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BBB: Make 2020 a Financially-Safe Year


It’s a new year, and the bad guys are busy dreaming up new scams and updating old ones. The Better Business Bureau is offering consumers some advice on beginning 2020 on a positive note.

Basically, the earlier that you detect something that is not something you purchased, or your account’s different, then the earlier you can get your banking institution – or with whom you have the account – to get on  it and to stop it, says Tammy Ward in the BBB’s Pensacola office.

Part of being proactive with your finances is to implement a “credit freeze” through the three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

“You contact them and tell them that you want to put a freeze on your credit; you can still use it, but you might have to give a little bit more information when you do,” said Ward. “It’s a good way for someone not to be able to just get your information – something private – and try to open up a credit card or a loan in your name.”

If you’re fed up with telemarketers and robocalls, you can find a call-blocking program for free or a nominal cost. Also check with your phone provider about their blocking methods. Also register your number or numbers with www.donotcall.gov. Then, Ward says, re-evaluate your permissions and privacy settings on social media.

“No matter if you’re on Instagram or Facebook, or any of the other ones, periodically they will change their privacy agreements,” Ward said. “And you have to make sure that they haven’t changed something in yours. So you need to go into your settings – I would say once every couple of months – and just make sure that your settings are as private as they can be.”

Americans are a generous people, and that’s one of the areas where scammers like to operate. When planning to donate to businesses or charities, a little due diligence is necessary first – especially with crowd-funding on social media.

“If you don’t know the individual that they’re asking for money for, either find out who it is by a legitimate source or don’t give,” Ward said. “Because that’s too easy. Anybody can put up a crowd-funding account and you don’t really know if it’s going to the place.”

If the group is listed as a 501(c) (3) -- a public charity identified by the IRS -- go to their website or call them to find out what you can, such as their board of directors and how the money is spent.

Another invitation to scammers are those who pay their bills online. It’s vital, says Ward, to keep tabs on your banking account data as the only one making the payments.

“Make sure you have the https on the URL if you’re going online and paying something,” Ward said. “We would suggest that you don’t do it by email, don’t click on something that is attached to an email or embedded in an email. Go ahead and type in the URL yourself.”

One of the favorite tactics used by scammers is asking their marks to pay with a gift card or money wire transfer such as Western Union. Why? Because the transaction cannot be reversed.

Also, it’s a good idea to change your passwords frequently, to something that’s easy for you to remember, and hard for the crooks to pick up on.

“Do not use the street address you grew up on; you don’t want to use your mother’s maiden name, you don’t want to use something that’s like your first pet or something like that,” said Ward. “Mix it up a little; two names, and in the middle you put a character. Make it unique.”

One solid defense when it comes to protecting online data is multi-factor authentication – best used when you’re checking your accounts on a new computer or on somebody else’s.

“When you go on and put in your information, that’s like a possibility that a scammer is using it,” Ward said. “So you will get a notice that says, ‘we are going to be sending you an authorization code on your cellphone, and please put this in.’ That basically gives you another level of security.”

If you remain in doubt about dealing with groups and organizations you believe are suspect, the Better Business Bureau’s Tammy Ward says that’s where the BBB Scam Tracker can come in.

“Put in the number that called you; you can put in the email address, of if you go to a URL and you thought it was a legitimate one and you see that it isn’t, go ahead and report that on Scam Tracker,” said Ward. “We use that to inform others, and we also use it to do our studies. And once we have a certain number of them, we actually do a national study.”

Scam Tracker can be accessed at www.bbb.org/scamtracker. Another rule of thumb is to file your taxes early, to keep your information out of the wrong hands and lessen the chance your refund goes to someone else.