As data breach incidents proliferate, a new AARP survey finds that an alarming number of New Jersey residents have failed to take the basic precautions against identity theft. In response, AARP New Jersey and the AARP Fraud Watch Network launched a campaign to raise awareness of identity theft risks and educate consumers on how to enhance the safety of their personal information.
In honor of Veteran’s Day on November, 11th – AARP New Jersey would also like to bring awareness to scams that specifically target veterans. Sadly, veterans are twice as likely to fall for fraudulent schemes. In 2017, AARP research found that 16% of all veterans have lost money to scammers, compared to only 8% of the non-military public.
Scammers target veterans specifically through scams including:
- VA Loan Scams – Fraudsters offer to refinance VA loans at extremely low rates.
- Update Your File Scam – An imposter, claiming to be from a government agency, attempts to get a veteran’s personal information to “update their file” so they can maintain their benefits.
- Secret Veteran Benefits Scam – Veterans are told they qualify for “secret” government programs or benefits that offer thousands of dollars, but first the scammer attempts to collect personal information for a fee.
- Pension Poaching Scam –Scammers offer veterans lump sum payments up front, in exchange for signing over all their future monthly benefit checks.
- Aid and Attendance Scam – Veterans receive an offer to move their assets to a living trust so that they can qualify for financial assisted-living benefits.
While some security experts say almost all consumers have likely been affected in some manner by a data breach, AARP New Jersey’s survey shows that many New Jersey residents, veteran and non-military, put themselves in even higher jeopardy due to their risky online behavior:
- Password Re-use – Nearly half (44%) of adults have used the same password for more than one online account.
- Bank Account Access – Only 4 in 10 (44%) respondents reported having online access to all of their bank accounts.
- Credit Report – More than half of adults (52%) reported experiencing fraudulent charges on their credit or debit card, yet very few (15%) have ordered a security freeze on their credit report.
- Digital ID Know-How -7 of 10 New Jersey adults (71%) failed a quiz testing their “digital identity IQ”.
“Our survey results indicate that a lot of people may feel overwhelmed, and have just given up,” said Cristina Anastasio, Associate State Director of Community Outreach, AARP New Jersey. “Two-thirds of those surveyed said that given the number of data breaches that have occurred, they think it is inevitable that criminals will be able to exploit their credit at some point. But we are emphasizing that there are powerful things you can do to make sure that stolen data can’t be used against you.”
The AARP Fraud Watch Network campaign recommends all people, especially veterans, take these three steps to protect their digital identity:
- Order a Freeze – Put a security freeze in place with the three credit reporting bureaus so that no one can access your credit file or open a new credit account with your information. For a guide to the process, visit aarp.org/CreditFreeze. Traditionally there has been a fee for placing a freeze on your credit report, but beginning later this month the process is free thanks to legislation passed by Congress in May.
- Set up Digital Access – Set up online access to all of your financial accounts – bank accounts, credit cards, 401(k)s, etc. — and regularly monitor the accounts so you ca
n stay up-to-date on all transactions and recognize any fraudulent activity that may occur.
- Use Separate Passwords – Make sure you use unique passwords for each of your online accounts. That way, if one account is hacked, it does not put your other accounts at risk. A good way to manage all of those unique passwords is to use a digital password manager. These services keep all your passwords secure and help you create different, strong passwords for each of your online accounts.
The AARP Fraud Watch Network launched in 2013 as a free resource for people of all ages. Consumers may sign up for “Watchdog Alert” emails about current scams, or call a free helpline at 877-908-3360 to speak with volunteers trained in fraud counseling. The Fraud Watch Network website provides information about fraud and scams, prevention tips from experts, an interactive scam-tracking map, fun educational quizzes, and video presentations featuring Fraud Watch Network Ambassador Frank Abagnale.
Abagnale, the renowned fraud expert whose personal story was depicted in the hit movie “Catch Me If You Can,” is also host of an AARP weekly podcast series, “The Perfect Scam,” that launched earlier this year.