Thousands of Iowans had their identities put at risk with recent cyber attacks on J.P. Morgan Chase, Home Depot and Target — and hackers are constantly trying to breach more computer servers. Doug Shadel with the AARP Fraud Watch Network, says scammers are also calling Iowans on the phone, trying to worm personal information, money or both out of you, by claiming to be from the county.
“They’re posing as being from the recorder’s office, saying, ‘How would you like a copy of your deed and property assessment?’ and for $83, they’ll give you a copy of the documents you can get for free if you went directly to the recorder’s office,” Shadel says, “or at least you could get them for the price of the copy.” Con artists are also posing as being from various Iowa utilities, calling and claiming you’ve missed a bill and need to pay up immediately or face having your power shut off.
Shadel says the crooks are getting very sophisticated and can make it sound and appear like they’re legitimate. “Caller ID doesn’t tell you where the person is calling from,” Shadel says. “It’s very easy to fake the Caller ID and have it show up as anything you want. So if somebody calls saying they’re from the police department or the IRS, hang up and call back directly to the local police and ask them and they’ll tell you if it’s a scam.”
A recent survey found more than 21-percent of Americans don’t regularly shred documents that contain personal information, only 26-percent of people use distinctly different passwords on all of their online accounts, and only 40-percent of us use a locking mailbox. “That’s a big problem because we’ve interviewed identity thieves who say the principal way they steal your identity is by stealing your mail,” Shadel says. “So, if 60% of Americans aren’t locking their mailbox, that makes it really easy for the identity thief.”
About 20-percent of respondents admit they have left their wallet or purse in their locked car, which Shadel says is very dangerous. Also, he says 44-percent of those surveyed said they have not set up a passcode on their smart-phones. The organization’s free website enables Iowans to be alerted to scams that are surfacing in the region or in the state. “What we’re trying to do with the Fraud Watch Network is to get people to sign up for these alerts no matter what age they are,” he says, “so they can see these malicious assaults coming from a distance.”
The website also includes maps so people can get current details on what’s happening close to home. Nationwide last year, there was a new identity fraud victim every two seconds with total losses of around $18 billions.
Learn more at: www.aarp.org/FraudWatchNetwork