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Protect Yourself: 4 Easy Tips to Avoid Identity Theft Scams

According to data from the Federal Trade Commission, 3.2 million Americans reported some kind of identity theft or fraud in 2019. The good news is, that number is down slightly from previous years, in part due to the protection of chip-reader credit cards. But the bad news is these types of crimes are getting more sophisticated and more expensive, with victims being held more responsible for fraudulent charges. In fact, from 2016 to 2018, the out-of-pocket cost to fraud victims nearly doubled.

It’s important to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud, and there are some surprisingly simple habits in everyday life that can reduce your risk of exposure to hackers and fraudsters.

1. Get suspicious with calls.

Plenty of scammers try to reach you by phone—to tell you you’ve won a prize, or that you need to update important information, or have an overdue payment that needs attention. Don’t fall for it! Never provide immediate payment or your Social Security number over the phone.

You can help block unwanted calls by registering your phone number(s) with the National Do Not Call Registry. This will help keep down the volume of sales calls from legitimate businesses who abide by calling guidelines, but won’t necessarily keep illegitimate scammers from calling you. Robocalls that include a request or sales pitch are nearly always scams. Furthermore, robocalls that are using a sales pitch (vs. purely informational) are illegal unless you’ve given a company permission to contact you, and you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission.

2. Be cautious with your smartphone.

If you’re doing your banking on an app using public wifi (like at the local coffee shop), hackers might have easy access to your passwords and other information. Hackers can use unsecured wifi to intercept your data and possibly even distribute malware by positioning themselves between you and the hotspot.

Hackers are also using sophisticated text messages to impersonate businesses and other entities and lure you into giving up sensitive information. Never click on links or reply to information in a suspicious SMS message. Be sure your phone is updated often and has antivirus and security software installed to prevent scammers from accessing your data. Using basic security habits like password protection, as well as fingerprint/face locking features can also help keep prying eyes out of your phone.

3. Use care when paying taxes.

Sharing the important personal and financial information necessary for filing taxes can make you vulnerable to identity theft. To minimize the risk, always use secure, reputable software when filing your tax returns electronically. Encrypting sensitive files and using unique, hard-to-guess passwords can also help protect your information from falling into the wrong hands.

Additionally, learn to recognize tax-related phishing scams, like phone calls or texts saying you owe taxes and are under the threat of arrest, or that an officer is coming to your home now unless you rectify the situation via phone. Avoid clicking links or downloading documents that look like messages from the IRS.

4. Treat important documents like cash.

Just like you wouldn’t leave cash sitting unattended in your car or on your desk, don’t leave tax documents, financial documents, or identity cards lying around. Avoid carrying your Social Security Card with you and keep it somewhere safe.

At Citizens Bank, we know you work hard for every dollar. That’s why we believe in educating our customers to keep their assets safe, and their financial life thriving and hassle-free. For questions about our secure banking, feel free to contact us for answers, or stop by any of our central Indiana banking locations to chat with one of our banking experts.

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