About 100 people learned Tuesday how to protect themselves from online identity thieves or other fraudsters at an AARP Nebraska and Better Business Bureau–sponsored event in Grand Island.
The luncheon program featured Eva Velasquez, president of the Identity Theft Resources Center in San Diego, Calif.
ITRC is a leading authority on consumer protection, identity theft, privacy, scams and fraud. Velasquez discussed identity theft, data breaches, cybersecurity and privacy. She also told the audience to safeguard their personal information.
ITRC is a national, nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases and to broaden public education and awareness of identity theft and related issues.
Connie Benjamin, state AARP director, said identity theft and other online scams are a big concern among older Nebraskans.
“When we do surveys of our members, fraud is always on the top of the list of issues that are of a concern to them,” Benjamin said.
She said older adults are prime targets for fraud.
“They know they have a lot of the wealth in the country and, in some cases, they are more isolated,” Benjamin said.
She said fraudsters are coming up with new techniques and ways to cheat people.
“If we are not on top of this and communicating this to our membership, they are going to be vulnerable to that,” Benjamin said.
According to Jim Hegarty, president of the Better Business Bureau, CNBC has reported scammers were responsible for losses totaling more than $16 billion in 2016. He said other estimates exceed $50 billion in yearly losses.
“It’s not a matter of if you will be targeted by a scammer, but when,” Hegarty said. “Everyone is at risk, but each of us can take strong measures to avoid falling victim to con artists.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, imposter scams and identity theft were the top two categories of fraud reported by Nebraskans in 2017. Credit card fraud and employment or tax-related fraud comprised the majority of identity theft incidents in the state.
Velasquez said ITRC is 20 years old and started as a victim assistance program for identity theft victims.
“Over the years, we have seen a need for proactive education and awareness on how to protect yourself,” she said.
Velasquez said identify theft also covers cybersecurity, scams, fraud, privacy, data breaches and online engagement.
She said everyone has different types of vulnerability.
“I have been asked a lot about who are the most vulnerable,” Velasquez said. “It is not about demographics, but how you engage with the outside world.”
She said more and more senior citizens are now engaged online, especially with social media.
One rule of thumb that Velasquez advised is “go to the source.”
“When you are being engaged from the outside by someone, whether it is an email, a phone call, a pop-up on your computer or a text message, you do not need to give a level of trust to that interaction,” she said.
Velasquez said it is also important to “go back to the source.”
“If someone calls you and tells you they are with the IRS and that you owe back taxes, you say ‘Great. I’m going to call the IRS,’” she said. “You go to the known number of the IRS. Do a little digging.”
Velasquez said scammers play on the emotions of the people they are hustling.
“They know that when they engage the emotional center of your brain, it stops you from making logical decisions,” she said. “You get into a panic, and before you know it, you are paying for $1,000 in iTunes gift cards.”
Velasquez’s advice is: “Take a breath. Get out of that emotional stage. Nothing is going to change in the five minutes it is going to take you to take a breath. Hang up. Make some phone calls to those known sources of truth. Then start making some decisions.”
“Hanging up and taking a breath can be some of the most powerful protections you can do for yourself,” she said. “Disconnect from the threat and don’t feel like you have to act right now and then reconnect with trusted resources.”
According to Velasquez, the FTC reports that millennials have been reporting more scams, more often, and reporting a median loss of about $420.
“Older folks, 64 plus, were reporting fewer scams, but their median scam was $1,100,” she said. “They are losing more money per transaction. Thieves know that older people have more disposable income. They are upping the price.”
According to ITRC, if you are a victim of identity theft or fraud:
— Contact the institution where the fraud occurred and let them know what happened.
— Review all of your account statements for any additional fraudulent activity.
— Check your credit reports and review for any fraudulent activity.
— Change the password for all of your accounts, even if they were not affected.
— File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov or file a police report.
— Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for free help at (888) 400-5530.