Why do hackers work so hard and relentlessly to penetrate the data files of government agencies, banks, hospitals, retailers, or just about anyone who stores digital information?

Very often, these hackers are in search of the personal information on people, stored in these systems. Information like names, postal addresses, email addresses, birthdates, phone numbers, credit card numbers and the most prized find of all – social security numbers.

Hackers need this kind of personal information to commit identity theft. Usually this identity theft involves crooks opening up credit card accounts, or other credit accounts, in the name of the unsuspecting victim.

If this happens to you, it’s very possible you won’t discover something went wrong for months or even years. One practice which helps us better monitor who might be using our identities, is to periodically check our credit reports. When you check your credit report, you can see if someone is misusing your personal information to run up credit card charges, or opening new credit card accounts. These new accounts don’t always involve credit cards. Stolen identities are sometimes used to open accounts for phone or other utility services.

Right now, it’s easier than ever to check your credit report. Through the end of 2022, everyone in this country can get a free report every week, from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. There are two easy ways to ask for your credit report:

• Go online to AnnualCreditReport.com.

• Call 1-877-322-8228.

The online option is very fast. In both cases, you will need to provide information, including your social security number, and answer some verification questions, to assure the credit agencies you are who you say you are.

Look these reports over carefully. Do you recognize the accounts posted? Do you recall applying for credit as it is listed? If you see something you don’t understand or recognize, contact the credit agency, or the business or lender, and ask for more information. Make sure you dispute any mistakes, and get the record corrected.

WESTERN UNION REFUNDS STILL AVAILABLE

The Federal Trade Commission tells us refunds are still available to people who fell victim to the trickery of scammers between 2004 and 2017. The commission and US Department of Justice sued Western Union for failure to guard against fraud within its system, and won a $586 million judgment in 2017. The court intended that money to get returned to those who lost money in scams and fraud, which used Western Union money transfers as the means to deliver the money from the unwary to the unprincipled.

The claims process remains open until July 1, 2022. You can file a claim online at westernunionremissionphase2.com. You can also visit this website to get answers to questions about the claims process. You can also contact me and I will give any help I can to make sure your claim gets considered. A lot of water flowed under the bridge since 2004, and maybe the details on a scam from 15 years ago seem fuzzy now, but we can search police records for any reports you made, and use these reports as a basis for your claim.

Western Union money transfers were a favorite tool of hucksters for far too long, but a series of government regulatory enforcement directed at them, and their competitor, Moneygram, greatly diminished their appeal to criminals.

CONTACT SENIORS VS. CRIME

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime, which operates in conjunction with the Clinton County Sheriff’s Office.

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