Financial scammers and identity thieves thrive on confusion and anxiety, and three events in October that are sure to cause some confusion should have people exercising extra caution in South Carolina.
Fraud perpetrators sometimes use a real event as a pretext for persuading people to divulge personal information over the phone or online.
For example, after it’s reported that a large bank, store or credit-card company’s customer data was stolen, people may start seeing fraudulent emails warning that their account with that company has been compromised. That email is really an attempt to get the intended victim to divulge account information.
In October, the much-misunderstood Affordable Care Act kicks in with the opening of the federal health insurance marketplace on Oct. 1. Also in October, South Carolina residents will be able to sign up for a new, free identity theft protection service paid for by the state, to replace an expiring contract with Experian.
And as I write this, there’s additionally the threat of a partial shutdown of the federal government in October.
With health insurance and identity theft protection, signing up will involve divulging lots of personal information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates. That’s necessary and understandable, but it’s also a ripe opportunity for scammers to send emails and make phone calls pretending to be with the government or a company.
The Federal Trade Commission, Better Business Bureau, advocacy groups for the elderly and national news outlets have been warning about such scams since the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it is called, was passed in 2009, but the Oct. 1 start of health insurance sign-ups likely will create a new wave of attempted ruses.
In South Carolina, remember that the reason the state is paying for credit monitoring and ID theft protection is because hackers stole data from the S.C. Department of Revenue.
So, state residents may already be compromised. But if someone calls or emails offering to sign you up for the new ID protection service the state will be paying for, beware.
The most recent reports say that state residents won’t be able to sign up for new state-paid service from CSIdentity Corp. until Oct. 24. Details are not yet available, but when you’re able to sign up, you’ll contact them, not the other way around.
The best advice is to never, ever divulge Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit-card information, or any personal information to people who call, email or text you asking for such information. If you didn’t initiate the contact, don’t give any information.
This seems like common sense, but every year countless people lose countless millions to fraud and identity theft.
And it’s not just ID theft. Some of the most well-known and seemingly obvious scams are still parting lots of people from their money.
A recent survey by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation found that more than 80 percent of respondents had been solicited to participate in potentially fraudulent schemes, and more than one in 10 had lost money to a scheme. The elderly are particularly likely to be targeted.
In September, the FTC announced that it had halted a California-based sweepstakes scam that took in $11 million by sending letters to people telling them they had won a $2 million lottery, which they could claim by providing a $20 or $30 processing fee.
Hundreds of thousands of people fell for that. Imagine being told you won a contest you never entered, and that you have to pay in order to collect the prize.
These scams pop up faster than regulators can shut them down. There are the sweepstakes scams, the “cramming” frauds where unauthorized charges are added to phone bills, and the “phishing” schemes where people are tricked into clicking email links that steal their information.
There are Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, “gifting” clubs, bogus charities, and countless bogus companies that will promise to repair your credit or lower your interest rate for a fee (collecting the fee is all the fraudulent companies do).
In one scheme making the rounds during the past year or two, scammers would hack someone’s email account and then send email to all their friends, claiming they had been robbed overseas and needed some money wired to them.
It’s a deluge, and all of these scammers are out there right now, targeting you, or your elderly parents or grandparents.
So beware, don’t give out personal information unless you initiated the contact, don’t click suspicious emails, and when South Carolina’s new ID theft service becomes available, sign up.
Details will be published when they become available.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.