Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week

Are you looking forward to getting your tax refund in the New Year? Tax identity thieves may be looking forward to getting your refund too. That’s why the Federal Trade Commission has designated January 29-February 2, 2018 as Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week.

Tax identity theft happens when someone uses your Social Security number (SSN) to get a tax refund or a job. You might find out it’s happened when you e-file your tax return and discover that a return already has been filed using your SSN. Or, the IRS may send you a letter saying more than one return was filed in your name, or that IRS records show you have wages from an employer you don’t know.

Learn to protect yourself from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams, and what to do if someone you know becomes a victim. The FTC and partners including the IRS, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration will be co-hosting free webinars and Twitter chats during Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week. Visit ftc.gov/taxidtheft for details about the events and how to participate.

For more information, click here.

Teacher Suggestions

  • Ask students if filing early may avoid e-file tax identity theft fraud if someone files before they do.
  • Ask students what steps should they take if their identity is stolen?

Discussion Questions

  1. How can one protect from tax identity theft and IRS imposter scams?
  2. What can you do if you or someone else you know becomes a victim of identity theft?

Protect Your Social Media Accounts

The Internet has made our lives easier in so many ways. However, you need to know how you can protect your privacy and avoid fraud. Remember, not only can people be defrauded when using the Internet for investing; the fraudsters use information online to send bogus materials, solicit or phish.

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself when using social media:

Privacy Settings: Always check the default privacy settings when opening an account on a social media website.

Biographical Information: Consider customizing your privacy settings to minimize the amount of biographical information others can view on the website.

Account Information: Never give account information, Social Security numbers, bank information or other sensitive financial information on a social media website.

Friends/Contacts:  Decide whether it is appropriate to accept a “friend” or other membership request from a financial service provider, such as a financial adviser or broker-dealer.

Site Features: Familiarize yourself with the functionality of the social media website before broadcasting messages on the site. Who will be able to see your messages — only specified recipients, or all users?

For More Information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to make a list of their social media accounts. How do they protect their accounts from fraudsters?
  • Why do many social media websites require biographical information to open an account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to limit the information made available to other social media users?
  2. Is there an obligation to accept a “friend” request of a service provider or anyone you don’t know or do not know well?
  3. Why be extra careful before clicking on a link sent to you even if by a friend?

Equifax isn’t calling

Ring, ring. “This is Equifax calling to verify your account information.” Stop. Don’t tell them anything. They’re not from Equifax. It’s a scam. Equifax will not call you out of the blue.

That’s just one scam you might see after Equifax’s recent data breach. Other calls might try to trick you into giving your personal information. Here are some tips for recognizing and preventing phone scams and imposter scams:

  • Don’t give personal information. Don’t provide any personal or financial information unless you’ve initiated the call and it’s to a phone number you know is correct.
  • Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers can spoof their numbers so it looks like they are calling from a particular company, even when they’re not.
  • If you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator or any other key to take your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any number, it will probably just lead to more robocalls.

For more information about the Equifax breach, go to Equifax’s website.

 Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who has received such a call. If so, how the victim responded to the imposter?
  • What advice can you provide to a victim of a scam?

Discussion Questions

  1. What should you do, if you have already received a call that you think is fake?
  2. What must you do if you gave personal information to an imposter?
  3. What can you do to protect yourself from such scams?

Know your debt collection rights

Know someone who’s behind on their bills? Maybe debt collectors are calling for payment? The Federal Trade Commission’s new debt collection video can help you understand your legal rights – and may lower your stress level.  In the video, you’ll see how bad debt collectors try to get you to pay up. Bad debt collectors will say anything to get you to pay – and they’ll make it feel urgent to get you to pay immediately. But there are laws to protect you. Debt collectors:

  • Can’t call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Can’t use profanity, threaten violence or harass you to pay
  • May not lie or pretend to be someone they’re not
  • Cannot ask you to pay a debt that doesn’t even exist
  • Can’t threaten you with arrest or deportation
  • Cannot tell anyone – except your spouse or attorney – about your debt

If a debt collector calls and uses any of these tactics, hang up and report it to the FTC. Remember: you have the right to be treated fairly – no matter what.

For more information go to: consumer.gov/debt.

To view the video, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  1. Ask students to summarize the steps they may take if a debt collector calls.
  2. Let students make a list of danger signals of potential debt problems.

 Discussion Questions 

  1. Which federal law regulates debt collection activities and protects consumers from abusive collection practices?
  2. Does the law erase the legitimate debts consumers owe?

Free credit freezes from Equifax

Many people have had very sensitive personal information exposed in the Equifax breach — Social Security numbers, account numbers, even drivers’ license numbers. Equifax is offering free credit freezes until November 21, 2017.

If you’re thinking of placing a freeze, consider the following:

  • A freeze means that no one (including you) can access your credit file until you unfreeze it, using a PIN or passphrase. That makes it harder for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
  • To be effective, you must place a freeze with all three credit reporting agencies — Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
  • A freeze can cost you money every time you freeze and unfreeze your file- at a cost of $5 to $10 per agency each time, depending on your state’s law.

Fraud alerts are free.  With a fraud alert, creditors must try to verify your identity before extending new credit.  The alert lasts for 90 days, You can renew it but you will need to remind yourself or it will expire automatically.  Identity theft victims, however, are entitled to an extended fraud alert which lasts seven years.  To place an alert, contact any one of the three major credit reporting agencies, either by phone or online.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they are willing to pay about $5 to $10 each time they freeze or unfreeze their accounts with each credit agency.
  • Let students debate the issue: “A fraud alert is better than a credit freeze.”

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the differences between a fraud alert and a credit freeze?
  2. Should you consider a fraud alert or credit freeze if you become a victim of an identity theft? Why or why not?

Cash or Credit?

“Currency still has its place, despite the pervasive use of plastic.”

Today, it seems that more people are using credit or debit cards to pay for everything.  And yet, this article provides reasons why cash may be a better payment option.  Those include

  1. A cashless society? Not so fast.  According to a recent Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco study, 40 percent of consumer transactions involve cash–a higher percentage than for debit cards (25%), credit cards (17%), electronic payments (7%), and checks (7%).
  2. Currency comes in handy. Most vending machines don’t take plastic, and cash works best for all small purchases.
  3. Hamiltons can’t get hacked. With data breaches of major retailers becoming common, some consumers pay by cash to protect their credit card information.
  4. A cash fix can cost you. If you get a cash advance from an ATM outside your bank’s network, you’ll pay more than $4, on average.
  5. Cash is a great budgeting tool. If you have trouble controlling your spending when you pay with credit cards, then cash or a debit card is best for your finances.
  6. Paying by cash may be a good option, but it won’t help build your credit history. Using a credit card now and then for routine purchases can help build a good credit history.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

You may want to use the information in this blog post and the original article to

  • Reinforce the concept of paying by cash.
  • Discuss what happens when people use their credit cards and overspend.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would you prefer to pay for merchandise and services with cash or credit? Explain your answer.
  2. How could paying with cash help you balance your budget and control spending?

IRS: Protect Yourself Online

The Internal Revenue Service, the states and the tax industry urge taxpayers to take steps to protect themselves online in the fight against identity theft.  Scammers, hackers and identity thieves are stealing taxpayers’ personal information and ultimately their money.  But, there are simple steps you can take to help protect yourselves, like keeping computer software up-to-date and being cautious about giving out your personal information.

Here are some best practices you can follow to protect your tax and financial information, click here.

  1. Understand and Use Security Software. Security software helps protect computers against the digital threats that are prevalent online.  The operating system will include security software from well-known companies or Internet providers.
  2. Allow Security Software to Update Automatically. Set security software to update automatically.  Malware–malicious software—evolves constantly, and your security software suite updates routinely to keep pace.
  3. Look for the “S.” When shopping or banking online, always ensure that the site uses encryption to protect your information.  Look for “https” at the beginning of the web address.
  4. Use Strong Passwords. Use passwords of eight or more characters, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.  Don’t use your name, birthdate or common words.
  5. Secure Wireless Networks. A wireless network sends a signal through the air that allows it to connect to the Internet.  If your home or business Wi-Fi is unsecure, it also allows any computer within range to access your wireless and potentially steal information from your computer.
  6. Be Cautious When Using Public Wireless Networks. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient but often not secured.
  7. Avoid E-mail Phishing Attempts. Never reply to an emails, text or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information.  Never click on links even if they seem to be from organizations you trust.  Instead, go directly to the organization’s website.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students which best practices they follow to protect their tax and financial information. Make a list and share it with other students.
  • Ask students to make a list of essential software tools available to them for keeping their financial/tax information secure.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why it might be prudent to purchase security software programs from well-known companies or Internet providers?
  2. Where should you keep your passwords list and why?

When Small Charges Can Signal a Big Crime

Counting every penny on your credit and debit card statements can help detect fraud

Most people looking at their bank statements would probably notice if their credit or debit card were used without their approval to purchase a big ticket item, and they would quickly call their bank or card issuer to report the error or fraudulent transaction.  But consumers are less likely to be suspicious of very small charges, including those less than a dollar…which is why criminals like to make them.

“These transactions might be signs that someone has learned your account information and is using it to commit a crime,” said Michael Benardo, manager of the (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section.  “That’s why it’s important to be on the lookout for fraudulent transactions, no matter how small.”

He added, “When thieves fraudulently obtain someone else’s credit or debit card information and create counterfeit card, they might test it out with a small transaction—like buying a pack of gum or a soda—to make sure the counterfeit card works before using it to make a big purchase.  If this test goes unnoticed, by the true account holder, thieves will use the card to buy something expensive that they want or that they can easily sell for cash.”

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students if they know someone who had his/her credit or debit card compromised. If so, how they detected the illegal charge and how the problem was solved.
  • Under what circumstances should you close the compromised account?

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important to regularly scrutinize your monthly credit and debit card statements?
  2. What can be consumers do to protect themselves from such frauds? What is the best way to catch this type of fraud?

BAM banned from debt collection

In late July 2016, filed as part of Operation Collection Protection, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged that BAM Financial used lies, threats, intimidation, and other illegal practices to extract payments from consumers.  When obscene language, incessant calls, and harassment of family members didn’t get the results they wanted, the defendants got personal.  For instance, the defendants told the parent of one purported debtor “No wonder your daughter is in such predicament with a mother like you.”  The FTC alleges that they falsely stated to another consumer’s 84-year-old mother that they had a warrant for her daughter’s arrest and later told the consumer they were bounty hunters.

The FTC says BAM’s letters and phone calls were riddled with false threats of litigation.  The complaint also charged that in numerous instances, the defendants didn’t follow up within five days of their initial communications with proper validation notices as the law requires.

The settlement with BAM Financial, Everton Financial, Legal Financial Consulting, Luis O. Carrera, and Robert Llaury bans them for life from debt collection agency industry.

For more information, click here.

Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students what consumer rights they have when dealing with debt collection agencies.
  • Ask students to list important provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Discussion Questions

  1. Nearly 30 million Americans have their accounts in collection, and debt collectors make as many as one billion contacts with people every year. Are these contacts legal?
  2. What types of debts are covered under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
  3. How can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

Protecting Your Privacy and Security When Making Mobile Payments

For most consumers, the biggest benefit of mobile payments is convenience.  No need to pull out your wallet for cash or plastic—especially if you’ve got your phone at hand anyway.  No need to type your payment information to buy online.  But what if your financial and other personal information isn’t safe?

Security is important since you usually carry your mobile device with you, it’s on most of the time, and it may contain sensitive information.  Consumer Federation of America (CFA) offers advice on how to avoid security pitfalls, what features keep your mobile device and your payments safe, and how to prevent others from making mobile payments without your permission.

For more information, click here.

 Teaching Suggestions

  • Ask students to read the privacy policies of the companies whose services they are using to make mobile payments.
  • What are your options if you don’t like a company’s privacy policy?

Discussion Questions

  1. Should you voluntarily provide information that is not necessary to use a product or service or make a payment?
  2. Why is it important to use extreme care when you use free public Wi-Fi?