WEALTH WISE

Steer Clear of the Latest Identity Theft Scams

It's unfortunate but true: Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for new ways to steal your personal information. And once they have access, it's only a matter of time before they can open accounts in your name, potentially wreaking havoc with your finances and ruining your good credit rating.

The more you do online — logging into accounts, sharing on social media, texting to pay bills — the more vulnerable your identity becomes. To help you know what to watch out for and avoid getting duped, we've outlined some of the latest identity theft scams below.

"Viral" Facebook Posts
As you're surfing your Facebook feed, an attention-grabbing photo with a lewd headline pops up. Or a friend shares a link to a "viral" video you just "have to watch!" Or a post about "leaked" celebrity photos catches your eye. These are just the kinds of hooks cybercriminals use to get you to click. But don't. Posts like these often hide malware — code that later tracks your computer use, and steals your passwords and financial information for identity thieves.

Tip: To determine if a story is a rumor or the real deal, visit snopes.com . You can also open a new browser and search for the information on your own. And if something in a post seems just a little off, simply avoid the temptation to click.

More Sophisticated Email Scams
Nowadays, most of us know to avoid clicking on links from princes in Nigeria needing financial assistance. As a result, cybercriminals have upped the ante on these kinds of "phishing" emails.

Sometimes, the bogus email will take a seasonal approach, asking you to file additional tax forms, for example. Even more troubling, scammers may pose as a retailer you recently interacted with online and ask you to verify a password or credit card account number.

Tip: Always verify that the request is legit: Follow up with a separate email or phone call — using contact information you know and trust, not what's in the suspicious email — before sharing sensitive information like passwords and account numbers.

Texts Linking to Fraudulent Websites
With so many people using smartphones for transactions, texting or "smishing" scams are on the rise. A scammer might text you an alert asking you to verify your account information. If you click through, you are directed to a "spoofed" website that grabs your personal information.

Tip:
Do not respond to the text and delete it immediately. If the text included the name of a bank or retailer, notify them so they can alert their customers.

As a general rule, pause and consider the source before you respond to any digital communication, whether it's clicking on links, opening emails or texting back a reply.

For more detailed digital safety habits, read "10 Tips to Protect Your Identity".