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10 New Year’s Resolutions to Scam-Proof Your Life

Simple ways to stay safe from fraudsters online and off in 2021

by Katherine Skiba, AARP, December 29, 2020

Out with the old and in with the new. Get a fresh start to 2021 by bolstering your defenses against the bad actors working around the clock to get their hands on your money or sensitive data. To keep them away, resolve to take these 10 steps:

1. Change your passwords. Create separate, complex passwords for each one of your important online accounts.

2. Require two-step authentication wherever available. That means a second layer of security beyond your password to confirm your identity, such as a text to your mobile phone, before you may access an online account.

3. Don’t let your guard down. Hang up on unsolicited calls. Delete suspicious emails. Do not click strange links or attachments.

4. Safeguard your Social Security number, Medicare number and other financial and sensitive personal information.

5. Be highly skeptical of what strangers tell you by phone, email, mail, text and on social media — even at your front door. They could be liars and cheats who are out to steal. Don’t comply with odd requests for help from friends; first check with them to determine if they’ve had an account hacked.

6. Obtain a “security freeze” on your credit reports at the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. The free step prevents new credit cards and loans from being approved in your name without your consent. Additionally, periodically inspect the separate credit reports the three firms generate to check for accuracy and potentially fraudulent activity. You may obtain them at www.annualcreditreport.com. Through April 2021, all three firms are offering free online reports weekly.

7. Set up account alerts with your bank, credit cards and brokerage to be informed of suspicious activity.

8. Make sure the antivirus and anti-malware software on your devices is up to date.

9. Never buy a gift card to pay a bill or settle a supposed debt. They are intended as presents for family and friends — not grifters.

10. Some final words: If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam. Never act in haste. Don’t let a scammer persuade you to keep something secret; that’s a technique used to isolate victims from people they trust.

If something strikes you as suspicious, talk to a friend, relative or law enforcement. You also may call AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline, 1-877-908-3360, to discuss your situation.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.