Archive for March, 2012
Thursday, March 29th, 2012
According to the Kansas City Star, the IRS and federal investigators have doubled up on their efforts to fight tax fraud from identity theft nationwide, particularly in Florida.
The Internal Revenue Service identified and prevented the issuance of more than $14 billion in fraudulent refunds in 2011, said Steven Miller, the agency’s deputy commissioner for services and enforcement.
So far this year, it has flagged 2 million returns for review, Miller told Sen. Bill Nelson, who had requested that federal officials testify at a Senate hearing that examined measures taken to block fake returns, prosecute offenders and help tax fraud victims. The agency also issued 250,000 special identification numbers to taxpayers who have had their identities stolen to help them file their returns without delay.
Nina Olson, the national taxpayer advocate for the IRS, said there’s still a lot of work to be done. She was especially disappointed in the service on a telephone line set up for honest taxpayers who had had their identities stolen. They had to wait on hold an average of 66 minutes, a delay that resulted in only 11.7 percent of the calls to the line getting answered.
Nelson asked the IRS for an update after a congressional hearing last spring detailed some of the abuses. Tax-related identity theft incidents jumped from 51,702 in 2008 to 248,357 in 2010, a leap Miller said “appears disproportionately” in Florida.
During the hearing, the chief of the Tampa Police Department emailed Nelson to say that the slain officer’s widow still hasn’t been able to sort out her IRS troubles.
Popularity: 12% [?]
Monday, March 26th, 2012
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that four members of an Armenian organized crime ring were convicted in one of the largest bank fraud and identity theft schemes in California history. This gang of thieves, all identified as Armenian Power members or associates, stole the identities of victims in California, Nevada, Arizona and Texas.
Six years and $10 million later, they’ve finally been caught. Arman Sharopetrosian (the leader), 33; Karen Markosian, 39; Artush Margaryan, 28 and Kristine Ogandzhanyan, 28, were found guilty of conspiring to commit bank fraud, attempted bank fraud and various counts of aggravated identity theft.
Using cellphones smuggled into Avenal State Prison, Sharopetrosian, who was in jail at the time, and co-defendant Angus Brown stole Social Security numbers and birth dates and used the information to steal money from the account holders.
The scheme targeted high-value bank accounts, transferred money out of the accounts, had unauthorized checks printed for the accounts and used forged signatures to write checks.
In all, 20 defendants were charged in the sophisticated and lengthy scheme, which involved orders made from within prisons and the assistance of bank insiders who had been enlisted by the criminal organization.
Popularity: 6% [?]
Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
We’ve been getting a lot of questions from customers who received their credit reports and found errors on it. To resolve this issue, here’s what you need to do:
If you find your credit report marred by erroneous information or identity theft, federal law gives you the right to correct these mistakes. These three steps can help you repair your credit yourself:
1. File disputes. If there is inaccurate information on your credit report, you can dispute it with Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Your credit reports may not contain the same mistakes, so contact the relevant agency according to their rules, which can be found on their Web sites. All three agencies allow consumers to submit disputes online, on the phone, or via snail mail.
If you do choose the snail mail option, send a certified letter that clearly states the facts and explains why you are disputing the item. Include a copy of your report with the mistake highlighted. You should also request a “return receipt” with the certified letter so you know when the agency received it.
The FCRA mandates that credit reporting agencies must respond to your dispute by initiating an investigation and collecting evidence from your creditors. If the information is inaccurate, they must either remove or correct the disputed information, usually within 30 days.
2. Deal with denials. If an investigation comes back and your request for a change is refused, send a letter of dispute to the creditor whose reporting statements you disagree with. The report includes contact information for each creditor listed on the report. Keep copies of all correspondence, and write notes about each phone conversation you have.
If you are unable to resolve a dispute, you have the right to add a 100-word comment to your credit report. This alerts creditors that there is an unresolved error on your report.
3. Block fraudulent information. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can block the reporting of any information in your report that is the result of identity theft.
Was Identity Theft the Problem?
If errors were the result of identity theft, you have the right to block the credit bureaus from reporting accounts that were opened or soiled by the thief, inquiries that were initiated by the thief, and other erroneous negative information.
To do so, you must file an identity theft report and provide the credit bureaus with proof of your identity. The credit bureau may deny your request for a block if you do not supply the necessary documentation or if you misrepresent facts. Find the necessary form at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft.
Get instant access to your credit report and score, along with the best identity theft protection on the market, with IDEssentials.
Popularity: 35% [?]
Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
Tax season is possibly the most important time of the year for identity thieves. Tax documents contain tons of information that is most prized by identity thieves. And it seems that just when consumers have finally become educated about identity theft and aware of the steps they need to take to prevent it, cybercriminals have come up with a whole new set of scams, designed to hijack tax returns for their personal gain.
Sandra Block of USA Today takes a look at the most popular tax schemes in 2012 and offers advice on how to protect yourself and your family:
1. Fake emails from tax preparation software providers. Consumers have reported getting phony emails which say they contain important news from their tax software providers. TurboTax has reported an increase in the number of fraudulent emails this year, which shows that scammers know that emails from the IRS aren’t going to get them far, as the IRS constantly reminds people that the IRS doesn’t send emails asking for personal data. Tax software providers, like TurboTax, often send emails to customers about the status of their tax returns. Therefore, if the email looks legitimate, consumers are more likely to fall for it. TIP: If you get an email from a tax professional asking for personal information or telling you to open an attachment, directly contact the company or individual who sent it.
2. Phony tax returns. Using stolen Social Security numbers, identity thieves have filed thousands of fraudulent tax returns and collected billions of dollars in tax refunds. Most victims don’t find out until their returns are rejected by the IRS a year (or more) later. TIP: Keep your Social Security number to yourself. Don’t give it to your dentist, doctor, or any other business that can use an alternative identification number.
3. Refund scams. Promoters of a new scheme targeted at senior citizens claim they can obtain refunds by filing for a “stimulus payment” based on the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Scammers tell victims that they can get a refund even if they don’t normally file a tax return and haven’t attended college in decades. Another variation of this scheme claims the credit is available to compensate individuals for taxes paid on groceries. Promoters often charge “exorbitant fees” to file for these credits and are typically long gone once the taxpayers realize they’ve been scammed. The IRS has stopped thousands of returns that falsely claim this credit. TIP: Only work with tax professionals that have good reputations and have been reviewed by others.
Popularity: 14% [?]
Thursday, March 8th, 2012
The Consumer Sentinel Network reports that Florida has the highest percentage of identity theft complaints of any state. That statistic was a part of their recently-released study on the topic of fraud and identity theft.
There were 33,595 complaints in Florida during 2011, the study showed. That worked out to 178.7 complaints per 100,000 people, the highest such figure in the country. Georgia, California, Arizona and Texas round out the top five.
Among large metropolitan areas, Miami had the highest number of complaints about identity theft (324.1 per 100,000 people).
The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater region finished seventh on the list (156.2 complaints per 100,000 people) while Orlando ranked 12th (147.1 complaints per 100,000 people).
Also in the top 50: Lakeland (14th), Tallahassee (20th), Ocala (26th), Vero Beach (43rd) and Fort Myers (49th).
You can read the entire study at http://wfts.tv/zsEJ7z.
Popularity: 7% [?]
Wednesday, March 7th, 2012
As the dreaded tax day–April 15–gets closer, more and more people are getting concerned about meeting the deadline. But they’re also concerned about the risk of identity theft as they prepare to share their most sensitive data with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and tax professionals.
Earlier this year, the federal government launched a massive effort to crack down on identity theft and tax fraud before the 2012 tax season, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal. The timing of the effort was meant to stem the rising tide of fraudulent tax scams (such as when a scammer uses someone else’s identity to file taxes or get a refund). In 2011, the IRS found as many as 260,000 identity theft fraud attempts, which is a major increase from the 49,000 attempts in 2010–just two years earlier.
While the IRS is taking action to help taxpayers avoid identity theft problems, such as educating people about possible risks, it’s important that people take steps to educate and protect themselves:
• Always keep your tax paperwork in a safe and secure location. Shred any paperwork you no longer need before you dispose of it.
• If you’re filing your taxes online, be sure to use updated firewall, antivirus, and spyware software.
• Monitor your mail closely during tax season. Make a list of everyone who pays you, including employers, banks and brokerages, and make sure you receive copies of what they send to the IRS.
• Choose your tax professionals as carefully as you would a doctor or lawyer. Remember that a tax preparer has access to your Social Security Number, address, and other private information.
• Be aware of IRS-related scams. If you receive an email asking for your personal or financial information, delete it or send it to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org for investigation. The IRS will never email taxpayers about issues related to their accounts or ask for your Social Security number or financial details over the phone. If you have any doubt whether a contact from the IRS is authentic, call them directly to confirm it.
• Self-detection is the best way to find out about identity fraud before any damage is done. Sign up for IDEssentials to lock your credit down and prevent lenders from offering credit in your name without your approval.
It may seem like scammers are everywhere during tax time. However, if you exercise precaution when dealing with tax documents, you can help protect your identity.
Popularity: 23% [?]
Tuesday, March 6th, 2012
Most people exercise great caution when it comes to revealing personal information in a public place or when surfing online, but don’t think twice before posting all kinds of intimate information on social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter. Research shows that the majority of social networking users divulge personal information, such as their email address, name and birthday.
Not only do they reveal this potentially harmful information, but they also engage in other risky behaviors, such as downloading files and responding to unsolicited emails from fellow members. An alarming number of people download unknown files from other people’s profiles—-an action that could lead to identity theft, computer spyware, viruses and other risks.
Unfortunately, identity thieves are counting on this lack of caution, as they target the millions of users that frequent social networking sites. Because people reveal personal information on these sites, it’s easy for cybercriminals to look at user profiles and use the information they find to customize their attacks. These targeted phishing attacks are known as “spear phishing”, and social networking sites present unprecedented opportunities for these scams. For example, a spear phisher may pose as one of your social networking contacts or friends to create phony messages designed to trick you into revealing more personal data, such as your credit card or phone number.
If you’re using social networking for any reason, it’s important that you understand that sharing your personal data might make you a target for online attacks. If a malicious person obtains your Social Security number, name and birthday, he or she may have enough information to hack into your financial records and compromise your personal information. Using information that you offer about your home, hobbies, interests, and friends, a cybercriminal could impersonate a trusted friend or convince you that they have the authority to request personal or financial data.
Fortunately, you can minimize their risks of becoming victim by understanding the potential dangers of these sites. Here are a few simple rules when socializing online:
• Beware of scammers. Criminals scan social networking sites to find potential victims for customized scams, from phony lotteries to illegitimate business opportunities to fake high school reunions. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people and setting your profile to private to prevent uninvited members from viewing your personal information.
• Exercise caution when clicking on links or downloading files. Scam artists often post links to infected ad banners in their profiles. Avoid opening links or downloads from strangers, and never enter your password or account number unless you’ve verified the site’s authenticity. When in doubt, always call the site owner to confirm.
• Protect your personal information. Identity thieves can easily find enough photos and personal information on social networking sites to steal your identity. Avoid posting your full name, financial data, social security number, street address, birth date, and phone number.
• Be proactive in your efforts to thwart identity thieves. Use an identity theft protection service, such as IDEssentials, to help stop identity thieves in their tracks by locking your credit down and preventing lenders from offering new credit in your name unless they verify your identity.
Social networking sites provide great opportunities for people to meet and share experiences. But with this freedom comes a level of risk and the need to exercise caution. By using your best judgment and following our safety tips, you’ll enjoy the benefits of social networking and avoid the costly risks.
Popularity: 50% [?]
Monday, March 5th, 2012
In 2011, identity theft was the #1 consumer complaint, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC received 1.8 million complaints last year and 15% of these (279,156 to be precise) were about identity theft. This marks the 12th year in a row that identity theft has held that top spot on the FTC complaints list.
According to CNNMoney, identity theft worried consumers more than debt collectors, imposter cams, and shady credit repair companies. The majority of people who complained about identity theft to the FTC were reporting that their personal information was stolen and used in government documents — often to collect government benefits. The FTC said that 70% of people who filed a complaint about identity theft said they’d filed a police report.
Complaints about government document-related identity theft increased 11% since 2009 and represented 27% of identity theft complaints last year. Credit card followed immediately behind, making up 14% of identity theft complaints, followed by phone or utilities fraud and bank fraud.
Imposter scams, where scammers pose as friends, family, government agencies or companies to trick consumers into sending them money, were also at the top of the list. These types of scams often lead to identity theft.
Overall, 55% of complaints were fraud-related last year. Consumers reported paying more than $1.5 billion in fraudulent schemes, and the median amount paid was $537. About 43% of consumers said scammers emailed them to initiate contact.
Here are the top 10 consumer complaints, according to the FTC:
1. Identity theft
2. Debt collection
3. Prizes, sweepstakes, lotteries
4. Shop-at-home, catalog sales
5. Banks and lenders
6. Internet services
7. Auto-related complaints
8. Impostor scams
9. Telephone and mobile services
10. Advance-fee loans and credit protection/repair
Popularity: 19% [?]
Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
There’s a reason Suze Orman is one of the top financial experts in the world–she’s an absolute dynamo and is always right on target with her advice. That’s why we partnered with her to create Suze Orman’s Identity Protector. We hope you’ll tune into QVC this weekend to hear her talk about the need for identity theft protection as part of your financial plan.
Watch her segment on QVC :
• Sunday 3/11 1am EST; Saturday 3/10 10pm PST
We’re dedicated to providing our customers (and Suze’s, of course) with the latest and greatest in identity theft protection features. She’ll be talking about some of the newest features we offer in Suze Orman’s Identity Protector, including social media monitoring to protect your identity on sites like Facebook and a free identity theft score and advanced monitoring tools. Be sure to check out the show—you’ll surely learn something new!
Popularity: 16% [?]
Friday, March 2nd, 2012
It’s very smart. For example, if you looked up a pizzeria in New York City and then watched a video on YouTube, Google might just surprise you with a recommendation to watch a video about New York’s best pizzerias.
Google claims it collects information from its users to “provide better services to all of our users – from figuring out basic stuff like which language you speak, to more complex things like which ads you’ll find most useful or the people who matter most to you online.” However, many privacy advocates—and competitors—claim that Google is violating users’ privacy. European Union authorities say these new privacy rules breach European law. The EU is mainly concerned by things like Google linking the data in your web history with data in your Gmail account, as well as the fact that it links your location to your data.
Google’s been collecting your data for many years. The big change is that all this data is linked together in a profile that Google can use to sell ads to advertisers and give you very targeted search results. Unfortunately, this policy also means that Google might be unintentionally increasing your risk of identity theft.
Attorney General Martha Coakley and other attorneys generals sent a letter to Google Chief Executive Larry Page outlining several issues with the new guidelines. The letter was signed by 36 attorneys general from across the country, and stated that consolidated personal data profiles become a target for hackers and privacy thieves.
“We are concerned that Google’s new policy may threaten the ability of each user to keep certain aspects of their online history private,” Coakley wrote in a press release. “Today, the threat of identity theft is everywhere and we want to ensure that Google provides appropriate protection by giving consumers meaningful choices in determining how and when they share their personal information.”
For now, if you’re an avid Google user, there aren’t many options to protect your privacy from Google and its advertisers. Existing users can’t opt out without opting out of the Google ecosystem entirely. The best thing you can do is check your credit report regularly and monitor your identity with an identity theft protection service like IDEssentials.
Popularity: 29% [?]