Seattle Archdiocese data breach hits home, and highlights need to address identity theft

Identity theft is a growing problem nationwide, and Washington is no exception. In early March 2014 the Seattle Archdiocese learned that volunteers and employees at parishes and schools across Washington state became victims of a tax-identity fraud scheme.

Through a data breach, fraudsters obtained victims’ personal information, including their names and Social Security numbers and filed false income tax returns.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has received reports from parishioners and employees throughout Western Washington who have been victimized. Some of these individuals, including volunteers and employees of St. Mary School in Aberdeen, discovered they were victims after filing their taxes and being informed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that their tax return was rejected because a return had already been filed under their name and Social Security number.

The Archdiocese has not discovered the source of the breach and is working with federal investigators on an investigation. The Archdiocese also hired a national forensic firm to investigate this matter.

If you are a victim of tax-identity fraud, the AGO urges you to take the following steps.

Determine if you’re the victim of tax-identity fraud, then follow these corrective steps

To check if your identity has been stolen, contact the IRS by calling the Individual Tax Line at 1-800-829-1040, or go in-person to the IRS office at 915 Second Ave. Seattle, Wash.

Correcting tax-identity fraud is a multi-step process, involving the IRS, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), police and credit bureaus.

If you know your identity has been stolen

  • Contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
  • Complete and file the IRS Form 14039 “Identity Theft Affidavit” (You must file a copy of your driver’s license, passport, or other government-issued identification with this).
  • Submit an “Identity Theft Report” to the FTC by following the directions on the FTC’s website, here. You will be assigned a complaint number.
  • Print and fill out a copy of the FTC’s “Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit.” This form can then be filed with local police and creditors.
  • File a report with your local police department.
  • Include a copy of the FTC Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit.
  • The police department will assign you a case or reference number.
  • Call the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 to report the assigned police case number (You will need the complaint number you obtained when you initially filed the FTC Identity Theft Report to complete this step).
  • Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit report.  Learn more about a credit freeze, here.
  • Periodically request a free copy of your credit report and review it thoroughly. You can request a copy online at AnnualCreditReport.com, or by calling 1-877-322-8228 (you will be asked for your Social Security Number).
  • If someone has used your Social Security number for employment purposes, report this to the Social Security Administration. You can contact the Social Security Administration at: 1-800-772-1213.

 If your identity has not been stolen, but you believe it is vulnerable

  • Call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490 and ask them to place a fraud alert in your file.
  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report.  You can place a fraud alert by contacting one of the three major credit-reporting agencies:
    • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, website link, here.
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742, website link, here.
    • Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289, website link, here.

You will be asked to provide your Social Security Number. The agency you contact will share your request with the other two. 

Protect yourself from identity theft

  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or any documents that include your Social Security number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
  • Don’t give a business your SSN or ITIN just because they ask. Give it only when required.
  • Protect your financial information.
  • Check your credit report every 12 months.
  • Secure personal information in your home.
  • Protect your personal computers by using firewalls and anti-spam/virus software, updating security patches and changing passwords for Internet accounts.
  • Don’t give personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or you are sure you know who you are dealing with.

For more information about identity theft and credit freezes, visit the Attorney General’s website, here.

Visit the Seattle Archdiocese website for updates on the data breach, here.

Aberdeen Police warn of scam targeting Grays Harbor residents

The Aberdeen Police Department has received two fraud complaints that are also occurring throughout the county, state and country.
The first complaint involved a fraudulent letter from the IRS requesting confidential information including copies of the victims tax return and  social security number.
It appears that this incident is part of the Seattle Archdioceses fraud where past employees and volunteers of organizations within the Seattle Archdiocese are apparent victims of a tax refund scheme.
The second report involved the GH PUD fraud where a person calls and states they are from the PUD.  The suspect tells the victim that their current bill is overdue and they must make a payment now or risk having the service disconnected immediately.
The suspect told the victim that they could not pay with cash or a credit card as that would take 24 hours to process.  The victim was told to purchase Greendot Moneypaks.  The victim was told to provide the numbers on the card by the suspect.
The Aberdeen Police Department advises to never provide anyone with unsolicited requests for confidential information.  If a person is ever in doubt they may call their local police department or check for current fraud and identity schemes at the Federal Trade Commission website which is, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts

New scam sweeping US, hoping you return the call after “One Ring”

First recognized by Better Business Bureaus on the East Coast, the “One Ring” phone scam is now being reported across the United States. As an industry leader in identifying and tracking emerging scam trends, BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington is alerting the public to this simple—yet extremely effective—ploy that can result in unauthorized charges on wireless statements.

Automated dialers blast thousands of random calls to mobile numbers that are gleaned from public listings or obtained from black market dealers—who hustle “sucker lists”—but disconnect after one ring. The scammers count on call recipients to notice the missed calls in call logs and return them out of curiosity.

However, return calls are often directed to expensive international hotlines—sometimes peddling “adult entertainment”—that can charge upwards of $19.95 to connect plus additional costs per minute. Charges typically appear on month-end statements as “premium services.”

Consumers and businesses report calls from several different area codes:

  • Dominican Republic—809
  • Jamaica—876
  • British Virgin Islands—284
  • Grenada—473

 

The illegal process of sneaking unapproved charges onto phone bills is referred to as “cramming” by the Federal Trade Commission, and is one of the most common consumer complaints in America.

While it is unlikely that recipients will be billed for accepting incoming calls, wireless carriers assume that users accept charges by voluntarily returning calls. BBB reminds consumers to not be dumb with smartphones:

  • Never return calls to unfamiliar foreign numbers.
  • Regularly check wireless statements and immediately report discrepancies.
  • Add phone numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry and report violations.

For more information on the latest scams, visit BBB’s Scam Source.

U.S. Attorney warns: Watch for ID theft during tax season

U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan joined federal law enforcement partners warning about a growing problem of identity theft related to tax refund fraud.  Scammers across the country are using other people’s personal information to try to claim income tax refunds.  People may not know they are a victim until they try to file their tax return and it is rejected because someone using their Social Security Number has already filed and claimed a refund.
 
“Protecting your personal information has never been more critical,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “Always mail your tax documents from a secure mailbox, or file electronically on a secure network.  Using a trusted tax professional and filing early can also protect you from being a victim.”
In 2013, nearly 700 Washington residents reported being a victim of tax related identity theft, and there are likely many more people who simply did not report being victimized.  Nationwide tax ID theft fraud is estimated to cost the U.S. Treasury more than $5 billion annually. 
 
“Stealing identities and trying to file false tax returns not only threatens the integrity of our tax system, it victimizes innocent people.  It can cost victims time and stress when they have done nothing wrong,” said Kenneth J. Hines, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation in the Pacific Northwest. “The men and women of IRS, along with our law enforcement partners and the United States Attorney’s Office, will continue to pursue fraudsters who try and help themselves to our nation’s tax dollars and who cause so much heartache for the victims of this crime.”
This week as part of Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internal Revenue Service are teaming up to educate the public about ID theft tax refund fraud.  The FTC is providing a webinar tomorrow to educate tax preparers about the problem and how to assist their clients if they discover they have been the victim of tax refund ID theft.  For those who have had their identities stolen and used for fraud, the IRS will issue a special PIN to use for filing taxes.  More information on the PIN program is available at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Combats-Identity-Theft-and-Refund-Fraud-on-Many-Fronts-2014
IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Ken Hines is available to talk further with reporters about the problem of tax ID theft refund fraud.   To arrange an interview please contact Leia Bellis at (206) 464-4920 or Leia.Bellis@ci.irs.gov.
 
Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Washington Coalition of Crime Victim Advocates (WCCVA) have resources for victims of identity theft.  Find them at www.ftc.gov and www.wccva.org

Craigslist rental scam comes to Grays Harbor

When the interested person asked to be shown the house they were told in an email that the “owner” had gone to West Africa with the keys to the house. The suspect wrote in the email, ” If you are interested in my property kindly drive by and get the application form filled and send it back to me via email so that we can start a lease.” 

It is believed that identity theft and an attempt to obtain $900 dollars in currency from an unsuspecting person was the intent of the fraudulent Craigslist rental home listing.

The Aberdeen Police Department has issued this information to warn and inform our citizens of this reported scam. Consumer scam protection information may be found on Craigslist and at the Federal Trade Commission website, http://ftc.gov

Below is an example of one letter that has been used for years in this scam.

Good hearing from you am Dr Eric Neville,the Leaders of (WHO) world health organisation appointed by the World Health Assembly on 9 November 2006..

We own the House and also want you to know that it was due to our transfer that makes me and my family to leave the property and was post on craigslist.com to give it out for rent. We are looking for a reputable person that can take very good care of it, as we are not after the money for the rent but want it to be clean at the time and the person that will rent it to take it as if it were its own.

We are a Multi-Million Organisation authorized by the UNICEF AND UNITED NATION HEALTH GROUPS. Our work is to travel around the world, we supply food, drugs, and shelter to the poor,our organisation is known worldwide due to our good work and faith. we want to know if you also have love for the sick and poor around the world.We are in conjuction with Susan Collins the Senator of United state of America.

So right now we are in West Africa. with the keys and the document of the House. We try to look for an agent that we can give the keys and documents before we left but could not see any trusted and responsible agent and the only person that we trust was dead last year on plane crash,so we have nobody that can give the keys and documents before we left and we are as well don’t want our house to be used anyhow in our absent that is why we took it along with us. You can drive by to view it from outside at 11761 Via Vera Cruz Ct Las Vegas, NV 89138.

So get back to us on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home.please let us know If you are staying for a long period of time, We are okay with one month deposit payment of ($1,250) including the security deposit,looking forward to hear from you.Our rental form has been attached to you that you will have to fill to qualify for this rent.

Looking forward to hear from you with all the application details so that i can have it in my file incase of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you.

Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how the keys and documents would be ship to you via Fedex company.

Thanks Remain Bless

Skechers Settles Over Sketchy Ads

A lawsuit filed by Washington state, 43 other states, the District of Columbia and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleges that without having adequate supporting evidence, Skechers claimed that their “rocker-bottom” shoes provided numerous weight loss and muscle-strengthening benefits. Not-so-subtle advertisements suggested that certain flabby body parts would firm up just by walking around in the shoes.

Rather than fight the suit, Skechers USA, Inc., the makers of Shape-Ups, Tone-Ups, and the Skechers Resistance Runner athletic shoes will settle the lawsuit. Skechers does not admit any wrongdoing and denies the factual allegations asserted in the Attorney General’s complaint. But today the company allocated up to $40 million for consumer refunds and will pay an additional $5 million to the states.

Skechers will pay $117,138 to Washington state. About half will cover the state’s legal fees and the rest will be used for consumer education, for health care purposes including but not limited to health-related research or education or programs directed towards girls’ or women’s’ physical fitness, proper nutrition or reduction of obesity.

Under the settlement, Skechers is prohibited from making health and fitness claims unless it has adequate substantiation to do so. Consumers who purchased Shape-Ups, Tone-Ups, or the Skechers Resistance Runner should go to ftc.gov for information about how to obtain a partial refund.

Consumers who have complaints about unsubstantiated health or advertising claims or any consumer matter should file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office: http://www.atg.wa.gov/FileAComplaint.aspx.

State-federal settlement bars LifeLock from claiming it can prevent identity theft

The FTC and states began investigating LifeLock amid allegations that the company made a range of deceptive claims that violated consumer protection laws, including leading consumers to believe its $10-per-month service was a “proven solution” that would protect against all forms of identity theft. They also claimed the company misrepresented the nature of specific services it provided to protect or alert consumers when their personal information had been compromised.

LifeLock’s previous advertisements “guaranteed” to protect consumers’ personal information and prevent criminals from opening accounts in their names. 

Some ads included CEO Todd Davis’ Social Security number, which Davis said showed “how confident I am in LifeLock’s proactive identity theft protection.”  In 2007, it was reported Davis became the victim of fraud when someone used his published Social Security number to obtain a $500 loan.

“While LifeLock promised consumers complete protection against all types of identity theft, in truth, the protection it actually provided left enough holes that you could drive a truck through it,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said during a press conference today.

Past marketing materials warned consumers about their heightened risk of identity theft, when LifeLock did not have information to warrant such a warning.

LifeLock’s advertisements also implied that individuals with fraud alerts on their consumer reports will always receive a phone call prior to the opening of new accounts, when in fact a phone call is not required by federal law.

Under the agreement, LifeLock is prohibited from misrepresenting that its services:

·       Protect against all types of identity theft;

·       Constantly monitor activity on each of its customers’ consumer reports;

·       Always prompt a call from a potential creditor before a new credit account is opened in the customer’s name; and

·       Eliminate the risk of identity theft.

       

LifeLock is also prohibited from overstating the risk of identity theft to consumers, including whether a particular consumer has become or is likely to become a victim.

LifeLock also agreed to pay $1 million to cover the costs of the states’ investigation. Washington’s share is $15,000.

 

Attorneys general said there is nothing consumers can do or purchase that will guarantee they won’t become identity theft victims. But helpful tools are available:

·       All consumers can obtain a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies, regardless of whether they have been identity theft victims. Consumers can use the reports to review their own credit histories and identify errors and inaccuracies, such as unauthorized accounts. Call 1-877-322-8228 or request a report online at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

·       Consumers themselves are best-positioned to monitor their own bank accounts and credit card statements for unauthorized withdrawals or charges.

·       Consumers who suspect they are already identity theft victims, or may soon become victims, can place a fraud alert on their credit history by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies.

·       Another option is to request a security freeze, which means that a consumer’s credit file cannot be shared with potential creditors. A security freeze can help prevent identity theft since most businesses will not open credit accounts without checking a consumer’s credit history first.

 

Information about obtaining a credit report, fraud alert or security freeze is available on the Washington Attorney General’s Web site under Safeguarding Consumers.

 

States participating in today’s agreement include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

CONSUMER REFUNDS

 

LifeLock agreed to pay $11 million in restitution to eligible consumers who signed up for services between April 1, 2005, and March 30, 2009. The FTC and states will jointly send letters to eligible consumers, notifying them of the agreement and how they can opt-in to the settlement. Information about the redress program is available by calling 202-326-3757 or online at www.ftc.gov/lifelock.

DOCUMENTS

LifeLock Settlement – Washington State Version

LifeLock Complaint – Washington State Version

 

LifeLock Settlement – Federal Trade Commission

LifeLock Complaint – Federal Trade Commission

Federal Trade Commission News Release

 

Chicago Tribune Advertisement

Wall Street Journal Advertisement

Attorneys general urge Federal Trade Commission to strengthen advertising disclosures

McKenna joined 42 other state attorneys general in sending a letter this week to the Federal Trade Commission, in conjunction with the FTC’s proposal to help prevent deceptive marketing of “free” credit reports. The attorneys general said they support a number of the changes proposed by the FTC but would like even clearer disclosures.

“We believe that advertising restrictions and mandatory disclosures are necessary to ensure that consumers are not misled or confused by advertisements and offers for ‘free’ credit reports and are able to easily obtain their free annual credit reports,” the letter states.

By law, consumers are permitted one free credit report from each of the three major bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Consumers may request a report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.

The states’ letter identifies www.freecreditreport.com as an example of a Web site where consumers can be misled. Experian owns and heavily markets the site.

“Consumers file complaints stating they did not understand that by accessing their free credit report, they had signed up for a service that automatically charged a specific amount per month for credit monitoring,” the attorneys general wrote.

The FTC proposes that TV and radio commercials for “free” credit reports must disclose, “This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.” The states want advertisers to include the statement, “This report is only free if you make a purchase.”

Print and Internet ads would require similar disclosures and list the phone number and Web site for requesting the government-mandated free reports. Consumers who visited a Web site where “free” credit reports are sold would be automatically sent to a separate landing page where they could choose to continue to the commercial site or instead visit www.annualcreditreport.com.

The attorneys general and the FTC also want to ban hyperlinks to commercial Web sites from www.annualcreditreport.com and prohibit marketing for paid services or products until after a consumer has received the free credit report.

CONSUMER TIPS

 

·       The Washington Attorney General’s Office recommends you request an annual free credit report from www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. The Web site is secure and your information is encrypted when you submit it.

·       You are allowed one report yearly from each of the three major participating bureaus, TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. You may order all three at once. Or you may want to do your own monitoring by spacing them. Order one from TransUnion now. Four months later, order one form Experian. Then four months after that, order an Equifax report. Repeat the following year. The law doesn’t require the bureaus to provide a free credit score, however.

·       The government-mandated site isn’t without risk. The bureaus will still try to sell you other products, such as a credit score, and clicking on the company logos at the bottom of the main page will direct you away from the government-run site. You don’t need to enter a credit card number to get your free report. So if you’re asked for payment info, you know you’ve landed elsewhere.

·       You can reduce the number of credit solicitations you receive by “opting out” of the pre-approved credit lists that the bureaus sell to companies. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688) or make the request online at www.optoutprescreen.com.

Top Ten Money-Saving Tips from Washington State Attorney General

1.     Bring ads with you to the store. Match the scanned price to the one that’s been advertised as you stand at the checkout and review your receipt for accuracy before leaving the store. If you find discrepancies, ask for the store’s pricing error policy.
 
2.     Treat gift cards like cash. Some stores won’t replace a lost or stolen gift card unless you provide proof of purchase. Make a note of the card number and keep it in a safe place. Keep receipts that show the purchase price and prove the card was activated. Register your card: Some retailers encourage gift card recipients to register their card through the store’s Web site, which enables them to check their balance online and receive a new card if they lose or misplace the original card.
 
3.     Don’t wait on rebates. Many go unclaimed because consumers lose the form, throw away proof of purchase codes or simply miss the deadline. In order to ensure that you receive your rebate, read the offer carefully before you buy; fill out paperwork promptly; enclose all required documentation; and make copies of all paperwork to be mailed, including forms, receipts, and UPC codes. You will need these materials if something goes wrong. If a rebate never arrives or comes late, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Attorney General’s Officeand the local Better Business Bureau.
 
4.     Know the retailer’s return policy before you buy. Know whether a sale is final or if you or the recipient of your gift can obtain a refund, exchange unwanted merchandise or receive store credit for a future purchase. Return policies on sale and clearance items may be different than merchandise sold at full price.
 
5.     Keep receipts and packaging. When giving a gift, ask for gift receipt and enclose it with the present. Many retailers will only refund the lowest price at which the item was sold unless you can prove you paid more.
 
6.     Save warranties and service agreements. If you have printed copies of warranties and service agreements, you’ll have an easier time negotiating any refunds or exchanges should you have a problem or decide to return the product. Ask for warranties and service contracts in writing, save receipts from all of your purchases and bring them with you if you need a refund, exchange or repair.
 
7.     Be timely with returns. Most merchants only accept returns for a certain period of time. If you miss the deadline, you may no longer be able to get a refund or store credit.
 
8.     Check recall notices before buying children’s products. You can protect yourself by visiting www.recalls.gov before purchasing children’s products and by signing up to receive federal recall notices at www.cpsc.gov.

9.     Check video game ratings. “Much like the movie rating system, video game ratings empower parents to make age and content-appropriate purchases for their kids,” McKenna said. “This Christmas, when your kid makes a list, check it twice for video games – and make sure to review the rating on each game to know which ones are right for your kids.” All game-rating information as well as rating summaries can be found by searching for titles on the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) Web site (www.esrb.org). A mobile Web site at m.esrb.org enables parents to look up rating summaries  from the store aisle.
 
10. Do online shopping on secure Web sites. This helps ensure that personal information, such as your name, address and credit card number, is transmitted safely. Secure sites have addresses that begin with “https” and have a small padlock at the bottom of the page. Use a credit card rather than a debit card. If anything goes wrong, your checking account won’t be impacted. And credit card providers can reverse a payment if something goes wrong.