Smart About Money: Protecting yourself from fraud

Nick Maffeo

The other day, the owner of a local business came in to work and discovered he had apparently been laid off.

It came as something of a surprise, since he knew for sure he had not laid himself off. He had not laid anyone off in many years.

But his human resources manager had an email from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requesting verification of his wages so his unemployment benefits could be calculated. That email was the red alarm.

In one of the endless data breaches, hackers had somehow gotten this man’s Social Security number and his employment history. They then fraudulently applied for unemployment in his name from both his day job and also from a company he did some consulting for. According to the Canton Police Department, this kind of fraud is becoming very, very common. Basically, it’s shockingly prevalent.

It was very lucky that this company’s human resources manager saw the email from the Commonwealth and acted immediately. So far, that email has been the only notification the business or the identity fraud victim has received.

Possibly there was no need for any postal mail communication from the state since the fraud was reported and shut down right away. But if that notification email had somehow been overlooked or forgotten in the crush of daily emails, the fraud could have lasted much, much longer.

Since the thieves filed under this man’s Social Security Number, next year he might have found the IRS and the state looking for taxes on unemployment benefits he never got and knew nothing about.

You can fight this kind of fraud with awareness and a plan to respond proactively. They’re both totally free and can help you in two different ways.

First, pay close attention to both your personal and business email and postal mail. Stay aware. Fight the overwhelm and the distractions that might keep you from noticing a serious situation. Be prepared to act immediately if something seems wrong. Do not just ignore these things, hoping they’ll go away. Because chances are it will get worse.

Make it a point to keep up on new and evolving protection options. Sign up for the ones that seem best to you. Ask friends and colleagues what they’re doing to protect themselves and see if any of their finds would also be good for you.

For example – it’s easy and free to put credit freezes on your credit reports. A credit freeze essentially locks thieves out from getting credit in your name. You can easily “lift” the freeze any time you’re actually applying for credit or a loan. (Complete information at consumer.ftc.gov – search for “credit freeze”.)

A free Fraud Alert from the Federal Trade Commission gives you additional future protection if you have been the victim of a fraud. A Fraud Alert can be put on your credit reports and the FTC’s identitytheft.gov has many tools to help identity theft victims pick up the pieces.

It’s best to expect that some sort of identity fraud is going to happen to you – probably multiple times – because it happens to everyone. Maybe someday that will change. Until then, stay aware and come up with a way that works for you to monitor important parts of your financial situation. If you or a loved one might need help making that happen, consult with a local CPA or your banker to see what options may be available.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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