Fraud can happen to anyone, anywhere and anytime. Chances are you have received a few fraudulent emails, ambiguous phone calls, encountered fake online ads, questionable posts on social networking sites or maybe someone has come knocking at your door? Avoid becoming a victim! March is International Fraud Prevention Month and is a good time to practice new strategies.
Here are 8 things you can do this month to help protect yourself and others:
1. Brush up on common scams and warning signs
There are different types of scams around us. The list goes on, it gets longer every year and the schemes themselves get more sophisticated. Experts still say your best bet for avoiding them is to be aware of the tactics and the red flags. Go to websites like Scambusters.org to track the latest scams and tips for prevention.
2. Keep personal information confidential
Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through email or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with. Don’t include personal information like credit card details in regular, unencrypted email or enter it on an unencrypted website as your information won’t be secure.
3. Change your passwords and PINs
When was the last time you changed the PIN on your debit card or the password for online banking? Make it a point to give your access information an update this month
We know it can be hard to keep track of all those passwords and PINs, but experts recommend changing them at least twice a year, even if your accounts haven’t been compromised. Be sure to skip obvious choices like “password” or “1234″ and avoid using names, words and dates that someone could guess. Throw in a few numbers and symbols too for the strongest passwords.
4. Order your credit reports
Already keeping tabs on your financial statements? That’s a good start since they are often the first place people spot unauthorized activity. Unfortunately, if someone is using your information to commit identity fraud like taking out a loan or applying for credit cards, it won’t necessarily show up on your financial statements. That’s why experts recommend another important check: your credit report. Experts say we should order one at least once a year to make sure the information is correct and there’s no unusual activity.
5. Shred unneeded documents
Experts warn that any document containing sensitive data should go through the paper shredder before it hits the recycling bin. That includes items like receipts, bank statements, old tax returns and even junk mail containing your address, like credit card preapprovals. Get a jump start on spring cleaning this March and safely get rid of the paper clutter around your home. But before you get shredder happy, make sure you know how long you need to keep certain items.
6. Watch out for unusual transactions
Be wary of unexpected offers or requests that are too good to be true such as “you’ve inherited a large sum of money but in order to claim it, send us a deposit first”. You should also never agree to conduct financial transactions on behalf of strangers.
7. Talk to your loved ones about fraud
Scammers will target anyone regardless of their age or social status, and even well-educated people have been caught. However, experts warn that some groups like seniors, children and teens are generally more vulnerable to certain kinds of fraud. The solution? Talk to your family members and friends about fraud and how to avoid it. You may also want to come up with strategies that everyone in your household can follow. An important part of this dialogue should also be letting your loved ones know they can talk about any problems they encounter. Experts warn many victims are too embarrassed to talk about what happened, and crooks may repeatedly target them following that initial success.
8. Report it
If you’re caught, report it. Unfortunately not all victims of fraud get justice, but reporting the crime to the police helps in other ways too. It allows the authorities to keep tabs on the threats and warn others, for instance. Often, those warnings we see in the news are a result of someone reporting the crime. Depending on the type of fraud, you’ll also need to notify other organizations to stop further crimes. For instance, if you’re caught by identity theft, you should contact the credit-reporting bureaus, your financial institutions and any agency that issues identification (like your driver’s licence or passport). Criminals don’t just use your information once — they can make a tidy profit selling it.