Identity thieves are constantly on the prowl for your personal information. As part of National Consumer Protection Week, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) and the Minnesota Department of Commerce are offering advice for protecting yourself and steps you can take if your ID is compromised. Identity theft can happen to anyone and because scammers are always getting smarter, it’s important to remain vigilant.
“While businesses have the responsibility to protect sensitive data, consumers can take proactive steps to protect their personal information,” said Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.
“This is an issue that isn’t going away, and perhaps the best people can do is be clear on how they can best protect themselves and what they should do if their identity is stolen,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.
Identity thieves will stop at nothing to gather personal information, which can be stolen in a variety of ways:
Mail theft. For fraudsters, it’s as easy as opening up the victim’s mail box and taking their bank statements or other financial information. It’s a good idea to closely monitor your incoming mail. If you’re expecting sensitive materials to arrive through the mail, check and retrieve your mail daily. If there’s a delay in delivery, contact the sender to check the status.
ATM skimming. Devices installed illegally on ATM machines can gather information contained on your debit card’s magnetic strip. Be sure to inspect the ATM for signs of tampering and avoid ATMs in poorly-lit or low-trafficked areas. When making a withdrawal from an ATM, it’s also a good idea to cover your password with your hand.
Credit card offers/bank statements. Be sure to shred unwanted credit card offers and old bank statements. Thieves are more than willing to go dumpster diving if it might lead to a potential payday. Around the house, make a habit of keeping sensitive financial documents in a secure location.
Protect your Social Security number. Don’t provide your Social Security number unless it’s absolutely necessary. If at all possible, offer alternative forms of identification such as your driver license. Never give your Social Security number out over the phone.
Social Media. When you post to sites like Facebook, keep in mind – depending upon your privacy settings – that information is public. Scammers are looking for phone numbers, birth dates, employment information and any other sensitive information they can use for illicit purposes.
If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the FTC recommends the following:
- Place an initial fraud alert by contacting any of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax.com, Experian.com or TransUnion.com). When you place a Fraud Alert on your credit report with any one of the three major credit reporting companies, that company will notify the other two and fraud alerts will also be placed on those files, too
- Monitor your credit report. Under Federal Law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every twelve months from each credit reporting company.
- Report it to the Authorities. File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov and also your local police department. Get copies of both the police report and your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce and BBB here to help.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce is here if you have questions or issues about insurance, or believe you have been the victim of a scam or fraud.
Consumers may contact the Consumer Services Center at 651-539-1600 or (800) 657-3602. Consumers can file a complaint on the Commerce Department website. Complaints can also be sent to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 7th Place East, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55101 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Complaints can also be filed online at bbb.org.
Websites such as craigslist continue to be a top resource for people looking to buy and sell used – and unused – merchandise or household goods. While most transactions are successful and bargains can be found, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reminds people it’s important to exercise caution and take steps to ensure your personal safety.
“Everyone loves a bargain and online sites like craigslist certainly provide a service,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “However, there have been instances locally and nationwide which have led to tragic outcomes. We urge people to be vigilant.”
Here are some basic tips to keep in mind when buying or selling from private parties online:
- Try to deal with local buyers and sellers.
- Never wire funds.
- Don’t give out any personal or financial information.
- Never accept money orders and be leery of cashier checks, as both are easy to forge. If you cash a fake money order or cashier check, the bank will hold you responsible when it discovers it is fraudulent.
- Apartment or home rentals should be thoroughly checked out and inspected in person before money is put down.
- Consider the risks involved with selling a high value item yourself vs. dealing with a reputable pawn shop, consignment or secondhand store. Is it worth it?
The following are red flags, signs you’re likely dealing with someone using craigslist to defraud people:
- The buyer or seller is from another country.
- The buyer or seller will not meet with you and will only communicate via email.
- The buyer offers to overpay the asking price and requests that you wire the extra funds back to him/her or a third party.
The riskiest part of buying or selling something through craigslist (or other online e-commerce sites) is the in-person meeting to complete the transaction. Here are some tips to ensure your transaction goes safely and smoothly:
- Set up meetings during daytime hours and in a public place (coffee shop, restaurant).
- Consider bringing a friend or family member with you if you have safety concerns.
- If the seller insists you come to their home or apartment, always think of your safety first and trust your instincts. If you don’t like the direction things are taking, walk away.
- Check around and see if there are any businesses in your area which act as brokers for online sales; firms that help ensure safety for both buyers and sellers and collect a commission on the sale of items.
As in life, most of the people you deal with when buying or selling items on sites like craigslist are honest. However, there are those who see these sites as an opportunity to commit crimes. BBB advises everyone who uses websites like these to make sure they’re doing everything they can to protect themselves.
| In the aftermath of the recent, unprecedented data breach at Anthem Insurance, The Better Business Bureau Serving Wisconsin says that this National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) takes on a new sense of urgency for all consumers and businesses.
NCPW is a coordinated campaign which began yesterday and will run through Saturday. This year’s theme for National Consumer Protection Week is “Your Information Destination: Know Your Rights.” The week is devoted to encouraging consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better, informed decisions as well as aiding businesses in taking greater measures to prevent fraud.
“Consumer protection has gone from being a subject of interest to a way of life,” says Ran Hoth, CEO and president. “Businesses are going through a learning curve to better protect consumers’ data, and consumers are learning that they have to be more proactive about learning how to avoid fraud.”
Because so few of our transactions are done face-to-face, it can feel like we are at a disadvantage and be extremely frustrating to get a problem resolved through customer service. It is also a daunting task to find out who to contact for a given problem.
The centerpiece of NCPW is a website, www.ncpw.gov, which touches upon issues from consumers’ legal rights to how to spot and prevent scams. The site also hosts a consumer blog and has connections to a long list of resource partners, ranging from state and federal agencies to regulators, advocacy groups and non-profit organizations, including Better Business Bureau.
Consumers can read free reports and customer reviews on a company or charity at http://www.bbb.org/wisconsin.
Find out more about National Consumer Protection Week at ncpw.gov.
For more information or further inquiries, contact the Wisconsin BBB at www.bbb.org/wisconsin or 414-847-6000 (metro Milwaukee), 920-734-4352 (Appleton), 608-268-2221 (Madison) or 1-800-273-1002 (elsewhere in Wisconsin). Consumers also can find more information about how to protect themselves from scams by following the Wisconsin BBB on Twitter, Facebook and You Tube.
Burnsville, Minnesota – Feb. 26 – Aggressive computer viruses continue to make the rounds, causing unlucky computer users to see messages which threaten people with fines or prison unless they pay up. These viruses encrypt – lock up – files on affected computers, holding them hostage, hence its name: ransomware. These viruses are spread through malicious links in emails or by visiting compromised websites. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) offers tips on how to avoid ransomware and also advice on what to do if your computer is affected by it.
People who have been victimized by ransomware report seeing different versions of ransom demands; some ask for differing amounts of money and some have claimed to be from the FBI, local police or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Users are told they need to pay requested amounts via prepaid debit cards or Bitcoin (a virtual currency) or they will be locked out of their computers permanently. In some cases, people have even been threatened with arrest. However, these messages are all fraudulent.
“This scam is both insidious and, unfortunately, effective,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Encrypting users’ files or locking screens to make computers inaccessible gives scammers a lot of leverage. Even so, the FBI is advising consumers not to pay these ransoms and we advise the same.”
People with infected computers should have the issue addressed as quickly as possible. It will likely take a computer repair expert or firm – one that’s been researched first at bbb.org – to restore functionality and remove any lurking malware. However, while computers may be fixable, in many cases encrypted files are not recoverable. It’s always a good idea to back up your files on a regular basis.
The FBI recently issued a warning that scammers are now utilizing a tactic called “drive-by” ransomware, which is generally transmitted by deceptive emails or pop-up windows. In some of these cases, scammers are pressuring victims to pay ransom with Bitcoin. This form of payment has become increasingly popular for scammers because of how difficult it can be to trace.
One of the newest versions of ransomware is CryptoWall. Victims are infected with CryptoWall by clicking on links in malicious emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses and through compromised advertisements on popular websites. Another growing problem is ransomware that locks down mobile phones. Just as with computers, it’s important to avoid questionable websites when surfing the Internet on your smartphone.
To avoid ransomware, consumers should:
- Make sure their computer has the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a secure firewall.
- Avoid questionable websites and don’t be lured in by pop-up windows.
- Don’t open attachments in unsolicited emails, even if they come from people you know and trust. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Be aware that social networks are used to transmit and spread this virus and others like it.
- Use the same precautions on your smartphone as you would on your computer when surfing the internet
- Watch out for scams disguised as apps. Be sure to download apps through the official Apple App or Google Play Stores. Stay clear of discontinued apps and make sure to read the user reviews.
If your computer or smartphone becomes infected by viruses of this nature, contact a tech expert immediately and file a complaint with the FBI at ic3.gov.
MADISON – Love may be blind but if your Valentine’s Day plans include looking for love online, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reminds you to keep your eyes open for scammers who are ready to take advantage of you-and your money.
People using online dating services or social media to find that perfect match might just be forging a relationship that could cost thousands of dollars.
“The average financial loss from these scams is between $15,000 and $20,000 per victim,” says Sandy Chalmers, administrator of DATCP’s Trade and Consumer Protection division. “You may think you’re in a real relationship, but if your online love asks for money, get out.”
Many of these scammers troll for unsuspecting romance seekers online. You may be sent an inviting profile or a photo, and the conversation that follows is used to build a trusting relationship. The person on the other end often claims to be an American traveling overseas. They may eventually send you checks asking you to cash them since they can’t. They might also ask you to wire money to help them in an emergency.
Depending on how much personal information you’ve shared with your new unseen admirer, you may find your bank accounts drained and your identity stolen. Or you may have been duped into a money laundering check cashing scheme.
Other signs your online romantic interest may be “cheating on you” include:
- sending a too-good-to-be-true photo that looks like a supermodel
- asking you to leave the dating site and communicate by personal email or instant messages. Sharing intimate details in these forums could possibly lead to extortion demands for money in order to keep those details from being posted to the world.
- professing love for you in a heartbeat
- requesting that you send personal information including Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers
- tells you he or she will come visit you but changes plans at the last minute due to some tragic event
- asking you to send money by wire transfer to pay for airfare for a visit, visas, government documents or to help a family member in distress.
“If you use an online dating site, stick to a well-known company with a good reputation,” Chalmers said.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota® (BBB) advises people looking to start new relationships to watch out for romance scams. This is a scheme wherein unscrupulous individuals look to defraud people by pretending to be a love interest and playing on emotions for their own financial gain. This type of scam usually occurs via email or social media, but can also happen through established online dating services.
“Romance scams are a double whammy,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota. “They hit victims financially and emotionally, and the consequences are often devastating.”
Romance schemes can target anyone, but often target older individuals, those who are new to the Internet or not as tech-savvy. The relationship generally develops online or over the phone, when people either respond to fake online profiles or are contacted by a scammer in response to an ad they posted. Conversations begin online and things can progress quickly, which is why it’s important to take things slow. Scammers prey on emotion and they’re good at telling people what they want – or hope – to hear.
A huge red flag for people seeking relationships online is any request for funds. Sometimes scammers who have struck up virtual relationships will ask for money to buy an airplane ticket so the couple can “finally” meet. However, these requests are nothing more than a gateway to further requests, as the scammer comes up with reasons they can’t make the trip, such as an illness, a sick relative or supposedly losing their job. A good rule of thumb is to never send money to someone you’ve never met in person. Another good rule of thumb is to remember that someone who cares about you will not ask you to place yourself in financial jeopardy for them or put you in a difficult position.
People going online or using online dating services to meet romantic interests should be leery of:
People who ask to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this allows fraudsters to perpetrate fraud without the dating site having a record of the encounter.
Anyone who declares their love for you without meeting you or knowing very little about you.
Individuals who prefer to communicate solely via email or over the phone. This is often the sign of someone who has a need or wishes to keep their true identity hidden.
Claims that a person cannot meet because they are traveling, stationed or working abroad. Dishonest people use distance as a tool and a means of keeping people at arm’s length. Scammers will also sometimes falsely claim a military affiliation in an effort to gain people’s trust.
Requests for money or credit card information. Any and all requests for loans or cash advances should be refused and prompt an immediate assessment of the person you’re communicating with. Red flags don’t come any bigger than this.
Someone who asks for sensitive personal information.Remember, a scammer’s goal might also be to steal your identity. Be protective of your personal information and watch out for suspicious emails that could have links which contain malware designed to compromise your computer.
The mission of Better Business Bureau is to be the leader in building marketplace trust by promoting, through self-regulation, the highest standards of business ethics and conduct, and to instill confidence in responsible businesses through programs of education and action that inform, assist and protect the general public. We are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact the BBB at bbb.org or 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222.
The BBB reached millions of people and business owners through media alerts, media stories to warn against scams, social media, consumer and business newsletters, blogs, scam-stopper, tips on buying smarter, and educational events.
One such event is ShredFest, BBB’s bi-annual free community shredding event held this year in Milwaukee, Appleton, Madison, and for the first time, Manitowoc. In 2014, the BBB Serving Wisconsin and its Foundation helped thousands of people avoid identity theft by collecting, shredding, and recycling nearly 150,000 pounds of personal documents – double the amount of that in 2013 – and a record total for the BBB since ShredFest began in 2007.
Requests for BBB reports on businesses and charities in Wisconsin rose to 2,267,239, up 8 percent from 2013. The BBB responded to 18,732 telephone calls and 2,571 live chats.
The BBB is pleased to report that business ethics is alive and well in the state of Wisconsin. 85.5 percent of Wisconsin accredited businesses chose to reaffirm their commitment to the BBB’s standards of trust in 2014.
Posting of positive, negative, and neutral customer reviews to our website in 2013 was 3,757 and increased 6 percent to 3,984 postings in 2014.
“People are very interested in maximizing their marketplace experience by sharing that experience with others through reviews, and our statistics show that to be true”, says Ran Hoth, CEO and president. “By offering this free service, the BBB provides a platform for customers to voice positive, negative, or neutral experiences they have with local businesses.”
The number of complaints processed by the BBB Serving Wisconsin was 10,841. The BBB was able to obtain responses for 85 percent of the complaints, thanks to ethical businesses in Wisconsin who want to do the right thing for their customers.
Being able to view actual complaint detail in BBB reports was added in January, 2013, and statistics show that complaint detail was viewed by the public 197,756 times throughout 2014, a 3.28 percent increase.
In addition, the BBB Serving Wisconsin conducted 193 investigations and sent 62 press releases to the public including informational pieces, business alerts, and scam notifications. This resulted in more than 3,600 TV, radio and newspaper stories, a 33 percent increase. The BBB Serving Wisconsin also continued posting regular, sometimes-weekly blogs for various online and print publications, including In Business, Now,Patch, Wisconsin Woman and 50 Plus.
Monitoring of advertising remains a significant function at the BBB. In 2014, the BBB challenged 162 ads for questionable claims, BBB logo misuse, and noncompliance with BBB standards. The BBB requested immediate cease and desist from unauthorized users of its logo, requested substantiation of certain advertising claims and, in some cases, asked companies to modify their advertising to eliminate false or misleading information.
In 2014, the BBB Serving Wisconsin increased its Twitter followers by 22.4 percent, bringing the total to more than 5,500 and increased its Facebook “likes” 10 percent, bringing the total of Facebook fans to more than 22,450.
The BBB offers free “Request a Quote” opportunities for consumers through its website. Choosing to “request a quote” allows a person to obtain free quotes, estimates, information, or proposals from BBB Accredited Businesses. In 2014, the BBB forwarded 3,984 requests for quotes to accredited businesses.
In May, the BBB awarded eight scholarships – the most ever – to high school seniors who demonstrated high character, leadership, and ethical values. Each of the eight students received a $2,500 scholarship to attend an accredited college of their choice. The 2014 “Student of Integrity” scholarship was sponsored by the BBB of Wisconsin Foundation, Jericho Resources, Baird, Dave Jones, Briggs & Stratton, and an anonymous donor.
Top 10 Most Inquired About Types of Businesses
|Construction & Remodeling Services||73,267|
|Auto Repair & Service||49,150|
|Heating & Air Conditioning||46,865|
|Auto Dealers – Used Cars||44,610|
|Auto Dealers – New Cars||33,372|
Top 10 Most Complained About Types of Businesses
|Auto Dealers – New Cars||393|
|Mail Order & Catalog Shopping||345|
|Furniture – Retail||326|
|Auto Dealers – Used Cars||205|
|Cable TV, Internet & Telephone Installation Service||177|
Better Business Bureau is warning businesses not to click on an email that claims to be a “BBB SBQ” (standard business questionnaire). The email was sent out this morning to what is believed to be tens of thousands of businesses across the country. The email has a ZIP file attachment that links to a site that can download malware on the user’s computer. Spoofing well-known and trusted brands is a common scam tactic. Other organizations such as the IRS, the FBI and Fortune 500 companies have been spoofed in similar phishing campaigns that victimized consumers and businesses.
“As soon as we heard about the scam, we immediately notified our security vendors and we are in the process of taking down the website,” said Ben Steinberg, Chief Information Officer for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for 112 local, independent BBBs across North America. “We have a structure in place to quickly address and mitigate the impact of scammers who use our name. Our highest priority is protecting the public.”
The emails are coming from the domain “BBBL.org,” which is not a BBB domain name, although it is clearly designed to look as if it is. The domain name was created last October and is registered to an individual in Antwerp, Belgium. It’s not immediately clear if the domain owner is directly involved in the phishing scam, but BBB will be turning over its information to the FBI and Interpol for further investigation.
BBB offers this advice to anyone who receives this or other unsolicited emails with links or attachments:
- Do not click on links or open attachments in unsolicited email.
- If your email program allows it, tag the email as spam.
- Report the email to your Internet Service Provider.
- If you are unsure if an email is legitimate, call the sender using a phone number that you know to be correct (not from the email).
- Check out BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam) for additional information on scams.
The emails claim to be from Anthem and claim to provide information about free credit monitoring. This is a scam. Better Business Bureau is offering the following advice:
Whether you are an Anthem customer or not, DO NOT CLICK ON LINKS OR OPEN ATTACHMENTS IN EMAILS CLAIMING TO BE FROM ANTHEM.
If you are a current or past customer of Anthem:
- Get your information only from Anthem. Go to anthem.com directly, not from a link in an email or other website, and click on the “Learn More” button. Although Anthem has set up a separate website to deal with the data breach, BBB recommends when looking for information such as this, always going to the main corporate site and click through from there to be certain you are not at a spoof website.
- Consider placing a free fraud alert on your credit reports now. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus; once you add a fraud alert to one, that company will notify the other two. A fraud alert flags your credit reports, alerting potential lenders to verify the identity of anyone attempting to open an account in your name. Fraud alerts provide some protection, but rely on the diligence of the person performing the credit check.
- For stronger protection at some inconvenience, consider a credit freeze with each of the credit bureaus. Although there may be an initial charge, it is possible that you will be able to seek reimbursement if you can show you were a victim of the data breach. Fees vary by state but generally run about $10.00. Be sure to hold onto your login credentials so that you can “thaw” your reports when you need new credit.
For more information about what to do after a data breach, go to bbb.org/breach.
For information on how to freeze your credit, check out this blog post.
For more information about scams, go to BBB Scam Stopper at bbb.org/scam. Sign up for Scam Alerts to find out about new scams when we do.
State agency encourages investors to discuss cybersecurity with financial professionals
MADISON – With an ever-growing list of financial institutions targeted by organized cyber-attacks, the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) today issued an advisory reminding investors of the importance of protecting the personal information they share with their financial professionals.
“The increasing reliance on technology in our daily lives could leave our sensitive financial information more vulnerable to theft without proper safeguards in place,” said Patricia Struck, Administrator of DFI’s Division of Securities. “Investors should be vigilant about asking questions about a financial firm’s level of cybersecurity preparedness. They should ask about what specific steps the firm has taken to protect personal client information.”
To help investors with that discussion, DFI suggests asking the following questions:
- Has the firm addressed which cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities may impact its business?
- Does the firm have written policies, procedures, or training programs in place regarding safeguarding client information?
- Does the firm maintain insurance coverage for cybersecurity breaches?
- Has the firm engaged an outside consultant to provide cybersecurity services?
- Does the firm have confidentiality agreements with any third-party service providers with access to the firm’s information technology systems?
- Has the firm ever experienced a cybersecurity incident? If so, has the firm taken steps to close any gaps in its cybersecurity infrastructure?
- Does the firm use safeguards such as encryption, antivirus and anti-malware programs?
In September 2014, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), of which DFI is a member, reported that 62 percent of state-registered investment adviser firms participating in a NASAA pilot survey had undergone a cybersecurity risk assessment, and 77 percent had established policies and procedures related to technology or cybersecurity.
For more information, contact DFI’s Division of Securities at 608-266-1064.