‘Tis the season for identity theft, consumer fraud
By Benjamin Waldrum
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Dec. 11, 2015
- Fake deals and phony promotions can trick consumers
- Arkansas ranks 15th among all states least-susceptible to consumer fraud
- Tips and resources are available for consumer protection
LITTLE ROCK — Sleigh bells aren’t the only thing ringing this time of year. Cash registers are, too – and that’s music to the ears of cybercriminals and other perpetrators of consumer fraud, said Laura Hendrix, assistant professor of family and consumer science with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
“The holidays can be a risky time for consumers, especially if they shop online,” she said.
Whether online or in the checkout line, there are dozens of fake deals and phony promotions designed to trick consumers into giving away their personal information. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can make shoppers into targets as they seek out last-minute sales.
Arkansans are in a better position to spot bad deals than other states around the country.
Recent findings from WalletHub, a personal finance resource company, listed Arkansas 15th in a nationwide survey of states least-susceptible to consumer fraud. The Natural State saw a 33 percent decrease in credit card fraud between 2013 and 2012, the highest decrease in the nation, said Diana Popa, a WalletHub spokeswoman.
But criminals are in the business of making money. They can quickly adapt to trends and create professional-looking deals designed to lure consumers in. That’s when they strike. “Be vigilant,” said Hendrix. “Take special consideration to protect your finances, especially online.”
In the spirit of the holiday season, here are 12 tips for consumer protection:
- Guard personal information. Social Security numbers, PINs, bank account numbers – any financial documents kept at home should be in a secure location, preferably locked.
- Shred mail and documents. Dumpster diving can give thieves access to bank and credit card statements, health insurance numbers, and other personal information.
- Beware of solicitation. Never give out personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call or are certain the caller is a reputable person. It’s OK to hang up and verify the identity of a caller.
- Use reputable businesses. One of the best ways to be sure you won’t be swindled is to shop at businesses you know are legitimate. Check refund and return policies; read privacy and protection information. Keep records and receipts of transactions.
- Keep devices secure. If you shop or bank online or use apps to check account balances, this is a must. Update virus software. Log out of accounts, exit websites and close apps when you’re finished. Password-protect your phone, tablet, or computer. Avoid obvious passwords such as birthdate, address, maiden name, etc.
- Carry fewer credit cards. You’ll have less to lose if your purse or wallet is stolen. It’s easier to stop transactions on one or two cards instead of six or eight. If a gas pump or ATM looks like it was tampered with, don’t swipe your card.
- Use the right card. Some cards provide additional warranty, return, and purchase protection benefits. Check the rules for your credit or debit card before using it. If you pay by credit or charge online, your transaction is protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Under this law, you can dispute charges and withhold payment while it’s investigated.
- Monitor accounts and statements. Check these frequently and sign up for text alerts. Get an annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus (www.annualcreditreport.com). Monitor your report for errors or signs of fraud.
- Be vigilant. Don’t click on random links, and don’t download attachments from people you don’t know. These can carry viruses and malware that steal personal information.
- Avoid super low prices. Don’t fall for gimmicks that make an expensive vacation look like something you can get for a small fee or a couple hundred dollars. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- Stop sharing. Promises of “free” stuff online, such as liking a Facebook page in exchange for a $1,000 gift card are routine. Why? Because people fall for them. Thieves count on consumers entering personal information to do this. Delete it and move on.
- Opt out. There are free services to reduce telemarketing calls (www.donotcall.gov), unsolicited commercial mail and email (www.dmachoice.org), and pre-screened credit card and insurance offers (www.optoutprescreen.com). Use them.
Read the full Wallethub report here.
December is National Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month. And although more aggressive measures have been taken by companies to prevent identity theft, the fight is far from over. A total of 690 breaches with access to more than 176 million records have taken place so far in 2015, according to the most recent Data Breach Report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit national organization for identity theft.
“This holiday season, make sure you’re well-protected from consumer fraud,” said Hendrix.
For more information about money management and ways to prevent identity theft and consumer fraud, contact your county extension office or visit www.uaex.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service