We all know that February means Valentine’s Day. This probably means different things to each of us. For some, it may be just another day, and for others it may come with obligations and expectations. Of course, I’m sure there are also still some true romantics among us, as well as those who just appreciate a good chocolate heart. Likely you all know that with February also comes Identity Theft Protection week. Yes, that was a joke, but… it is an important topic that continues to lead to increasing financial losses.
The FTC holds Identity Theft Protection week each year, offering a series of events focused on protecting oneself from identity theft. Of particular note this year, and in line with Valentine’s Day, they announced that romance scams hit a record high in 2021, up almost 80% from 2020. $547 million dollars were reported lost due to these scams last year, bringing the total over the past five years to around $1.3 billion. Romance scammers usually connect with people over social media or dating sites, and often you’ll never actually meet the scammer in person. Scammers create a false persona to draw in their target, and then eventually ask for money to help with something. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes that people should lookout for a love interest who does the following:
The FTC says a quarter of scammers last year requested gift cards, and they’ve also seen a rise in those asking for cryptocurrency payments. Of course none of us would like to think we’d fall victim to one of these scams, but it’s important to remember that most scammers are quite experienced at influencing people. An online romance scam should be reported to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
For all types of identity theft, the FTC provides great resources at identitytheft.gov. They’ll help you report a theft and walk you through next steps. One of the major things you can do to help prevent identity theft is to place a freeze on your credit reports at Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. When your credit records are frozen, anyone trying to open credit in your name will be denied. If you are planning to apply for new credit, you must call or go online to temporarily lift the freezes. It might be a bit of a hassle, but it’s helpful for peace of mind and could potentially protect you from a financial loss. In SC, it is free to freeze your credit at the three bureaus, and you can do this online, by mail, or by calling each (Equifax: 888-298-0045, Experian 888-397-3742, TransUnion 888-909-8872).
Another step you can take to protect yourself is to check your accounts regularly. Keep an eye on your bank and credit card transactions, and check your credit reports annually. If you see any unauthorized transactions, call the financial institution immediately. You can get a free copy of each of your 3 credit reports every year (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Also, it’s always important to make sure the website you’re visiting is the authentic one. Never click on a link in an email – always visit the site directly. Scammers can create websites that look almost identical to the real thing, and often use misleading website addresses that also seem legitimate.
As this letter is going out on Valentine's Day, you’ll likely receive it a few days later. However, I hope that all of you enjoyed the holiday and that you’re surrounded by love this week and always. If you have questions about identity theft, our privacy policies, or anything else, give us a call.
Libby Anderson, CFP®
Kendall J. Anderson, CFA, Founder
Justin T. Anderson, President