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It seems every week we hear about another data breach or scam impacting consumers. From huge data breaches (Home Depot, TurboTax) to phone or email scams targeting seniors or specific groups, everyone needs to be aware of potential issues.

While it’s not possible to avoid all the risks associated with identity theft and scams, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself.

  1. You are entitled to request a free copy of your credit report annually. Do this and review the report carefully to ensure it is accurate.
  2. If you are impacted by a large-scale data breach, sign up for the free credit monitoring services offered by the company. These services are generally offered for one year after the data breach.
  3. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card information, or other personal data over the phone if someone has called you and their identity is not confirmed. If you are not sure who is really calling, look up the main number for the business yourself and ask to be connected to the appropriate party.
  4. The IRS will never call you on the phone asking for personal information or for you to make a payment over the phone. If you receive such a call, hang up.
  5. Shred all personal documents using a cross-shredder before you discard them. Many communities have shred events sponsored by the police department where you can watch the documents while they are destroyed.
  6. If someone emails, calls or shows up at your door selling products or services, be skeptical of the offer. Don’t agree to anything before checking the company out through the Better Business Bureau or asking for references. You may also go online and search for more information on the business or find online reviews. Do not let anyone push you into buying something immediately. And if you are asked for money up front, be suspicious.
  7. Watch for people who show up at your door offering to make repairs or do home improvements. Every time we have bad storms and homeowners face property damage, scam artists come out to take advantage of those impacted.
  8. If you get a text from a family member asking for a PIN number or other critical data, call the person back to verify they need it. If someone steals a cell phone they can pretend to be a loved one.
  9. The electric and water companies will not call you asking for you to wire money or give them a credit card for an immediate bill payment. If you believe there may be a problem with your bill, hang up and call the company directly.
  10. If you have to sign a contract for a purchase, read it carefully to ensure you understand everything you are agreeing to. If in doubt, have an attorney review the agreement.
  11. If you do business online, make it a practice to use passwords that are not easy to guess. You should also use different passwords for each site. Do not save the passwords on your computer or mobile device. Keep a master list in a secure place or on an encrypted USB drive.
  12. If you bank online and your bank offers an added layer of security whereby they will email or text a PIN for each login, take advantage of this.
  13. Watch the news and online for new scams so you can be aware of the latest tricks. The NC Division of Aging and Adult Services issues ongoing bulletins of the latest scams. Visit their website for the latest alerts.
  14. As mom used to say, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

While can all be targets, many scammers specifically target seniors thinking they will be easy marks. The North Carolina Department of Justice (NCDOJ) has some other good tips for consumers. If you have been the victim of a crime, report it to the local police and file a complaint with the NCDOJ.