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Ask The Expert: How can I protect my savings/my digital identity?

Welcome to the AARP Online Community! Has your personal information ever been compromised in a data breach? Do you have questions about how to best protect your identity in our increasingly online world?

 

Now thru Monday, October 14th, AARP Expert Amy Nofziger is here to answer your questions about identity theft and cybersecurity scams. Post below for a chance to share your experience and have your questions answered! 

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@LarzS399735 , That’s a decision each person will have to weight for themselves. Most of what ID theft protection can do, you can do for free. The premium is pay that might be worth the peace of mind for some, however make sure to read what the insurance covers because 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.

 


@LarzS399735 wrote:

Does identify theft insurance work and is it worth the preminum?




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Great question and sadly many of us have been affected in breaches. First I would consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free and good for one year and 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.

 

For more information about both of these options, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

 



Amy, @anofziger17, can you tell us the steps a person should take if they suspect they’ve been compromised in a data breach? Thank you!


 

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The new credit law, which took effect last year, 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. Some people chose not to take the risk of having to send in originals copies of important documents like birth certificate and Social Security card. But each person looking to do that for the minors in their life will need to make the decision that is best for them.

 



@anofziger17, thanks for the tips on setting up a fraud alert and placing a freeze on credit. Does the point about a credit freeze even apply to children under 18?


 

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Great question, I was just talking to someone who called the AARP Fraud Helpline about this risk!

 

When you are on public Wi-Fi, which is a usually found, for free, at a coffee shop, mall, airport, or other public place, 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 through. 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 anyways, 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 your safe while being online from AARP Fraud Watch Network: Public Wi-Fi Scams

 


Thank you, Amy. This brings me to another question. Why is using Wi-Fi in public spaces like coffee shops and airports risky?  What should you do instead?

 

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Most banks and credit card companies will allow you to set up alerts on your accounts so you can be texted or emailed anytime a charge is placed on your account that goes over your desired threshold of spending. You can set that at any amount. For some folks that's not reasonable to be texted every time they spend more than $50 to confirm the charge. Each person needs to do what's best for them and fits in their lifestyle.

 

Additionally, most banks and credit cards companies know your spending patterns (all by an algorithm), so if they detect a suspicious charge or something that doesn't fit your normal spending they will send you an alert to confirm. This happened to me one time when I was in New York City and my kids wanted a soft pretzel, I guess I don't normally buy this type of item, so I got an alert asking if I made the charge. I thought it was funny to be notified about a pretzel, but just shows you it works. 

 

If you are interested in this type of service, talk to your bank and/or credit card to see how you can set it up.


Do most credit card companies have alerts like this in place or did you have to subscribe/enable these alerts?

 

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I imagine you don't want me to say, just put the password on a sticky note on your computer and you'll be fine!? Ha.

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.

 


Amy, another question comes to mind. What’s the best way to create and keep track of passwords?  Isn’t it easier to simply use the same one for everything?

 

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@Olif, are you referring to your credit reports? You can freeze by calling them or by going online, if you have access. You can always call our Helpline at 877-908-3360 and we can walk you through the steps. Also, let me know if I'm not understanding/answering your question. I'll be here all day.



How can I limit filing my reports through regular letters?




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There are so many reasons why it's not only safer, but more convenient as well.

  1. Your data is encrypted when submitted, much safer than putting a check with your bank account information in the mail.
  2. You have 24/7 access to your accounts. You don't need to wait until you receive your hard copy in the mail to check from unauthorized charges. You can check daily. Yup, I check daily.
  3. Avoid late fees. People don't often think of this, but sometimes life happens and we put the bill somewhere and forgot about it. With auto-pay, you don't have to worry about this and won’t have late fees, which saves you money.
  4. There are still people trolling neighborhoods for unlocked mailboxes to steal your checks, bills, anything with personal information on it for them to commit identity theft.

I know it's hard for people who don't have computers or who are not comfortable doing this online. If you are that person, make sure to mail your checks in a secured location, not in your unlocked mailbox. Also, limit the information you put on your checks, make sure your SSN is not on it! Also, check you statements regularly when you receive them. Sit down and go line by line through them. If you have any errors of fraud, report it immediately.

If you do online banking and are loving it, that's great, just make sure to never do it from a public or free WI-FI. There are hackers waiting to steal transmitted information from an unsecured connection that they can either open up new credit in your name or use your existing credit. Always pay your bills on a computer or other system that is secured. Don't take the risk.

Here is an article that AARP published a few years back that has some good tips in it as well.

https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-08-2010/paying_bills_in_your_pajamas.html

 



·         Amy @anofziger17, can you tell us why it’s safer to have online access to your bank account, even if you still receive paper statements?


 

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Many thanks to AARP Expert Amy Nofziger and all the participants for joining us this week! Come back and visit the Scams & Fraud forum any time or visit the Scams & Fraud area on AARP.org. And remember to call our free helpline if you or a loved one suspect a scam: 1-877-908-3360.

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·         Amy @anofziger17, can you tell us why it’s safer to have online access to your bank account, even if you still receive paper statements?

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AARP Expert

There are so many reasons why it's not only safer, but more convenient as well.

  1. Your data is encrypted when submitted, much safer than putting a check with your bank account information in the mail.
  2. You have 24/7 access to your accounts. You don't need to wait until you receive your hard copy in the mail to check from unauthorized charges. You can check daily. Yup, I check daily.
  3. Avoid late fees. People don't often think of this, but sometimes life happens and we put the bill somewhere and forgot about it. With auto-pay, you don't have to worry about this and won’t have late fees, which saves you money.
  4. There are still people trolling neighborhoods for unlocked mailboxes to steal your checks, bills, anything with personal information on it for them to commit identity theft.

I know it's hard for people who don't have computers or who are not comfortable doing this online. If you are that person, make sure to mail your checks in a secured location, not in your unlocked mailbox. Also, limit the information you put on your checks, make sure your SSN is not on it! Also, check you statements regularly when you receive them. Sit down and go line by line through them. If you have any errors of fraud, report it immediately.

If you do online banking and are loving it, that's great, just make sure to never do it from a public or free WI-FI. There are hackers waiting to steal transmitted information from an unsecured connection that they can either open up new credit in your name or use your existing credit. Always pay your bills on a computer or other system that is secured. Don't take the risk.

Here is an article that AARP published a few years back that has some good tips in it as well.

https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-08-2010/paying_bills_in_your_pajamas.html

 



·         Amy @anofziger17, can you tell us why it’s safer to have online access to your bank account, even if you still receive paper statements?


 

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How can I limit filing my reports through regular letters?

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@Olif, are you referring to your credit reports? You can freeze by calling them or by going online, if you have access. You can always call our Helpline at 877-908-3360 and we can walk you through the steps. Also, let me know if I'm not understanding/answering your question. I'll be here all day.



How can I limit filing my reports through regular letters?




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@anofziger17, it seems like we hear so much about data breaches that our personal information must already be out there somewhere.  Is there anything you can do about it?

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It's frustrating isn't it? It's MY data, so how do so many people have access to it? But let's stay empowered and do some things we can do to help limit our exposure.

 

If you are worried about your data being used to open up fraudulent credit in your name, I would suggest placing a freeze on your credit report. Here is some information about how to go about doing that:

 

Security freezes, also known as credit freezes, restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. You can freeze and unfreeze your credit file for free. You also can get a free freeze for your children who are under 16. And if you are someone’s guardian, conservator or have a valid power of attorney, you can get a free freeze for that person, too.

You will need to contact all three of the nationwide credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you request a freeze online or by phone, the agency must place the freeze within one business day. If you request a lift of the freeze, the agency must lift it within one hour. If you make your request by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days after it gets your request. You also can lift the freeze temporarily without a fee.

Contact the national credit bureaus to request fraud alerts, credit freezes (also known as security freezes), and opt outs from pre‑screened credit offers.

 

    Equifax

    Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services

    800-685-1111

 

    Experian

    Experian.com/help

    888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

 

    Transunion

    TransUnion.com/credit-help

    888-909-8872

 

I recommend folks placing freezes set aside at least 30 minutes to make sure to focus on this. You will need to create usernames and passwords and each credit bureau has a different process. Make sure to keep all this information in a safe place, so when you need to "thaw" your credit, say for a new line of credit to buy your dream boat, you have the information on hand. Final thought on freezes, a freeze does not affect your existing credit. You will be able to continue to use that, it affects only new credit.

 

Additionally, here are some most steps you can take to limit your exposure to data threat and to protect yourself.https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/guide-to-preventing-fraud.html

 

 

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Don't use the internet!

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Amy, another question comes to mind. What’s the best way to create and keep track of passwords?  Isn’t it easier to simply use the same one for everything?

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I imagine you don't want me to say, just put the password on a sticky note on your computer and you'll be fine!? Ha.

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.

 


Amy, another question comes to mind. What’s the best way to create and keep track of passwords?  Isn’t it easier to simply use the same one for everything?

 

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Thank you, Amy. This brings me to another question. Why is using Wi-Fi in public spaces like coffee shops and airports risky?  What should you do instead?

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AARP Expert

Great question, I was just talking to someone who called the AARP Fraud Helpline about this risk!

 

When you are on public Wi-Fi, which is a usually found, for free, at a coffee shop, mall, airport, or other public place, 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 through. 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 anyways, 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 your safe while being online from AARP Fraud Watch Network: Public Wi-Fi Scams

 


Thank you, Amy. This brings me to another question. Why is using Wi-Fi in public spaces like coffee shops and airports risky?  What should you do instead?

 

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Amy, what a coincidence! That’s great your bank is so on top of things. Do most credit card companies have alerts like this in place or did you have to subscribe/enable these alerts?

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Most banks and credit card companies will allow you to set up alerts on your accounts so you can be texted or emailed anytime a charge is placed on your account that goes over your desired threshold of spending. You can set that at any amount. For some folks that's not reasonable to be texted every time they spend more than $50 to confirm the charge. Each person needs to do what's best for them and fits in their lifestyle.

 

Additionally, most banks and credit cards companies know your spending patterns (all by an algorithm), so if they detect a suspicious charge or something that doesn't fit your normal spending they will send you an alert to confirm. This happened to me one time when I was in New York City and my kids wanted a soft pretzel, I guess I don't normally buy this type of item, so I got an alert asking if I made the charge. I thought it was funny to be notified about a pretzel, but just shows you it works. 

 

If you are interested in this type of service, talk to your bank and/or credit card to see how you can set it up.


Do most credit card companies have alerts like this in place or did you have to subscribe/enable these alerts?

 

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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.  @anofziger17, how do we put an end to this?

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@LisaP704445

Lisa, I'm so sorry to hear this. 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 the AARP Fraud Watch Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 and ask to speak to a fraud specialist and they can provide you 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

 

 

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Amy, @anofziger17, can you tell us the steps a person should take if they suspect they’ve been compromised in a data breach? Thank you!

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Great question and sadly many of us have been affected in breaches. First I would consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free and good for one year and 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.

 

For more information about both of these options, visit https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs

 



Amy, @anofziger17, can you tell us the steps a person should take if they suspect they’ve been compromised in a data breach? Thank you!


 

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@anofziger17, thanks for the tips on setting up a fraud alert and placing a freeze on credit. Does the point about a credit freeze even apply to children under 18?

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The new credit law, which took effect last year, 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. Some people chose not to take the risk of having to send in originals copies of important documents like birth certificate and Social Security card. But each person looking to do that for the minors in their life will need to make the decision that is best for them.

 



@anofziger17, thanks for the tips on setting up a fraud alert and placing a freeze on credit. Does the point about a credit freeze even apply to children under 18?


 

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Hello everyone, I look forward to answering your questions and sharing tips and tools on how we can all stay safe and protect ourselves from scams and frauds. Amy

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Does identify theft insurance work and is it worth the preminum?

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@LarzS399735 , That’s a decision each person will have to weight for themselves. Most of what ID theft protection can do, you can do for free. The premium is pay that might be worth the peace of mind for some, however make sure to read what the insurance covers because 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.

 


@LarzS399735 wrote:

Does identify theft insurance work and is it worth the preminum?




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Amy Nofziger, AARP ExpertAmy Nofziger, AARP ExpertAbout Amy: Amy Nofziger ("@anofziger17") of the AARP Fraud Watch Network has been educating older adults about fighting fraud for 18 years. Amy manages the AARP Fraud Helpline and is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She has worked with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Consumer Reports, the Dr. Phil show and many others to help shed light on fraud and exploitation of older adults.

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