When it comes to people trying to scam me, I feel like I have seen it all. I’ve now had multiple people, in different states no less, recently try to file for unemployment or other government benefits fraudulently using my personal information. I’ve had people send me phishing emails claiming they would publish “secret” photos of me to the contacts they say they’ve stolen from my phone somehow, if I didn’t pay them some money. I’ve had hundreds of voicemail messages claiming they work for the IRS, the local “magistrate” (my favorite because clearly that is from somebody who is unaware that in America we don’t use those terms), and the “state police” who are about to pick me up for failing to pay them. I’ve had people use my email and hacked password (thanks to the Fitbit and Audi security breaches) who have opened credit cards for stores I’ve never been to! I’ve received emails which tell me they have my password (found in internet data breach) and will use it to transfer out all my money from the bank, unless I pay them a ransom of sorts.
I don’t fall for things easily, you should know. Being naturally skeptical, I typically just ignore most of these things. But when your identity is actually stolen it is quite stressful! Right now we have so much data online through all of our digital presence. Every time we download an app we use an email and password. And many of these sites and apps are not well protected, so it’s actually quite easy for skilled hackers to steal people’s information and use it for bad purposes. Maybe you haven’t been a target (yet) of identity theft, fraud and deception. But you might be soon. Get ready to deal with this now.
For older people, this is extremely important because scammers are everywhere. You are a better target because you have more assets, and typically are less digitally literate. As we age, we all become easier targets.
I want to share some information for everybody to help you if this happens to you. Here are some tips on how I handled my situation.
1. Get vigilant about checking your information. Use a tool, something simple like Google’s password check even, and see if your email has been breached or password compromised. Check the sites www.whatismyipaddress.com or www.haveibeenpwned.com and enter your email address. This will search for which sites might have leaked your information. You’ll be surprised to find there are probably a few at least. In my case, I found 4 for both myself and my wife.
2. Get identity protection. I went with Experian for this, but there are many our there such as LifeLock or IDshield. These firms will help continuously monitor your credit and places where your identity has been used, so you can become more proactive about this. Monitoring and early detection can help minimize the negative financial impact. They are all a little pricey, so shop around.
3. Freeze your credit at all 3 of the major credit agencies. This shouldn’t cost anything and it makes it to where nobody can open a loan or credit card since they can’t check your credit. Freezing your credit basically prevents a potential lender from seeing your credit rating, which will stop the process.
4. Change all of your passwords and consider getting a different email address too. Do this today. Use a complex password with various special characters (like !, ?, &, or *) to help make your passwords tough to guess. Don’t use your birthday, phone, or social security as a password ever. Try to use 10 characters at all times.
5. Use a secure password generator. I went with KeeperSecurity, which is great. It helps to set a new unique password for each website or app, and will make it complex to figure out. This helps by you not using the exact same password on all accounts. A big no-no because if it gets breached, your info can be used now to hack into other accounts. I know it might make it a little more difficult at first, but our phones and internet have an “auto fill” function which you enable for the password manager you pick, and then you stop having to use an easy to remember phrase. You will get used to it.
6. Change your internet settings to make sure to block pop-ups. Anti-virus software can also protect you. You might be surfing the web and get a pop up that says “this site is insecure. Click here to fix” or “you have a virus – click here now “. Don’t click it! Hit the window to close it and change your settings to be more restrictive. These are warning signs where if your you engage with them, could end up costing you greatly. One of my family members clicked once and ended up allowing a remote connection to the hacker who promised to “fix” their computer issue for $1,000. Well there was nothing wrong in the first place but now you have a worm hole to a hacker and you’re out a lot of money. Be vigilant.
7. Consider using a VPN app on your phone, which can hide your location from sites. A virtual private network, or VPN, helps to give you some anonymity by hiding your actual internet protocol address. I went with SurfShark, but there are dozens of good programs. Antivirus software should also be used.
8. Avoid connecting to wi-fi on public sites. Once your connected’ it is easy to strip information from your phone. If you do connect, don’t use anything such as a bank app or a credit card, which can potentially expose your information.
9. Don’t ever fall for email scams. If you receive an email claiming your info has been compromised, never ever respond to it. Just delete it and block the address. They want you to engage by email. Engaging shows interest, and then they can reel you in like a fish. Don’t respond or engage!
10. Report it. I wish I could say you could contact the FTC or state fraud lines, but they don’t answer phones anymore and all of my emails to supposed hotlines went unanswered. But still report it and check the site www.identifytheft.gov to get more resources. But don’t look for the government to actually help you out. In my experience, you are on your own. So you have to get prepared, protect yourself, and find out early if there are any exposures on your account.
We have to be vigilant, proactive, and stay ahead of the scammers out there! They are getting smarter and are looking for victims. I’m happy to hear from you if you have similar experiences or great tips. Let me know so I can share!