Elliott Greenblott | Fraud Watch: Fraud-safe New Year's resolutions

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We've reached that time when we get excited and decide it's time to set ambitious goals for the new year to replace the unachieved goals we set last year. Resolutions! Why did the ones set for last year fail? Easy answer — we lacked the resolution to address our resolutions. Here are five resolutions you can set and accomplish in slightly more time than it takes to read this article (and earn bragging rights that you accomplished all your New Year's resolutions).

1. I will take the number one step in protecting myself from loan and new credit card scams; set freezes to prevent fraudulent use of my credit data in opening new accounts. This is easy. Contact the four credit bureaus that control data access for most financial transactions; Equifax, Experian, Innovis, TransUnion. Credit freezes are free, and can be requested by phone or on company websites. It's easy, it's free and it can be done now and quickly. As soon as you have applied freezes, call for copies of your credit reports. They are free and can be obtained by phone at 877-322-8228 or from www.annualcreditreport.com.

2. I will update/change the passwords I use to access on-line accounts and my technology. This is absolutely necessary if you use the same password to access numerous accounts. Start with your computer, tablet, and smart phone and avoid passwords based on names, dates or letter/number sequences. Here is an approach to consider. Begin with a simple phrase or song title. For example, begin with Billy Joel's "Innocent Man" and convert it to 1nn0centM@n. Now use the same basic password to create a new one for a different account: 1nn0centM@nMC for your Mastercard account. Not sure this will work for you? An alternate plan would mean purchasing a password manager in which you would only need to remember one password to access all accounts on an encrypted network. There will be a fee associated with this, but it may well be worth the price. (I use the passphrase approach.)

3. I will stop using my debit card to make purchases and use a credit card. Debit cards make immediate withdrawals from accounts. Most direct losses from financial accounts are the result of compromised, read stolen, debit card access. Credit cards provide additional protection and benefits. Charges are not final until the end of a billing cycle, and can be challenged before payment is made.

4. I will resist answering the telephone when I do not recognize the number appearing on Caller ID (If you don't have Caller ID, it is available on most digital phones and devices for less than $20). In case you haven't noticed, the volume of scam and robocalls is constantly increasing. These calls are computer-generated and able to "spoof" area codes and calling area prefixes. Simply answering one of these calls informs the computer that your phone number is "real" and opens you up to more of these calls. In similar fashion, do not opt to be removed from a calling list by following the option, "To be removed from our call list press 2." Once again, you are telling the caller your number is valid. By the way, if you have not done so, register for the Do Not Call list at 888-382-1222. This makes most unsolicited but legitimate commercial calls illegal but know that it will not stop criminals (politicians and charities are exempt from the law).

5. I will report attempted fraud to the appropriate authority. The question is, who is the "appropriate authority"? If it is credit card or bank related fraud, report it directly to that institution. IRS fraud can be reported directly to www.IRS.gov. Identity theft is best reported to the Federal Trade Commission at www.FTC.gov.

In addition, you can contact your state attorney general's office — New York, www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection or 800-697-1220; Massachusetts, https://www.mass.gov/get-consumer-support or 617-727-8400; and Vermont, www.uvm.edu/consumer or 800-649-2424 — or call the AARP Fraud Helpline 877-908-3360.

I love feedback. Let me know if you are following through with your resolution. Comments and questions can be sent to egreenblott@aarp.org.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network.

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