Between Ponzi schemes, fake IRS phone calls and the countless identity forgeries that happen each day, it may seem like swindlers are lurking around every corner.
Closely review and monitor your accounts.
Regularly check your bank and credit card statements and review every single charge. Is there a service fee that’s new or you’re unsure about? Ask your creditor or bank what it is and why it’s there. It could be an honest mistake – or, unfortunately, it could be an attempt to siphon money out of your account.
Whatever the reason, you should get to the bottom of it immediately. Similarly, if you see a charge on your statement that you don’t recognize, request more information about it. Sometimes swindlers who have obtained your account details will draw out a small amount on a regular basis in the hopes that you won’t notice or won’t bother disputing a $2.50 unknown charge.
These small thefts can add up, however. Plus, you don’t want the thief to have your account information in case they decide they want to make a significant purchase that could overdraw your account or max out your line of credit.
Keep tabs on what’s attached to your identity.
A credit report will tell you the bank accounts and credit cards attached to your name and Social Security number. All three credit-reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) offer one free annual credit report, so you can get a total of three free reports each year.
By regularly checking these reports, you’ll be able to know more quickly if a rogue robber has opened a bank or credit card account in your name and is potentially damaging your credit.
Be wary of wi-fi networks.
Wi-fi networks are another avenue that online crooks can use to access your personal information. Many of these con artists have begun setting up shop in public places, such as coffee houses and airports, creating wi-fi networks that closely resemble legitimate ones and stealing information from anyone who logs on to them. If you log on to one of these illegitimate “free” sites, the scammer can look through your computer for financial information.
Even worse, if you use a credit card to buy time on an illegitimate network, that credit card information is now available for the crook to begin using right away. One way to avoid this type of scam is to stop your computer from automatically connecting to non-preferred networks (for PCs, go to Network Connections and uncheck “Connect to non-preferred networks” in advanced wireless settings; for Macs, go to the Network section of System Preferences and check “Ask to join new networks”).
In addition, look for “https” in the website address of any wi-fi network and a small padlock icon in the bottom right corner of your computer. If you see both of these, there’s a greater probability that the network is legitimate and secure.
While the unfortunate reality is that swindlers exist, you can take measures to lower the likelihood that you’ll be taken advantage of. By being proactive, careful and staying aware of the latest schemes, you can improve the chances of protecting yourself and your finances.