This weekend, I am going to a Shred Event hosted by a local bank. My several boxes of shred-necessary paperwork–you know the documents riddled with personal identifying numbers–already seem lighter.
Banks periodically host events where they gather one or more mobile shred trucks, equipped with an industrial shredder and invite the public to offload their shredding. Different from an at-home shredder, which slowly snips small amounts of paper at once with varying outputs, cutting long strips or crosswise. The shredder on a mobile shred truck can handle large quantities of paper. An entire box, for example, can be dumped into the receptacle at once, returning small bits of paper. In the world of paper shredding, industrial shredders are considered quick and supreme. The result of compounding shredders with the anonymity of event participants is a massive indiscernible pile of recyclable paper.
Why shred events?
Shred events help prevent fraud and financial identity theft by giving people an easy way to dispose of confidential paperwork. We all have it, and we need a safe and secure way to dispose of it. All an identity thief needs to wreak havoc on our financial future is our Social Security number, date of birth, address, and name. Shred events benefit you by helping you protect your personal information. They help banks by way of protecting the information of their clientele and eliminating potential bank fraud and related recovery costs.
Identity thieves are online, so why do we need to shred paper?
News of data breaches and the message to stay safe online and protect your electronic information remains true and important. And still, some of the more involved and impactful crimes of identity theft, such as the creation of new accounts and huge losses, are often committed by people close to us: a relative, supposed friend, or neighbor. Some of these folks may know exactly where you keep your boxes of personal files.
Still others may forage trash the eve of trash pickup. If you carelessly discard confidential documentation, you could be directly supplying a thief with your information.
Destroying documents that you no longer need is the best method to prevent potential theft and misuse of that document. Keeping such documents around your home, or neglectfully discarding them in original form makes you more susceptible to identity theft.
Can shred events destroy my devices that contain my personal information?
No. Shred events are all about shredding paper. Personal devices cannot be discarded or wiped clean of personal data there. Prior to discarding or recycling electronic devices, consumers must take crucial steps to clear personal data off a device through a factory reset or destroy the dive/circuit board altogether.
How can I find a shred event near me?
Banks as well as community organizations host shred events. When you find an event, such as through an online event listing on a third-party site, like Facebook, take steps to verify directly with the hosting entity.
To learn more about identity theft and protection steps, please review the Consumer Assistance Program’s website and blog.
Reports of scams to the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) totaled 5,154 in 2021, up just slightly from the previous year’s 5,021 reports. Two variations of the Computer Tech Support scam and the Online Listing scam claimed the number one, three, and seven spots respectively on CAP’s list of top ten scams in 2021, covering nearly a quarter of the total reports filed by Vermonters. Businesses were also targeted by internet-based scams in 2021. The Business Imposter Email Scam, where scammers represent themselves as business personnel to extort funds, had 62 reports filed—a figure that did not make the top ten but notably jumped nearly 50% from the previous year.
Impersonation scams remain of concern, with an adapted law enforcement and lawyer imposter scam at the number four spot in 2021, threatening arrest and lawsuits on unsuspecting call recipients. The Family Emergency/Imposter scam, which includes the Grandchild Imposter also known as the “Grandparent scam” and needy friends and relatives asking for funds, made the top ten list again in 2021. A similar scam, which fabricates a romantic relationship or friendship of confidence, the Romance Imposter scam, saw a 36% increase in reports. As imposter scams are of ongoing concern in Vermont, CAP recently distributed a video imposter scam prevention project, highlighting three concerning imposter scams with high dollar loss: the Romance Imposter scam, the Family Emergency/Imposter Scam, and the Business Imposter Email Scam.
As highlighted in the prevention project, taking steps to verify can help individuals avoid scams. A simple verification process to follow for all scams is the SLOW Method:
S – SLOW DOWN
Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Don’t!
L – LOG THE CONTACT
Write down the info of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL
Make one call to a primary contact and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES?
Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
CAP reminds Vermonters to never give out personal information or make payments to parties you cannot verify. Scammers will ask for payment in all forms, including wire transfer, cryptocurrency, cash, peer-to-peer payment, money order, check, credit/debit card, and gift cards. If you have sent money to a scammer, follow recovery steps now.
Vermonters can help stop scams by sharing information with community members and by reporting scams to CAP to support educational outreach. To report scams, complete CAP’s online scam reporting form or call 1-800-649-2424.
The scam: A variation of the traditional Computer Tech Support scam (see # 3 below). You receive an automated phone call, text message, or email claiming that you have been charged for an online order, have an outstanding balance on your account, or are sent an item you did not order. The scammer then instructs individuals to call a number provided in the scammer’s communications to get a refund or to resolve the charge. At this point, they will ask you to provide your card number to “confirm your account” or prompt you to provide them remote access to your computer. As soon as the scammer has remote access to your device, they can access every single document, file, and transaction you have saved to your device.
How to spot the scam: Companies will not call with tech support unless you requested that they contact you. If you receive a package that you do not recall ordering, check your statement history to see if you have been charged. Packages without a return address are highly suspicious.
What to do: Hang up the phone immediately and do not call back. If you receive an email or text regarding a package delivery or order that has been made, do not click on any links. Mark the email as “Junk” or “Spam”. Furthermore, never allow remote access to your device to unknown parties. If you are concerned about charges made to your accounts, log in to your account directly and contact your financial institution. If you receive a package that you did not order, mark it return to sender and give it back to the mail carrier.
The scam: You receive a phone call (often a robocall) stating that there has been criminal or fraudulent activity involving your Social Security number. The call may even claim you will lose your benefits, or they will expire.
How to spot the scam: Social Security and other government agencies typically contact you by mail before initiating phone communication; they usually don’t call you first, you call them. They also would not threaten you for your information or payment.
What to do: Whenever you receive an unsolicited contact, take steps to verify. Never provide personal information to unknown contacts. Report robocalls to CAP for enforcement.
The scam: You receive a phone call, pop-up, or email on your computer claiming to be from Norton, Microsoft, Apple, or another well-known tech company. They will make claims such as your electronic device has a virus, your device security subscription has been automatically renewed, or stating you have been charged for services you did not receive or ask for. You may be prompted to click a link or call a number to contact. They will try to persuade you to give remote access to your device to fix the issue, and sometimes will even ask for immediate payment for their services.
How to spot the scam: Legitimate tech support companies do not display communications to their customers as random pop-ups on your device. Tech support will not call you to warn of security incidents; that your account has been renewed for a subscription you do not recognize; and will not send you random links, often shortened, with instructions for you to click on URLs.
What to do: When contacted about a supposed business relationship, take steps to verify, especially if you do not remember signing up for services. Never click on links or provide remote access to your computer from an unknown email sender or pop-up message on your device’s screen. If you received a pop-up message you cannot click out of, shut down, restart, or unplug your device. If you get a call from “tech support”, hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate phone numbers listed on the internet.
Legal Authority Imposter
The scam: You receive a phone call unexpectedly, claiming to be a police officer, U.S. Marshall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or an attorney with legal authority. The caller threatens arrest or pending lawsuits against you. When you engage, urgent payment is demanded to make the problem go away. Payment does not solve the supposed problem, and they keep calling.
How to spot the scam: The police would not warn you ahead of time about a pending warrant. If you were going to be sued, the papers would be served without notice.
What to do: Know your rights. Harassing debt collection practice is unlawful, and collectors aren’t allowed to make claims they can’t or won’t pursue. Hang up on all threats and report them.
The scam: You will be notified by phone, email, or mail that you won a prize or a quantity of money. In some cases, you will even receive a realistic-looking check – but it is fake! You are instructed to pay fees and give your financial and personal information to claim your prize. They often use a legitimate sweepstakes name, like Publishers Clearing House.
How to spot the scam: Legitimate sweepstakes and contest businesses, like Publishers Clearing House and Mega Millions lottery, will contact you in person if you win a major prize. For prizes under $10,000, the notification is done through certified mail by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS). They will not contact you by phone, nor require a payment or processing fee to release your prize.
What to do: If it sounds too good to be true, then it’s not true. You don’t need to pay fees or give your financial information in order to claim a prize.
The scam: You receive a letter that claims you have requested government benefits, opened a bank account, filled a credit card application, or are notified about a security breach. Sometimes you will stop receiving legitimate bills and other mail or start to get bills for products and services that you didn’t pursue.
How to spot the scam: Be aware of unsolicited phone calls, mail and emails stating unexpected bank transactions, credit card or benefit applications. If your expected bills are not showing up, or you are receiving correspondence in someone else’s name, report it.
What to do: Don’t give out personal information, such as your Social Security number, passwords, personal identification numbers, and financial accounts. Review your credit reports at least once a year. Carefully check bank account statements and benefits to verify transactions. Shred documents and expired credit cards before you throw them out. Verify security breach notification letters received on the Attorney General’s website. If your information has been stolen by an identity thief, take identity theft protection steps.
The scam: Fake websites or phony listings on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist draw you into a purchase that’s likely too good to be true. This scam can also appear in online rental listings, and as a buyer offering well-over the selling price for an item. As a seller, the fake buyer sends a fake check or pays with a fraudulent credit card and asks you to advance funds to another fake vendor, causing you to be out the funds.
How to spot the scam: Be skeptical of unrealistic offers. Watch out for requests for money in any form (gift cards, wire transfers, cash) when not made in person. Scammers likely will not want to talk on the phone or meet in person. Heed warnings in user reviews and other online commentary.
What to do: Playing it safe online takes a bit of detective work to determine legitimacy of an offer. Investigate the person/profile of the seller. If their profile is new and they have no friends and photos, they are likely a scam. Research new websites you are considering doing business with by looking up online reviews and state business registrations, taking note of how long the company has been operating. Perform online searches of the business with “scam” and “complaints” to see if issues generate. Complete your transactions in cash and preferably a safe place in-person.
The scam: Scammers will call, often with a live call and from a spoofed caller ID number, and pose as Medicare representatives to gain your personal information and money. These scams are most frequent during times of open enrollment but can occur year-round. The scammers will state they need your Medicare card number or Social Security number to keep your coverage active and verify medical information. The calls may also claim that coverage is expiring or in need of renewal. Scammers will also ask if you received a “new Medicare card”, often referred to as a “gold card” or “red, white, and blue card”.
How to spot the scam: In general, Medicare cards do not expire. Unless you have called Medicare using the 800 number on the back of your card and requested a callback, Medicare will not call you. If a phone call is required, you would receive a letter from the Social Security Administration to schedule a call. Medicare representatives will never call you to verify your information, sell you products, tell you that your coverage is expiring, or to issue you a new card.
What to do: Never provide your Medicare number or other personal information and payment to unknown callers. In Vermont, representatives of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at 1-800-642-5119 through local Area Agencies on Aging can help address Medicare questions. Other questions and concerns about Medicare coverage can be directed to Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE. You may also report this scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
The scam: Scammers pose to be someone you trust and pretend to be in an emergency to convince you to send them money or will ask you for a favor. These scammers pose as grandchildren, friends, relatives, and close contacts and seem like the real deal. Scammers impersonate people you love and play on your fears to have you send money urgently. After the initial call, you may be told a lawyer, parole officer or courtroom may contact you for further information.
How to spot the scam: Contacts come in as calls or emails or online messages. Sometimes it’s someone you haven’t heard from in a while. They require urgency and ask for secrecy. You may not be allowed to speak to your loved one on the phone.
What to do: Take steps to verify. Check out if they really are who they say even if they sound like a loved one. Slow down your response and contact someone you trust to verify if there is an emergency. You can also choose a “code word” with friends and family to verify the person is who they claim to be. If they don’t know the word, they are not your friend or family member.
Auto Warranty Expiration
The scam: You receive a call or mail from fake representatives of auto dealers, manufacturers, and insurance companies, trying to convince you to renew your auto warranty or insurance or claim your warranty is expired. You may be instructed to press a number or stay on the line for a representative that seems like a real person. When contacted by these scammers, you may be asked personal information about yourself and your vehicle or financial information to pay off this fake claim.
How to spot the scam: Be mindful that only a vehicle’s manufacturer can extend factory warranties, not an outside company. Avoid any call or mailing that states it’s urgent for you to take immediate action to continue your car’s warranty.
What to do: If you have inquiries on your vehicle or its warranty, call the number on your purchase paperwork. You can also contact the dealership you purchased the vehicle from to inquire about the warranty as well. Hang up on or discard any suspicious mailing or person claiming to know about your auto warranty. Do not provide any personal or identifying information unless you can verify you are dealing directly with a verified company that you have a business relationship with.
The state of Vermont defines identity theft as the unauthorized use of another person’s personal identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, money, or property. It is common that identity theft occurs from use of your credit card and bank account information.
There are some instances where your social security number and other personal information may be used to acquire identification, lines of credit, loans, or other consumer accounts fraudulently. For more information on Vermont laws regarding privacy and data security, click here.
Identity theft is more common than you would think and it is evolving rapidly with the growth of technology. All our information is a couple clicks away.
Here are 5 ways to protect yourself if you suspect you are a victim to identity theft:
Review Your Credit Reports. You can obtain your free credit report from each of the credit reporting bureaus through AnnualCreditReport.com. If you find anything that should not be there, be sure to save a copy of the report. Then, contact the credit reporting agency to dispute all inaccurate items.
File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.Click here to be directed to the complaint page of the Federal Trade Commission.
Want More Info?
Identity theft is a complex issue facing consumers all over the country. Find out more about identity theft by visiting identitytheft.gov, the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft help and information site.
Navigating the identity theft recovery process can be overwhelming. Vermonters with questions about the process can call the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424 or the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338.
When I presented on the topic of identity theft a decade ago, the concept seemed somewhat distant, impacting few individuals with identity thieves using dated and laborious tactics to steal identities. A section of my presentation was devoted to informing about dumpster diving—the fact that people can get a lot of information about your identity from the trash you discard—and encouraging shredding as an identity theft prevention step. Another section focused on phishing and educating about what phishing is; not to be confused with fishing, except metaphorically of course.
In the age of the robocall and the internet, phishing and identity theft have become more sophisticated in that scammers can make the same automated call to many people at once and data security breaches expose consumers to widespread identity theft.
Even with advances in technology, identity thieves can still obtain your personal information by rummaging through your trash and phishing. To demonstrate, let’s take a quiz:
What do you do with your expired credit card when a replacement arrives in the mail?
A. Cut it down the middle and throw it out. The card cannot be used once the magnetic strip is severed.
B. Run it through a straight-line shredding machine. The card will be of no use when made into little strips.
C. Cut it into as many small pieces as possible, either with scissors or a cross-cutting shredder. Throw out the pieces in different trash bags. It will be virtually impossible to decipher the card with it in so many pieces and places.
D. Discard as it is. Without additional instruction from the bank, no additional steps are necessary. The card is of no use once it expires.
My answer is C: Cut the card into a million pieces and discard in multiple places. Why? Because even though the card is expired, with card updates the card number stays the same. Once a determined scammer has obtained the card, all they need to do is follow up with a strategic phishing phone call to you. When they call, they may claim to be your financial institution and ask a series of phishing questions, which exposes other important numbers about the valid card in your possession: the expiration date and the CCV.
What exactly is phishing?
A. A sport of catching fish, using a fishing pole.
B. A fun excursion with Vermont Phish Phans.
C. The fraudulent attempt to obtain your personal information or data.
D. Testing the water pH before ice fishing.
Hopefully this quiz question was easier. The answer is also C.
Identity thieves phish for information about you, your Social Security number, your bank account number, your credit card and debit card numbers, your birthday, and more in order to use the information for their own financial gain. When an email purports to be your bank, saying you have been locked out of your account and you must login using the enclosed link, a scammer hopes you provide them all of your personal information by completing their realistic-looking bogus form. Once you have, they can access and use your account. And, depending on the information you have provided, they may also open up new lines of credit in your name without your knowledge or consent. Identity thieves have opened home loans, car loans and credit cards. They usually don’t pay the bills they run up, creating a mountain of work for you to dispute debts you do not owe.
Phishing scammers may contact you by email, phone, text message, and any other communication mechanism you use currently, including social media. Phishing scams often present a problem that must be solved by you disclosing some personal information. They may even pretend to be your computer company, warning about viruses that need to be repaired on your computer. They offer to help you resolve your virus problem, if you grant them access to your computer and, unknowingly, your personal information stored on your computer. Phishing scammers may also say a package will soon be delivered to you and you must reply if you did not order a product, or else your credit card will be charged. Then when you call, they ask for your credit card number.
Phishing scams can be tricky, because there are scenarios in which a bank institution may contact you, such as if there has been fraudulent activity on your credit card. Scammers take advantage of this and try to replicate it. Rather than trying to determine the difference between a scam call and a call from your bank, take out the guesswork by disconnecting the contact and calling your bank directly on a number you know to be valid.
Resist the impulse to reply to urgent requests of phishing scammers. By slowing down and taking steps to verify, you can stop phishing scammers from reeling you into their trap.
Help CAP prevent scams by sharing this information with your community. Have a scam to report? Use CAP’s online scam reporting form.
For more information about identity theft, visit our website.
Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about. Get notified about the latest scams: Sign up for VT Scam Alert System alerts.
Since August 1, the Consumer Assistance Program has received approximately 275 reports of the Social Security number phishing scam!
Here’s how the scam works:
You receive a phone call stating that there has been criminal or fraudulent activity involving your Social Security number. The scammer may also claim to be a government agency or law enforcement, threatening arrest or serious consequences. The scam often begins as a robocall.
If you “press 1”, you are connected to a live person, who claims to be a detective or law enforcement agent. They spin a detailed story about a crime committed involving your Social Security number.
Then, the scammer attempts to obtain your personal information and money. Never provide your Social Security number or bank account numbers over the phone, especially to an unknown caller.
If you receive a Social Security number phishing scam call, hang up the phone! Do not press 1 or attempt to connect to a live person.
The Social Security Administration will contact you via official letters in the mail if necessary. If you receive a call threatening arrest, it’s a scam.
Take it SLOW: Scammers pressure you to act fast, demanding personal information and payment, while threatening extreme consequences if you do not comply. Don’t let them pressure you! Remember to slow down, hang up the phone, and log the call. All it takes is one call to someone in your life to talk it through. If you still need help identifying the scam, make an additional call to someone who cares. You can always call CAP, we care and can discuss scams with you.
If you do provide personal information to the scammers over the phone, here are some proactive steps you can take to protect your information and your finances: