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The following is part of the Ask the Expert series with Amy Nofziger on Identity Theft and Cybersecurity Scams, October 2019. In addition, you're invited to join our current event with Ms. Nofigzer, now thru Monday, March 30, 2020: Ask the Expert: Protect Against Coronavirus Scams Question My 72-year-old mother is ordering and shipping cell phones to a person and others she met online and has never met to other countries. We have confronted her and she continues to do this. At one point, she owed over $1,000 for phones, and her account had to be closed due to lack of payment. She is not senile, and we have had many discussions and she promised not to do it again. Obviously, the behavior has continued. However, she paid a $300 cell phone bill and did not have enough money to pay her rent. She is on a fixed income and has no savings or assets. We are continually having to cover her expenses. H ow do we put an end to this? Answer Your mom is definitely involved in a scam, and from my 18 years’ experience, it's very difficult to convince some people to stop. These criminals are skilled at what they do, and they have overtaken your mom's cognitive thinking and they are making her think emotionally, with possible fear tactics. I'm not sure from your message how this scam started, but I imagine it was either they claimed that she won a sweepstakes or that they fell in love with her and need these phones for various payment or to stay in communication with her.   If you haven't already, please report this to your local law enforcement and/or file a complaint with ic3.gov or call your local FBI office. What we want to focus on now is getting your mom to STOP sending these phones, and if she realizes that law enforcement is involved, it might jar her into the seriousness of this.   I can imagine you are frustrated and even a little angry, however when speaking with your mom, it's recommended to lead with compassion and empathy. From my experience working with families’ anger towards the victim doesn't help them open up and trust. Remember the criminal is telling them one story in their ear and they are trying to turn your mom against her family. These stories are far too common and we sadly hear them all the time.   Please do not hesitate to call the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 and ask to speak to a fraud specialist who can provide you with more support and guidance.   Here is a family that shared their story with AARP. I'm sure you will find some of the feelings similar.   https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/mother-conned-sweepstakes.html       *Part of the Ask the Expert series with   Amy Nofziger on   Identity Theft and Cybersecurity Scams, October 2019. Learn more tips and/or share your stories in our   Scams & Fraud forum.
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Why should you bank online?
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How do I place a freeze on my credit report?
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Question What’s the best way to create and keep track of passwords? Answer We are all overwhelmed with passwords, and a password manager might be a good solution for you. As the name suggests, a password manager helps you easily create, store and remember passwords. Many of them are both a website and an app, so you have access to all your passwords regardless of what device you’re on. Many of them are free. In most cases, you set up an account by providing your name, email address and a “master” password to enter your digital locker. Often times people worry about what would happen if their phone or tablet would get lost or stolen — wouldn't the criminal then have access to all their passwords. You need not worry about this, as your device has to be unlocked first — that is, a person would first need to know your PIN or password — and then guess your master password, too, which is highly unlikely, unless you make it easy like 1111 (please don’t use that). And since you can log on to your password manager from virtually any device, you can log in from another machine and change your master password — just in case. If a password manager doesn't seem like something you would be willing to try, I think two-factor authentication is a good solution as well. Two-factor authentication, is a security process in which the user provides two different factors to verify themselves to better protect both the user's credentials and the resources the user can access. So it could be you need to enter a password for the first step and then answer a secret question for the second step.     *Part of the Ask the Expert series with Amy Nofziger on Identity Theft and Cybersecurity Scams, October 2019. Learn more tips and/or share your stories in our Scams & Fraud forum.  
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What you should know about credit alerts
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Question Why is using Wi-Fi in public spaces like coffee shops and airports risky? What should you do instead? Answer When you are on public Wi-Fi, which is usually found for free at coffee shops, malls, airports, or other public places, you may be putting your personal information at risk, especially if you are inputting credit card numbers, passwords, or bank account information. Hackers will often sit near these Wi-Fi spots and hack into the Wi-Fi to steal any information that is transmitted.   This actually happened to me* a while back. We were in Vegas and I needed to check-in for my flight and purchase a seat. I knew I was taking a risk, but went ahead and did it anyway, hoping for a good outcome. Nope, within one hour I was getting calls from my credit card company that my card was being used across the country. Don't take the risk. If you must do some sort of personal transaction on free Wi-Fi use your cell service, it's safer than free Wi-Fi for sure!   Here are some more tips on keeping safe online from AARP Fraud Watch Network:   Public Wi-Fi Scams     *Part of the online community forum Experts Series where AARP Expert Amy Nofziger was asked questions on protecting ones' savings and digital identity.
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Question What steps should people take if they suspect they’ve been compromised in a data breach? Answer First, I would consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free and good for one year. You need to make one phone call to one of the three major credit reporting agencies. A fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. They will have to notify you first before opening up new credit. The reason I recommend this as a first step is that it's a fairly simple step to take if you are in the midst of finding out your information has been breached and the potential for fraud is high. After this, consider placing a freeze on your credit. Also known as a security freeze, this free tool lets you restrict access to your credit report, which in turn makes it more difficult for criminals to open new accounts in your name. That’s because most creditors need to see your credit report before they approve a new account. If they can’t see your report, they may not extend the credit.   The new credit law, which took effect in 2018, made it so anyone in the country can get a free credit freeze – including children and incapacitated adults (many of whom do not have credit files). On the credit freeze websites, for example, you’ll see options to either place the freeze for yourself or on behalf of another person.  For security purposes, some people choose not to send in copies of birth certificates and Social Security cards.  But each person looking to do that for the minors in their life will need to make the decision that is best for them.     For more information about both of these options, visit   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
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Question Does identify theft insurance work, and is it worth the premium? Answer That’s a decision each person will have to weigh for themselves. Most of what ID theft protection can do, you can do for free. The premium is paid, and that might be worth the peace of mind for some. However, make sure to read what the insurance covers. Many people who are victims of ID theft recover most of their financial losses, but they can’t recover their loss of time recovering their identity, and that’s not usually covered by insurance.
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Question  What's some advice for protecting your identity  online ?   Answers Never give your Social Security number, phone number, where you reside, or   bank information. Make sure you create your personal Social Security Account with the the Social Security Administration, even though you may not be drawing Social Security checks yet (each SS# can create only one, and by you creating one then  scammers  cannot use your SS# to create one & steal your money). Put a credit lock on yourself with the three major credit bureaus and remember to put the “unlock” code in a very safe place. Enroll in a good identity theft monitoring service that includes the black web, and provides you with access to monthly credit reports and  FICO  scores. The   Federal Trade Commission   has excellent information on their website about protecting your identity and your children's identity Closely monitor your financial accounts.  Create strong passwords, and change them at least quarterly.  Use different  passwords  for different sites.  Keep your passwords private.  Mix up the characters so that there are no distinguishable words and use/subscribe to a password app/service such as  Dashlane  or  1Password  or  Lastpass , so that you don't have to worry about memorizing your password and more importantly, so it will make the process of creating complex passwords more convenient and safe for you, since you won't have to memorize them, or write them down! Never write them down anywhere. Password apps like these have counterpart apps for your phone, Mac or PC, so they'll be accessible and encrypted where ever you go. Shred any snail mail that you receive before tossing it. Protect your web access at home. Learn about protecting your home network. In a nutshell, try to turn off the broadcast to your routers  SSID  or network name. Set up encryption for your network and password protect access to it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, that's not a good thing. Talk to an expert or research to learn more. Don't open Emails you do not recognize. These are often  physhing  exercises. Have security software on but know hackers can break through.  Add  NOMOROBO .com if it's available with your phone system, it's free for many land lines. Avoid responding with confidential information when using a public/ guest  hotspot . If you do need to access the  internet  while out and about, use Virtual Private Network ( VPN ) software or better yet, a  VPN  device to encrypt your public  Wifi  session. Or at the very least, use your phone or tablet and connect over your cellular account to surf the web instead of using  Wifi .   Learn from the personal experiences of others:   Last week I got a call from "Social Security" stating there were some type of fraud going on, I looked at the number they used to call me and then I began asking questions like - who are you and what is your name? I also said this is  "Social Security"  correct and he said yes, he then asked me for my social security number to verify if it is me. I then said to him if you were  "Social Security"  you would already know my number and then he hung up. Always get a name and their number and hang up. And then you can  Google  the information to find out if it's fraud.   I was a victim of fraud many years ago, so I have first hand experience unfortunately. Locking your credit won't protect you  online , but it is an identity issue that could result if you do not take seriously, steps that will reduce your chances of having your identify stolen because of  online   internet  access. To help minimize your exposure. Protect your computer and web experience. There are quite few in the marketplace. Most of the good ones require a monthly or yearly subscription. The important thing is, there are many ways for you to get hacked when accessing the web, and  online  security is like a service. The more you scrimp, the more you increase your chances of being hacked. Go with nothing and your risking  a lot . A tool such as this will reduce the chances of vulnerability. 
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