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CONSUMER CAUTION: Protect Yourself Against Online Identity Theft

Did you know that identity theft hit an all-time high in 2016? Javelin Strategy & Research says an estimated 15.4 million consumers were hit with some kind of identity theft last year, up from 13.1 million the year before. If you thought that identity theft would be on the decline after chip cards were introduced - think again. Not only are thieves getting craftier, they're also increasingly moving online to try to bypass the chip cards. Could you easily be duped by a fraudster? THE SCHOOL BELL with Linda Bell has some situations to avoid when surfing online.

Online Shopping


You receive an email or phone call from an individual who claims to be from the IRS. First you are asked to confirm your personal information. Then you are told you must pay an outstanding tax bill immediately or you will be arrested. What should you do?

THE SCHOOL BELL LESSON: Beware of Uncle Sam Scams

As the saying goes: "Nothing is certain in life but death and taxes." During tax time, what’s also certain is that scammers are out there waiting to steal your money and personal information. If you get an email that appears to be from the IRS, don't respond to the email or click on the link. The IRS will never reach out to you by email or text message to request personal or financial information. They also will not threaten you with jail time. The IRS will generally mail you a bill if you owe any taxes. You also have the right to appeal any decision. If you think you might owe money to the IRS, go to or contact your local IRS office.


Have you ever received an email like this?

Dear Account Holder,

In order to make you online experiance even more secure, we have introduce a new security faeture that allows us to detect usual activity on your online account.

Please Log Here to Update Your Account Now!!!!

Please note that the account not renewing within 24 hour suspension are subject to terminetion

THE SCHOOL BELL LESSON: Sign Up for Account Alerts

Scammers will send this type of email to anyone and everyone, with the hope you have business with the respective bank. Legitimate companies will not send you an email like this, ordering you to take immediate action. Did you catch the spelling and grammatical errors? Those are red flags. Two things may happen when you click on the link. Either you are asked to share your personal information (don't do it!!!) or your computer is infected with malware. If you want to check if your accounts have been compromised, call the bank or visit the bank's website as you normally would. If you have a mobile phone, sign up for mobile alerts. The alerts will notify you within minutes about every purchase made on your card even if it's being used in another country.

Computer Keyboard


When checking your emails, you notice four new ones in your inbox. What do you do?

I am Mrs Maureen Hinkley and my foundation is donating (Five hundred and fifty thousand USD) to you. Contact us via my email at_______________ for further details.

Take advantage on your $50 Walmart Gift Card now! It will expire soon! Click here!

H&M In-store and online - Mid-season sale Up to 70% off – Starts now!

Get Your Free Credit Scores from all 3 bureaus

14-day Free Trial

Monthly membership automatically $39.95 charged after free trial

THE SCHOOL BELL LESSON: Think Before You Click

I actually recently received all four of these emails. The email from Maureen oozes of a scam. I have no clue who Maureen is and why is she “donating” $250,000 to me - a stranger? Many articles have been written online about the "Maureen" scheme.

The email that appears to be from Walmart is also courtesy of thieves. In fact, Walmart has a notice on their website cautioning consumers about these gift card emails.

The H&M email is legitimate, but beware of offers from merchants that appear to be too good to be true. If you get an email promotion, visit the company's main page to verify the deal is offered there. When visiting any sites, don’t shop unless it has the “https” and a padlock icon to the left or right of the URL. When shopping online, protect yourself and use a credit card instead of a debit card. A credit card company is more likely to reimburse you for fraudulent charges.

The last email is from a company that offers “free” credit scores. While the company may be reputable, make sure you read the fine print. In smaller text, the offer specifies it is for a 14-day free trial. After the trial period ends you will be charged $39.95 a month. While the company appears to offer other features in addition to the "free" credit score (such as $1 million identity theft insurance); $39.95 a month is nothing to sneeze at. Make sure you know what you're getting into before signing up for anything.

Man drinking coffee


You are taking a trip to your local coffee shop. Not only do you love their lattes, you love that they offer free Wi-Fi. Your mother’s birthday is coming soon and you forgot to buy her a gift. Do you log onto your account right now and shop away?


Don’t get me wrong. The convenience of public Wi-Fi can’t be beat. However, the bouquet of flowers you want to buy your mother could wind up being more expensive down the line when thieves get a hold of your information. Public Wi-Fi is fine if you are just surfing the web. But don’t use it to conduct financial transactions. When logging onto public Wi-Fi, verify the name of the network before connecting. Fraudsters often try to intercept your data by setting up a network with a similar name as the one you are trying to connect to. Also make sure you turn off file sharing on your device.


You have about 15 online accounts with the same login and password for each. Is there anything wrong with that?

THE SCHOOL BELL LESSON: A Strong Password is Essential

If you don’t have a strong password, you open yourself up to identity theft. Want a tip on how to use different passwords on different websites? Choose a password that’s easy for you to remember, but hard for others to guess. Make each password a little different by adding a couple of unique letters or characters for each site. Come up with a format that only you can remember. What happens if someone steals your password? Two-factor authentication can offer you an extra layer of security whenever you log into your account. After entering your password, it will send a verification code to your trusted device. Take advantage of the websites that give you that option.



Larry is a "net junkie." He posts at least 10 selfies a day on all of his social network accounts. Larry travels to exotic locations at least 4 times a year and shares all of the explicit details of his trips with his thousands of "friends" and "followers." Most of them he doesn't know personally. He posts status updates every time he goes out to dinner or dancing - which is at least three times a week. His Facebook profile is set to public for all the world to see.

THE SCHOOL BELL LESSON: Treat Your Information Like Money

Some people share way too much information on social media. Why are you alerting the potential thief when you are leaving on vacation? Why do you have your settings on public so everyone can see and read all about you? When Kim Kardashian was held at gunpoint last year, police blamed her social media presence on the robbery. While you may not be a public figure or share as much personal information as Kardashian, the story is a cautionary tale. Limit what you share and stay up to date on the privacy settings on all of your accounts.

If you feel you have been defrauded, contact the Federal Trade Commission at or 1-877-FTC-HELP or the Consumer Fraud Division of your state’s Attorney General’s office.

THE SCHOOL BELL has rung! Class dismissed!

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