Q: What advice and resolutions may BBB offer to consumers in 2021?
A: As the New Year begins, it's an important time to think about the challenging year experienced in 2020. We enter the New Year with health and economic struggles as results of the pandemic. First, we must continue our focus on managing COVID-19. COVID-19 is spreading in our community, please stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check and follow local advice, review guidelines at the CDC at www.cdc.gov and WHO at www.who.int. Be safe, Do it all!
The Better Business Bureau offers 10 New Year's resolutions to help you avoid scams, and prevent identity theft and be a smarter consumer in 2021. Remember, being a savvy consumer is ultimately about staying one step ahead of scammers. The way to do that is to take your time and do your research before making a decision. The scammers are counting on you to be too busy to take these simple steps to protect yourself. By taking a few minutes to implement these tips, you can outsmart scammers and fraudsters.
BBB's Top Ten New Year's Resolutions for a Consumer-Savvy 2021:
1. Implement a credit freeze. A credit freeze is the best way to protect yourself from financial identity theft because it restricts access to your credit file, making it impossible for identity thieves to apply for a new line of credit in your name. Best of all, it's now free to freeze and thaw your credit when required.
2. Use technology to block robocalls and other telemarketing calls. Nomorobo, a call blocking feature, can disconnect known telemarketers or scammers from your VoIP landline after one ring. It's free for landlines; a nominal fee for cell phones. Go to www.nomorobo.com to begin. Also, make sure you register your phones with www.donotcall.gov.
3. Review your permissions and privacy settings on social media. If you've signed into an app or website using your social media credentials or taken a fun quiz on social media, you may have unwittingly given permission to third-party apps to access your personal information and contacts. On Facebook, go to "settings" and "apps and websites" to review.
4. Warn others and stop fraudsters by reporting scams to the BBB Scamtracker webpage at www.BBB.org/Scamtracker. It is a crowd-sourced website where you can report if you've been contacted by a scammer. Since reports are plotted on a map, you can also use Scamtracker to find out what's happening in your area. Please report new scam activity that is not posted. In turn, Scamtracker reports help BBB educate the public with more in-depth reports. You may view these studies at www.bbb.org/scamstudies.
5. Check out businesses and charities first. Conduct research before you buy or donate to make sure you're working with a reputable company or charity. Check out companies at bbb.org and a full report on charities at give.org. BBB accredited businesses and charities have been evaluated by BBB, and meet and promise to maintain standards.
6. Use secure payment methods. A scammer's favorite way to steal your money is by asking you to pay with either a gift card or a money wire transfer, such as Money Gram or Western Union. Why? Because these payment methods are irreversible. Credit card payments are more secure and recommended. If fraud is suspected, the charge can be disputed. If you receive a request from someone claiming to be from the IRS, Social Security or a debt collector, it is a scam. If anyone requests that you pay with a gift card or a money wire transfer; it is a red flag of caution.
7. Use a unique and complex password for every online account. Consider a passphrase, which is simply a long password made up of a collection of multiple words, making them both easier to type and remember. Poor, easy-to-guess passwords are one of the most common ways cyber attackers can hack into your online accounts. If it's too difficult to remember multiple passwords, consider a password manager. Then, you'll only have to remember one unique and complex password instead of many.
8. Enable multi-factor authentication whenever it is available. Multi-factor authentication is when you are granted access to an online account only after you have successfully provided two or more pieces of evidence, such as your password and a unique code generated by your smartphone, emailed or texted to you. With multi-factor authentication, if hackers do steal your username and password, they still can't access your account.
9. Monitor your existing financial accounts. Gone are the days when you waited for your credit card statement to come in the mail for you to review. Sign up for online access so you can review your financial accounts periodically. Also, take advantage of free text message alerts to notify you of activity, remind you when payments are due, etc.
10. File your taxes early. One common fraud during tax season is identity theft. Scammers use stolen identity to file taxes and redirect refunds. Protect yourself and file early when possible. Visit bbb.org to find accredited tax preparers in your area.
Visit www.bbb.org for additional tips.
Jim Winsett is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga