If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to step up your security and prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft or other fraud schemes, the AARP Fraud Watch Network has a few tips for you.
The company has laid out their seven-step system for scam-proofing yourself in the New Year. These steps will help consumers make smarter choices and be aware of potential scams or fraud schemes throughout the year.
1. Consider freezing your credit file. Even if you have no reason to think your information has fallen into the wrong hands, you can keep a freeze on your file to prevent anyone from accessing it. This means creditors won’t be able to issue loans, credit cards, or other types of credit to you. If you’re applying for credit, or an apartment, or a job, and want potential creditors to be able to check your credit, call the credit bureau to request a thaw for certain dates only. Contact each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax—to put a freeze on your account, or to have it removed.
2. Get copies of your credit reports from each bureau. You can get a free copy once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Many credit card issuers now also give you free access to your FICO score, which is a good way to keep an eye on your score and notice if something is affecting it one way or another.
3. Exercise caution. If you’re told you’ve won a contest, are at risk of being arrested for missing jury duty, have missed a payment on a bill, or a relative is contacting you from a foreign jail, be wary. These are common scams. Think before you act, and don’t provide sensitive information or send money unless you verify the claim.
4. Tone down your social activity. Screen calls from unfamiliar numbers, and don’t share too much on social media. Names of family members, birthdates, hometowns, alma maters, and other information can all be used to dupe you, if it falls into the wrong hands.
5. Don’t carry too much in your wallet. Things you shouldn’t carry in your wallet include: your Social Security card, lists of PINS and passwords, blank checks, spare keys, and Medicare cards. The more private data you have with you, the more a potential thief has access to.
6. Change your passwords regularly. About every three months, change all your passwords. Make them longer and more complicated; use capital letters and lower case ones, as well as special characters and numbers.
7. Don’t put off filing taxes. The sooner you prepare and file your taxes, the less chance you’ll be a victim of tax fraud. Each year, scammers bilk the government out of billions of dollars through phony tax returns. Don’t be a victim.
You can sign up for AARP Fraud Watch Network alerts at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.