Monday, August 02, 2021

COVID helps boost identity theft fraud

| June 3, 2021 1:00 AM

Identity fraud losses suffered in 2020 totaled about $56 billion.

Yes, billion.

The interesting thing is traditional identity fraud is down 21% from 2019, making up about $13 billion of the total. The remaining $43 billion is from identity fraud scams. So what’s the difference?

Traditional identity fraud is perpetrated by the criminal without the victim’s knowledge. But to achieve stealing someone’s identity requires the bad actor to defeat existing fraud prevention technology at the institutional level (e.g. financial service providers).

Institutions are constantly upgrading their security systems to protect consumers, making it harder (but not impossible) for crooks to steal your identity.

Scammers have figured out it's easier to go directly to the victim to get what they want, which is personal identifiable information that enables them to take over a consumer’s identity. This type of identity fraud quickly evolved because of the way many companies and organizations (including healthcare) started interacting with consumers as a result of COVID-19.

For example, it's not uncommon to receive email and text messages now from healthcare providers. That's created a catalyst for scammers to take advantage of unsuspecting victims who believe these messages are legitimate when they might not be.

The thing to keep in mind about identity fraud scams is the victim is contacted directly by the crook to give up their personal information. Victims often later recall when they interacted with a criminal through text, phone or email.

Defeat the crooks. Never give your personal information to someone who has called, emailed or texted you unsolicited.

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Public Adjusters: They can help

Have you ever heard of a Public Adjuster? I have a friend who has worked as a Public Adjuster for years so I decided to ask him exactly what he does.

If you file a claim for a property loss on your home or business, your insurance company will likely send out their own adjuster to evaluate your claim and prepare a settlement offer on behalf of the insurance company.

But what if the settlement offer seems low? A Public Adjuster works on behalf of a property owner to evaluate the insurance company’s offer and negotiate for a higher settlement. Often a Public Adjuster has a background in the insurance or construction industries, which provides the necessary knowledge to advocate on a policy holder's behalf.

The cost of hiring a Public Adjuster is minimal as they usually are paid a percentage of the claim recovery from the insurance company. If the Public Adjuster can increase your settlement substantially from the original offer, you would be money ahead.

Each Public Adjuster sets their own fees and some states regulate how much can be charged, so discuss these points before signing any agreements.

In Idaho, a Public Adjuster is licensed through the state, so verify licensing before hiring. It's good to know that you don't have to be alone in fighting over your insurance claims.

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IRA vs 401K: Which is better?

If you're saving for your future, no doubt this question has crossed your mind.

An IRA is an Individual Retirement account that can be opened at your own brokerage firm, bank or insurance company.

A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement plan. In other words, you basically fund your account through payroll contributions. Many companies offer a match, which means that if you're contributing to your 401(k), your employer will put money into your retirement account as well.

Investment options with a 401(k) are more limited than with an IRA. However, the maximum amount of money you're allowed to contribute to a 401(k) each year is much higher than IRA limits.

With an IRA, anyone with an earned income can open an account. However, the contribution limits for 2021 are $6,000 for individuals under 50 or $7,000 if you're over 50.

With a 401(k) plan, employees at companies that offer a retirement plan are eligible to participate. An employee under 50 can contribute up to $19,500; those over 50 can contribute up to $26,000.

IRAs offer more flexibility and you don’t have to worry about moving your IRA if you leave your job, but the contributions are limited.

If you're working for a company that offers a 401(k) plan with a match, that could be the better way to go since your employer will be contributing to your retirement with what some call free money. Also the limits on the 401(k) contributions are much higher.

Since tax implications on both options vary, it's best to consult a tax adviser to make sure you understand all the implications for your circumstances.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.