why would I care about freezing his credit?” Here’s why: kids are identity theft victims every day. NBC News reported this summer on a study that found over 1 million children in the U.S. were victims of identity theft in 2017.
Think about it; a child has a Social Security number but no credit file. What better target for an identity thief who wants to apply for credit using someone else’s Social Security number? Worse yet, a credit card obtained by a scam artist in your child’s name is unlikely to be detected for some time. Child victims can be any age under 18.
The harm to a minor’s credit can be substantial. No one wants their child to start adult life with destroyed credit, unpaid bills and possibly even civil judgments against them for unpaid debts. Cleaning up a mess like that takes a lot of time and effort.
Iowa law, and now federal law, provides parents with a free way to keep this from happening. Parents can now require the credit reporting companies to create a credit file for minor children and then to issue a 'security freeze' for the file, all at no charge. This makes it much harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in the child’s name or using the child’s Social Security number as creditors will be denied access to the credit file.
Each of the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion post information instructing parents how to do this for their children. Both Iowa and the new federal law provide this same option for those who care for incapacitated persons or for those appointed as a guardian or conservator for another.
Parents can watch for signs that their children have been victims, including calls or notices from debt collectors, credit card bills, bills for medical care, driver license renewal notices for children who don’t have a license and other unexpected notices. The same laws will allow parents, or their children upon turning 18, to lift the freezes at no charge.
There are almost an infinite number of ways it seems, that we can inadvertently release our personal data in the electronic age. Here’s one you very likely haven't considered.
Most Americans know that today’s modern vehicles are rolling computers. Most Americans probably also know that they need to carefully clear data before disposing of a computer, I-Pad, or smart phone. But you may not have thought about it when it comes to your car.
It's also a treasure-trove of information — so never dispose of your car before removing stored data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released tips to follow when you prepare to sell, trade or donate your vehicle.
The following types of data should be cleared prior to sale:
The FTC also recommends that besides the information stored in your vehicle, check to make sure you’ve cleared connections between your devices and the vehicle. For example car manufacturers may provide an app that lets you control the car’s functions or find the car. The FTC urges you to disconnect that app from the car before you permanently transfer it to someone else.
Finally, even hitting the “factory reset” button to clear data may not do the trick because your car may still be connected to subscription services like satellite radio, mobile wi-fi hotspots and data services. To avoid problems, cancel these services or have them transferred to your new vehicle. For further information on clearing stored data, consult your vehicle’s owners’ manual or your local dealer.
College students will be coming back to campus during the next few weeks, returning to new professors and classes, greeting old friends and meeting new ones. It's an exciting time for everyone, but especially for incoming freshmen who are beginning a new chapter in their lives.
With all the excitement and everything else on their busy plates, students may be particularly vulnerable to certain forms of identity theft and fraud. The following are based on tips recently provided by the Better Business Bureau.
Be wary of financial aid scams. These include misleading scholarship and financial aid offers, offered online or through on or near-campus seminars. A request for payment up front for a scholarship or student loan is a sure sign of a scam. Investigate any potential services or loan/debt consolidation companies by visiting www.bbb.org/en/us and by contacting Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller's office by calling 888-777-4590 (281-5926 in Des Moines). The BBB also recommends visiting the U.S. Department of Education’s website for information.
Watch out for student-specific 'work at home' scams. They might more properly be referred to a 'work in dorm' scams, but the aim is the same: targeting unemployed college students looking for work who come across too-good-to-be-true offers of ‘easy’ ways to make money. Nearly all require some form of up-front payment — a sure sign the offer is not legitimate.
Don’t fall for roommate rental scams. Posts on Craigslist looking for roommates may actually come from scammers half a world away. Always confirm exactly who you are dealing with. Never wire money or reveal personal financial data to anyone in connection with a room rental. It's an easy way for crooks to steal from you, and once you’ve wired money away, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to get back. Also avoid accepting payments for more than the agreed price — a common sign of a scam — and never assume that a check is legitimate.
All of the above are frauds, but they also often include identity theft; once a student has revealed an account or credit card number to the scam artist, that information is likely to be used or sold by the scammer, opening the student to a variety of identity frauds. By being careful and knowing in advance what to watch for, college students can focus their time and effort on their studies and on having a great school year free from fraud.
This page was produced by the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance under award #2016-XV-GX-K004, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.