March is international Fraud Prevention month

March is International Fraud Prevention Month. We know fraud is a serious problem, but we don’t know the exact scope of this problem because many people don’t report it

However, it doesn’t matter what other people do — or say they do — according to surveys. Fraud isn’t something that only happens to ‘other people’. Chances are you’ve received a few fraudulent emails or phone calls in the past year. You may have encountered fake online ads or questionable posts on social networking sites — or maybe someone has come knocking at your door

Want to avoid becoming a statistic?  International Fraud Prevention Month is a good time to check in with other strategies you might be overlooking

Here are 8 things you can do this month to help protect yourself and others

1. Brush up on common scams and warning signs

E-book scams, holiday rental scams, sweetheart scams, work at home scams, phishing emails, used car scams, emergency scams, charity scams, sales scams, business identity theft… The list goes on and on and gets longer every year, and the schemes themselves get more sophisticated. Experts still say your best bet for avoiding them is to be aware of the tactics and the red flags — like a lack of details and requests for information you shouldn’t share

While statistics are still fresh from last year, why not take a moment to refresh your knowledge about scams? Your local news can alert you to problems in your area, and websites like Scambusters.org and the NatWest security centre track the latest scams and offer tips for prevention. You can also find alerts on the websites of companies with whom you work, like your bank’s online service

2. Keep personal information confidential

Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through email or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact and know who you’re dealing with. Don’t include personal information like credit card details in regular, unencrypted email or enter it on an unencrypted website as your information won’t be secure

3. Change your passwords and PINs

When was the last time you changed the PIN on your debit card or the password for online banking? Make it a point to give your access information an update this month

We know it can be hard to keep track of all those passwords and PINs, but experts recommend changing them at least twice a year, even if your accounts haven’t been compromised. Be sure to skip obvious choices like “password” or “1234″ and avoid using names, words and dates that someone could guess. Throw in a few numbers and symbols too for the strongest passwords. (Need a little help? get some tips for creating smarter passwords and PINs you’ll actually remember.)

You’ll want to avoid duplication too — if crooks can get their hands on one of your passwords, they can use it to access other accounts where you use the same password

4. Order your credit reports

Already keeping tabs on your financial statements? That’s a good start — they’re often the first place people spot unauthorized activity. Unfortunately, if someone is using your information to commit identity fraud — like taking out a loan or applying for credit cards — it won’t necessarily show up on your financial statements

That’s why experts recommend another important check: your credit report. Experts say we should order one at least once a year to make sure the information is correct and there’s no unusual activity.

How can you get your hands on this information? Many financial institutions offer it as part of their credit monitoring services (for a monthly fee, of course), but you can order a copy of your credit report from the UK’s two major credit-reporting agencies: Equifax UK and Experian UK. The reports are free if you take up the trial offer and remember to cancel before a month’s out, or you can pay a fee to get unlimited access online

Unfortunately, the free reports don’t include your credit score — for that you’ll need to pay the fee. For more information on , see the Information Commissioner’s Office website

5. Shred unneeded documents

Crooks love to use new technology, but good old-fashioned dumpster diving is still an effective way to get your information. Experts warn that any document containing sensitive data should go through the paper shredder before it hits the recycling bin. That includes items like receipts, bank statements, old tax returns and even junk mail containing your address, like credit card preapprovals

Get a jump on spring cleaning this March and safely get rid of the paper clutter around your home. If you don’t have a paper shredder yet look for one with a “cross cut” feature which uses blades set on an angle to turn documents into confetti rather than continuous strips.

But before you get shredder happy, make sure you know how long you need to keep certain items. For example, as a general rule, you should keep your tax records for a minimum of six years.and you won’t want to destroy receipts for purchases still under warranty

6. Watch out for unusual transactions

Be wary of unexpected offers or requests that are too good to be true such as “you’ve inherited a large sum of money but in order to claim it, send us a deposit first”. You should also never agree to conduct financial transactions on behalf of strangers

7. Talk to your loved ones about fraud

Scammers will target anyone regardless of their age or social status, and even well-educated people have been caught. However, experts warn that  some groups like seniors, children and teens are generally more vulnerable to certain kinds of fraud

The solution? Talk to your family members and friends about fraud and how to avoid it. You may also want to come up with strategies that everyone in your household can follow. For instance, grandparents might unknowingly give away details about their children that put the whole family at risk

An important part of this dialogue should also be letting your loved ones know they can talk about any problems they encounter. Experts warn many victims are too embarrassed to talk about what happened, and crooks may repeatedly target them following that initial success

8. Report it

One last word of advice from the experts: if you’re caught, report it. Unfortunately not all victims of fraud get justice, but reporting the crime to the police helps in other ways too. It allows the authorities to keep tabs on the threats and warn others, for instance. Often, those warnings we see in the news are a result of someone reporting the crime

Depending on the type of fraud, you’ll also need to notify other organizations to stop further crimes. For instance, if you’re caught by identity theft, you should contact the credit-reporting bureaus, your financial institutions and any agency that issues identification (like your driver’s licence or passport). Criminals don’t just use your information once — they can make a tidy profit selling it

Even if you didn’t fall for the scams, you can still alert the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre about ones you encounter. If you spot a phishing scam, experts also say you should contact the organization who is being misrepresented

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