Half-pint Halloweeners may trigger some good-natured fright, but what’s really scary? These horrifying (and holiday-appropriate) scams, which are still going strong.
Identity Theft of the Dead
Each year the identities of millions of deceased Americans are used to fraudulently open credit card accounts, apply for loans and get cellphone or other services. Identity thieves glean personal information from obituaries, social media, accomplices working at hospitals and nursing homes, or websites that publish death certificates (sometimes including Social Security numbers). It can take months for financial institutions, credit reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to receive, share or register death records, so crooks have ample time to rack up charges, posing as the dead.
Defense: Choose a trusted representative to immediately report a loved one’s death to the SSA (800-772-1213) and the IRS (800-829-1040), and send death certificate copies by certified mail (with return receipt) to each of the three credit reporting bureaus, banks, insurers, brokerages, and credit card and mortgage companies, requesting account closure or a change of joint ownership. In obituaries or death notices, don’t include the deceased’s birth date, place of birth, last address or other ID theft-worthy nuggets.
Virtual kidnappers demand ransom to release a supposed captive (and tortured) loved one. IRS impostors threaten that you’ll be arrested or deported if you don’t pay an alleged tax debt. Self-described police claim you face a penalty for supposedly missing jury duty. Swindlers pose as utility company reps who say your service will be terminated because of unpaid bills, or as Medicare employees threatening no benefits unless you provide sensitive information. They might pretend to be debt collectors who threaten lawsuits unless you pay them immediately, or as jailers with the key to your offspring’s freedom in the Grandparents Scam.
Defense: Know that all of these calls are bogus. Government agencies and utility companies notify the public of problems by mail, not telephone calls. Police don’t give advance warning of arrest (nor bother with jury duty, debt collection or other commonly used scare tactics). And if there’s ever a real problem, you won’t be asked by legitimate authorities to pay by wire transfer, prepaid debit card or iTunes cards; scammers demand those methods for a quick payoff that can’t be traced.
This malware earns its name for pop-up warnings of nonexistent computer infections, aiming to trick you into buying useless or potentially dangerous “protection” software. Tech support scammers who call and claim that your computer is infected with a dangerous virus seek more than just money in providing rip-off repairs and bogus protection software. To supposedly “fix” the problem, they direct users to rogue websites and angle for over-the-phone remote access of victims’ computers to install scareware (for future gotchas) and other dangerous programs — including ransomware that freezes devices and hijacks and encrypts files until a fine is paid.
Defense: Avoid malware by not clicking on suspicious links and websites (especially those whose addresses are slightly tweaked versions of reputable vendors). Don’t trust scareware warnings or unsolicited callers claiming you have computer problems, as Microsoft, computer manufacturers and protection software companies don’t telephone or send emails about an infection in a particular computer. When real threats are detected, security updates are sent via that machine’s already installed antivirus protection. Unless you initiate contact with a trusted technology assistance firm, don’t give strangers remote access to your computer by typing a certain code, providing usernames and passwords, or downloading a program they provide.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network . You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map .
Also of Interest
- Follow-up fraud: Recovery scammers target victims twice
- Social Security beneficiaries to see paltry increase in 2017
- Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
- Join AARP: savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.