CHICAGO, Jan. 7, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While most consumers are slowly getting back into the swing of things following the holiday season, scammers are gearing up for a new year of tricks and scams to gain access to individuals' hard-earned money and personal information. But with the New Year also comes the opportunity for consumers to adopt some simple steps and scam-proof 2016 for themselves and their loved ones.
"Scammers don't take vacations like the rest of us," AARP Illinois Communications Manager, Gerardo Cardenas said. "They work year-round to take advantage of consumers at their most vulnerable to steal valuable information and money. Making smart choices and being aware of potential frauds or scams shouldn't stop because a new year has begun."
In efforts to help consumers in 2016, AARP Fraud Watch Network has compiled seven simple steps that will help protect consumers as they go about their daily lives this year.
- Freeze Your Credit File: One of the best ways to proactively prevent identity theft (and minimize damage should it occur) is a credit freeze, which restricts access to your report. Most creditors won't issue loans, credit cards, or other credit in your name if they can't review it. So it benefits consumers when their personal data falls into the wrong hands. A freeze can be unthawed for certain dates or entities when you apply for a job, credit, or shop for insurance or utility service and it doesn't impair your ability to check your credit score. To place a freeze on your credit file contact all three major bureaus that deal with your credit reports to request a security freeze, and re-contact when you need the freeze lifted.
- Get Your Credit Report: To spot fraudulent accounts in your name, it's pertinent to check your report three times a year with each of the three major bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Information varies among the bureaus and everyone is entitled to three free checks a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Think Before You Act: Have you ever been told you won a lottery you never entered? Told you're about to be arrested for missing jury duty, not paying a bill, etc.? Have a grandchild who never mentioned upcoming travel calling from a foreign jail? These are scams intending to trigger an immediate, emotional response—you providing money and/or sensitive information. If you encounter one of these situations, look at the statement you're being sold with skepticism and logic.
- Be Less Social: If you're too polite to hang up the phone or say "No," use Caller ID to screen calls from unrecognized numbers. Do not overshare on social media; names of family members can be used to trick grandparents into wiring money for a "grandchild" in need. Even including information about your birthdate, hometown, high school or other seemingly innocent information can be pieced together for identity theft.
- Clean Your Wallet: Don't carry your Social Security card, "cheat sheets" with PINS/passwords for banking accounts, blank checks, or spare keys for your home or car. Instead of carrying your Medicare card day-to-day, make a photocopy and cut out some of digits of the number and bring the original only for doctor appointments.
- Change Your Passwords: Every three months or so, rewrite user names and passwords. The longer the better (and stronger). Mix letters, numbers, and symbols into your password. Use different passwords for different accounts. Should your data be breached, make changes to your passwords immediately.
- Prepare and File Taxes ASAP: Billions in fraudulent tax refunds continue to go to scammers who electronically file returns, typically before their victims file. Your best defense is to file early.
In 2014, AARP launched the Fraud Watch Network to arm Americans with the tools and resources they need to spot and avoid scams and identity theft. But scammers are still out there, making every attempt possible to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned money. The public can sign up for free to receive Fraud Watch Network alerts and more at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.
SOURCE AARP Illinois