Bitcoin Basics


What You Need to Know about Bitcoin

Confused about Bitcoins? You’re not alone! While there have been many articles about Bitcoin on the news lately, you still may be perplexed as to how it can be used in fraud and what the technology can do for you.

Here are five things you need know about Bitcoin:

1.   Bitcoin and cryptocurrency are not interchangeable terms. The topic of Bitcoin gets even more confusing when the term cryptocurrency is added to the mix. Cryptocurrency refers to any type of digital currency. Bitcoin is a specific type of cryptocurrency. Part of the confusion likely started because Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency.

2.    Bitcoin is a virtual digital currency. You’ve probably figured out that Bitcoin is similar to money. And you are correct—sort of. Unlike traditional money, you can’t see or touch Bitcoin. It only exists in the digital world, as a token, and does not have a physical form, such as coins or bills. While the term token is often used to describe Bitcoin, it refers to a digital version, not the physical type of token you put in a video game at an arcade. Instead of the current monetary system, with different countries having their own currency, Bitcoin can be sent anywhere across the globe from one person to another.

3.    Bitcoins are anonymous. It’s easy to think of cash as the most anonymous form of payment possible. But Bitcoins are even more so. With cash, you need to physically get the money to the other person—either by handing it to them, leaving it somewhere, or giving it to someone else to pass on. But with Bitcoin, the delivery is virtual and has been comparied to “an untrackable, unhackable version of PayPal, more or less.”

4.    People are actually using Bitcoin. While you personally may not use Bitcoin yet, or even know anyone who does, people around the world are using the digital currency to buy and sell products and services. However, because of the distributed and anonymous nature of Bitcoin, it is challenging—if not impossible—to give an accurate number of users. The Bitcoin Market Journal estimates around 20 million users globally, a figure based on the 28.5 million Bitcoin wallets in existence. But many of these wallets may be inactive, and users can have multiple wallets, making total estimates difficult to make.

5.    Bitcoins can be used in fraud schemes and identity theft. Bitcoin identity theft is when a criminal steals your identity and poses as you by phishing your passwords or hacking your computer. One way to avoid Bitcoin fraud is to reject solicitations promising “Get Rich Quick” schemes in cryptocurrencies. Common Bitcoin scams include:

·      Malware downloads and phishing
·      Bitcoin pyramid schemes
·      Bitcoin investment schemes
·      Fake exchange scams

The safest way to use Bitcoin is to be aware of preventing Bitcoin fraud by securing your identity. Ways to help secure your identity when using Bitcoin is to obtain private security keys, protect those security keys, and always use a VPN for transactions.

Protecting Your Identity at College


Identity Theft Awareness for College Students

Congratulations! You are heading to college. New friends, new classes, new life. Your packing list is long, and your boxes are heavy—a dorm-sized fridge, Twin XL sheets and a brand-new desk lamp. While you are preparing for your new life, it’s also important to consider how you will protect your identity during your college years. Of all of identity theft complaints the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received last year, 13% came from people aged 20-29.

Here are three things you should do to keep your identity safe at college:


1.     Keep your personal documents secure.

Dorms and college apartments are often full of people coming and going—your roommates, their friends, and even your roommate’s friends’ friends. And that’s just on a typical Tuesday night, not even considering a weekend party or a finals study group. Since you can’t always control who is in your space, get rid of any documents with your Social Security number (SSN) and account numbers by shredding them thoroughly. If you have certain documents you can’t part with, be sure to store them in a secure location, like a safe.

3.     Password protect your computer and mobile devices.
You likely buy items online and probably even take care of your banking over the internet. This means anyone who uses your computer or mobile devices could have access to lots of information about you. Because it’s not unheard of for someone to grab the nearest phone or tablet to look up the number to the local pizza place, make sure you are the only one who can access your devices. In addition to using strong passwords for all accounts, make sure all your mobile devices and computers are password protected as well.

3.     Watch what you share on social media.
While your parents probably told you to make sure you don’t post anything about last night’s party, in case potential employers look at your accounts, many young people may inadvertently share information online that helps thieves steal their identity—in the form of answers to security questions. Thieves can often reset your passwords with information that answers common security questions, such as who your childhood best friend was or the name of your first pet. And these are exactly the type of tidbits that are easy to share online without even thinking about it.

Yes, it takes time and effort to protect your identity. But the costs—in terms of both money and time—of having your identity stolen are far greater.

Medical Identity Theft



Help Keep Your Medical Information Safe

Medical identity theft can occur when an identity thief steals or uses your personal information to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare or other health insurers without your knowledge. The thieves get unauthorized access to your name, birth date, Social Security number, and if you’re over 65, your Medicare number to commit fraud. Then they can either sell this information on the Dark Web, or use the information to obtain prescription drugs and medical services and leave you with the bills.

Many doctors’ offices and hospitals have instituted new procedures to help protect against medical identity theft. You may be required to take a photo when visiting a doctor’s office for the first time, give your name and date of birth before all medical procedures, and provide your driver’s license when visiting the hospital.

Here are a few things you can do to help protect your medical information from identity thieves.

1.    Less Is More: Only give the doctor’s office, hospitals, and insurers pertinent personal information.  Your Social Security number may not be necessary when filling out medical forms. When asked for your name and birth date, be sure no one around you can hear this information.

2.    Shred Patient Bracelets: When your medical procedure is complete, shred the paper medical ID bracelet, which contains your personal information.

3.    Medical Bracelet/Necklace Safety Tips: People with certain conditions such as fatal allergies, epilepsy, or diabetes, sometimes wear medical bracelets or necklaces containing their medical information in case of an emergency. Since this “medical jewelry” may contain personal information that could be used for identity theft, you might want to consider what information should be etched on your jewelry, and if the data is sensitive.

4.    Review All Your Medical Communications: Many hospitals have secure patient portals containing your electronic medical records. Review all this information carefully to make sure you’re not getting billed for someone else’s medical care. When you receive statements or bills in the mail, be sure to examine them carefully for signs of fraud. Is there a treatment or procedure that you didn’t receive? This could be a sign that someone else has stolen your medical information.

If you think your medical information has been compromised, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338. You can also contact your health insurance company’s fraud department. If you suspect you’ve been the victim of Medicare fraud, contact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477.

Going to your doctor or dentist is stressful enough and shouldn’t be an occasion for identity theft. You can help make it less painful by keeping your information safe from identity thieves.

Identity Theft Prevention Awareness


Scam Spotting – Avoid These Common Scams

Thieves are talented when creating new and clever ways to defraud people of their money. They take advantage of current events, new technology, and human nature to get people to send money or give out personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a good source for learning about new scams and how to prevent them, but thieves recently used the FTC as a cover for a prize scam. However, the FTC never gives out free prizes, doesn’t certify prizes, and doesn’t verify prizes. Scammers have even targeted soccer fans with claims of tickets to the 2018 World Cup Games in Russia.

Below are some common scams and what to do to prevent being a victim.

1. Charity Fraud
Someone contacts you asking for a donation to a charity, either on the phone or outside of the grocery store. It sounds like one you’ve heard of, and you’re eager to donate. But you’re suspicious because they’re asking for cash or wire transfer.

What Can You Do?
Ask them to mail you the information. If they’re outside of a grocery store, ask for literature or a website and do your research. Is your donation tax deductible? How do they want you to pay? Rule out anyone who asks you to send cash or wire money, and don’t ever give out your credit card information.

2. Tech Support Scams
Someone calls you saying he’s a computer technician with Microsoft or your Internet provider. He says there are viruses or other malware on your computer, and he needs remote access to your computer or you need new software to fix it.

What Can You Do?
Never give anyone control of your computer. If you are experiencing computer problems, call a legitimate company that deals with computer problems.

3. Online Dating Scams
You meet someone special on a dating website. Soon he wants to get your personal phone number because he’s in love with you and wants money for a plane ticket to visit you. Scammers, both male and female, make fake dating profiles, sometimes using photos of other people. Once they build a relationship, they ask for money to see you, and then disappear with your money.

What Can You Do?
Never send anyone money. Never wire money, put money on a prepaid debit card, or send cash to an online love interest. Chances are, you won’t get it back.

4. Prize Scams
You’ve just won $5,000, a diamond ring, or a luxury vacation, but you have to send a nominal fee in order to collect your prize. You may even receive an official-looking letter from a government agency complete with an official-looking logo telling you that you’ve won a prize. But, if you have to send a fee, deposit a check, or send tax money up front, it’s not a prize—it just may be a scam!

What Can You Do?
Never send money to anyone saying you’ve won a prize. Legitimate sweepstakes are free and by chance. Do some research before signing up for contests, because prize promoters might sell your information to advertisers. Legitimate prize promoters and telemarketers are legally required to give you certain information such as the odds of winning, the nature or value of the prize, and that entering is free. They also need to include terms and conditions to redeem the prize.

5. Health Care Scams
You’ve seen an ad on TV, you’ve received a notice in the mail, or you get a call about a new law that requires you to get a new health care card or how to get big discounts on health insurance. Maybe someone calls telling you they’re from the government and they need your Medicare number to issue a new card. Scammers know when it’s Medicare open season, or when health care is in the news, and target vulnerable populations like the elderly.

What Can You Do?
Before you share any personal or medical information, research the outfit making the health care claims. If you’re a Medicare recipient, call 1-800-MEDICARE to get more information.

These are just a few of the scams thieves use to get your information. They’re always thinking of new ways to obtain information from unsuspecting people: Time share scams, phantom debt schemes, concert ticket scams, or work from home scams. The bottom line is: If something sounds too good to be true, it’s usually a scam. Don’t give out any information to anyone until you’re sure it’s a legitimate corporation. Even then, do your research so you won’t fall prey to the next big scam.

When in doubt, you can always get help or information from the FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency, at their toll-free hotline: 1-877-382-4357.

Credit/Debit Card Identity Theft


Beware the Skimmer/Shimmer Scam at ATMs, Gas Stations, and Grocery Stores

You’re at the gas station filling up in anticipation of a much-needed vacation. When you get to your destination, your bank notifies you that your credit card shows suspicious charges. There’s a possibility that an identity thief placed a skimmer on the gas station terminal, and stole your credit card information.

What’s a Skimmer?

Skimmers are devices identity thieves attach to payment terminals that capture credit card or debit card information to steal money, break into bank accounts, or create cloned cards. They return to retrieve the malicious card readers, and with it all the stolen data.

How can you spot a skimmer? On an ATM, look closely at the slot where you insert your card. Are the arrows too close to the slot? Is the plastic casing color mismatched? These could be tell-tale signs that an identity thief has placed a skimmer over the slot to steal card information.

At the gas station, avoid using your debit card which requires your PIN number. This helps you avoid inputting your PIN number if there is a skimmer camera. Using a credit card only requires use of your Zip code as verification, which is much safer than using your PIN.

What’s a Shimmer?

Most credit cards now use chip cards, which have been a major security feature for consumers. However, it hasn’t taken long for thieves to come up with methods to compromise chip cards. The thieves have developed shimmers, very thin devices that can’t be detected from the outside as easily as the skimmers. These devices are much more difficult to spot, but ATM manufacturers are working on anti-tampering solutions including radar systems to detect inserted or attached objects.

What Can You Do To Detect These Devices?

·      Check For Signs Of Tampering: If something looks strange, either different colored insert slots, card reader graphics that don’t line up at the grocery checkout line, or readers that don’t match at the gas pump—don’t insert your card.
·      Use The “Wiggle Test”: ATMs are usually solidly constructed and shouldn’t have any loose parts. Check if the keyboard is securely attached and doesn’t move when you push at it.
·      Use Your Phone: Apps can now alert you to possible skimmers. Check out the free Skimmer Scanner Android app that scans for Bluetooth technology that thieves use to retrieve credit or debit card information.
·      When In Doubt, Avoid Using Unattended Terminals: Go inside the gas station and pay the attendant. It’s less likely that the terminal inside was tampered with.
·      Avoid Weekends: Since it may be more difficult for customers to report suspicious ATMs to banks on the weekends, criminals could install skimmers on Saturdays or Sundays and remove them before the banks reopen on Monday.

The best deterrence is avoidance. If the ATM, gas station terminal, or grocery store checkout doesn’t look right, don’t use it, and contact management.


Test Your Identity Theft Awareness

Can You Pass This Identity Theft Awareness Test?

If you can put a check mark next to each of these statements, you’re well on your way to identity theft awareness!

Read the statements below, and put a check mark next to the ones that apply to you.

o   I have antivirus and firewall protection on my computer, and keep all security updates current.

o   I don’t share my vacation or personal plans with everyone on social media.

o   I don’t show my full birthdate on social networking sites.

o   I don’t leave my mail for pickup, and retrieve my mail as soon as possible to deter mailbox thieves.

o   I use a micro-precision shredder for all my financial and personal documents before disposing of them.

o   I shred all pre-approved credit offers I receive in the mail before disposing of them.

o   I don’t keep my Social Security card or other cards with personal information in my wallet.

o   I don’t write my Social Security number on checks, or on forms where a Social Security number isn’t necessary.

o   I check the validity of site certifications before sending sensitive information over the Internet.

o   I cover the keypad when making transactions at an ATM, and make sure there aren’t any skimming devices near the credit card slot. I also check credit card devices when purchasing gas, groceries, or parking.

o   I check my Credit Report at least once every 3 months.


Don’t worry if you didn’t check all the circles. Just be aware of all the ways identity thieves can steal your information, and practice good identity theft awareness habits.