15 Tips on How to Prevent Scammers from
Stealing your Money & Information
Manage your paperwork
1. Opt for electronic statements… Thieves can steal bank statements and other documents from your home mailbox. Instead choose electronic statements that get delivered via email or directly into your online banking account. Bonus: You may be able to avoid paper statement fees or get billing discounts by going electronic.
2. Keep a shredder handy… Shred all bills and financial documents to keep thieves from fishing them out of your trash. Using a cross-cut shredder, which cuts the paper into smaller pieces is a better option than a strip cut shredder.
Protect your Identity
3. Freeze your credit report… This keeps creditors and others from “running credit” on you, protecting you from scammers who try to use your information to set up phony accounts. It’s now free, but you need to contact each of the credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian and Transunion. You can always unfreeze it temporarily to allow legitimate access to your credit, such as when you apply for a loan.
4. Stop entering sweepstakes… You may be enticed by the vacation prize in the mall kiosk, but before you enter personal details on the form, ask “What are you going to do with it?”
5. Stop giving out your Social Security number… Some businesses, such as banks, credit agencies and government agencies, legitimately need your Social Security number for reporting purposes. But that’s about it! If someone asks for your Social Security number, ask them what it will be used for.
Protect your Money
6. Use a credit card whenever possible, not a debt card… If you have a problem, you’ll be covered if you use a credit card, but not as much for a debit card. Be sure you pay the credit card balance in full every month. Do not trade deeper debt for an incremental improvement in security.
7. Better yet, use mobile payments… Setting up payments from your phone to retailers that accept Apply Pay or Google Pay – can help protect you from fraud. These mobile payments are linked to a debit or credit card so the money comes from the same account.
Cut Down on Scam Calls
8. Add your name to the National Do Not Call Registry… Call the FTC toll-free at 888-382-1222 from the phone you want to register or go to donotcall.gov. While it may not block all calls, it can help reduce the number of unwanted calls you receive.
9. Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize… The best way to do this is to adjust the Do Not Disturb setting on your phone so only calls from people on your contacts list will even ring. Everyone else will go straight to voicemail. If it’s important, they will leave a message.
10. Be prepared to hang up… If you do answer and hear a robocall, don’t say anything, just hang up. Do not respond to questions, especially those answered with a “yes” as your response could be recorded and used by someone else to authorize fraudulent charges over the telephone. Don’t hit a button when prompted to stop getting calls. This could lead to more calls. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
Be Careful Online
11. Be wary of public Wi-Fi… Scammers can tap into pubic Wi-Fi accounts and access information you receive and send. Using your phone’s cellular data rather than public Wi-Fi is the best way to prevent this. If you are using a laptop, you should be able to use your cellphone as a personal hot spot for internet access. If you must use public Wi-Fi, at least install a VPN (virtual private network) on your devices. VPN services such as Hotspot Shield, NordVPN or CyberGhost will encrypt your data.
12. Watch what you share… Scammers can find a lot about you on social media. To protect yourself, don’t share your phone number, your home address, anything related to your work, payment information, relationship status, health information, birthday or Social Security number.
13. Don’t reveal your location… Posting photos real time of your restaurant meal or hike reveals to the world you aren’t home – and won’t be for a while. Similarly, wait until the vacation is over before sharing your stories and images.
Be Very Skeptical
14. Don’t fall prey to fear-based scams… AARP’s Fraud Watch Network helpline has been receiving calls lately from people who have gotten emails that threaten to broadcast evidence that they view pornography online. In some cases, the emails contain the person’s email password, obtained from a data breach, making it even more frightening. Even though most of the callers said they have never visited these websites they said they were close to sending the money just to avoid any further harassment.
15. Don’t respond to scam-recovery pitches… These are called reload scams: The scammers know you’ve been a victim (at their hand) and to get more money from you they will make an offer to help you recover your money. Do not respond. In general, pay attention to red flags and your gut if you get an email or request that seems suspicious or out of the ordinary.
Reference: AARP Bulletin, April 2019, Vol. 60, No.3