The start of a new year offers the opportunity for a new start. People decide to exercise and eat healthy to get in shape, but in what form are your finances and personal information?
The BBB offers the following steps to protect your personal and financial information and to stay in top condition:
1. Check your credit report for free on AnnualCreditReport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. Check it carefully for errors and report any inconsistencies that you see. By checking your credit report, you can detect early signs of identity theft.
2. If you are called by the Social Security Administration that your social security number has been suspended because it has been used in a crime, hang up. Your social security number cannot be suspended, revoked, frozen or blocked.
Do not transfer money or send gift cards to someone you do not know. Do not call a number that you do not recognize, even if your caller ID tells the Social Security Administration or SSA. Call the SSA main number at 800-772-1213 to verify the scam.
3. Set your first line of defense against all your telephone lines. Scam calls occur more often and faster.
In 2020, almost 60% of all calls to mobile phones will be fraudulent. You can purchase landline call blocking devices (eg Sentry 3.1, CPR Call Blocker or Digitone ProSeries Call Blocker) or find out if your telephone provider offers free robocall blocking services, such as Nomorobo.
Similarly, you can inquire with your wireless network provider about call blocking and spam protection services offered directly by the manufacturer or third-party apps.
4. Safely discard older bank and credit card statements, expired credit cards, and unwanted credit applications by shredding them with a paper shredder.
5. When using public Wi-Fi connections such as at airports, you may not make purchases, do online banking, or share sensitive personal information. Please note that if you store your electronic device at free charging points from the USB port, such as those near airport gates, in hotels and at other travel-friendly locations, you may fall victim to “juice-jacking”, a new one tactics against cyber theft. Criminals load malware onto public USB charging stations to gain malicious access to electronic devices while they are being charged. Public means public and it is known that fraudsters use frequent Wi-Fi hotspots and sometimes even set up hotspots themselves.
6. If you receive an offer or request, research the company or charity for free at Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org/houston or call 713-341-6141.
7. Never respond to phone calls or emails asking you to “verify” your personal information. Your bank, your credit card provider, Medicare, the IRS – none of these organizations call or email for your confidential information. They already have it in our database.
8. Secure or lock sensitive personal documents at home, especially if you have home care providers, have external help or have work done at home.
9. Fraudsters know that it is extremely difficult to trace money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union, so never send money to someone you don’t know. Even more disturbing for victims is the fact that it is almost impossible to get your money back once it has been sent by bank. Even if you have received a check to cover the amount you are wiring, never send money to someone you do not know personally. The check can be fraudulent, making you liable for the money.
10. Change your email and social media passwords and improve your security by creating hard-to-crack passwords and using two-factor authentication where possible. Choose passwords that you can easily remember, but that are difficult for others to guess.
Use a combination of numbers, capital letters and symbols. Never do business with a “technical support company” that contacts you by telephone or via the Internet.
If you want to report a scam or have a question, call the BBB Education Foundation at 713-341-6141.
Melissa Ramsey is the columnist of the BBB Education Foundation. Call 713-341-6141 for more information.