During the past year in Wisconsin, complaints to the Federal Trade Commission went from several hundred a month to a peak of 56,000 complaints in March 2021.
The top complaint involved fraud, most often related to online shopping, followed by complaints about credit bureaus and financial services. Identity theft was the third most common complaint in Wisconsin.
Reports of fraud have increased as scammers use the pandemic to come up with new ways to trick people into sharing financial information. Covid-19 related fraud includes claiming unemployment benefits using someone else’s work history, pretending to be a virus contact tracer, claiming to conduct a vaccine survey, and selling unproven remedies.
These pandemic-related scams are in addition to already existing scams, such as threatening someone with arrest by saying they owe taxes or demanding payment on an overdue loan through a wire transfer or paying the scammer using a gift card.
“Keep in mind that government programs will never call, text, or email you asking for your personal data, bank account information, or credit card number,” says Peggy Olive, UW-Madison Financial Capability Specialist. “Even with the previous Economic Impact Payments, the IRS put security measures in place on their website for individuals to share their direct deposit information for payments.”
Monitoring for fraud
Monitoring your own credit report is one way to keep an eye out for signs of fraud or identity theft. Because of the pandemic, consumers can currently order a free weekly credit report online through April 20, 2022.
You can request the weekly reports from AnnualCreditReport.com — one each from the three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While the weekly credit reports are only available online, consumers can order free annual credit reports through the mail using the official request form found online or by calling their toll-free number 877-322-8228 to request a form.
The “Check Your Free Credit Report: 2/2, 6/6, 10/10” campaign from UW-Madison Division of Extension wants to make it easier to remember to order those free credit reports. Sign up to receive an email reminder from Extension three times a year—on 2/2, 6/6, and 10/10—at finances.extension.wisc.edu/programs/check-your-free-credit-report-campaign/.
“Our Credit Campaign participants have told us that the added nudge from the reminder emails helps them to follow through on their good intentions to order their free credit report,” says Olive.
Consumer protection series
This summer, UW-Madison Division of Extension Kenosha County is partnering with Extension Racine and Walworth Counties to host Consumer Protection Workshops with the Bureau of Consumer Protection within the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection.
These free, virtual workshops will all be 1-2pm on Tuesday, June 22nd addressing landlord tenant rights and responsibilities, Tuesday, July 20th focusing on identity theft, and the final workshop on Tuesday, August 10th will discuss common scams and frauds.
Registration is required and you can opt to attend one, two, or all three sessions. For more information and to register, please visit https://go.wisc.edu/1i3na7.
Mary Metten is health and well-being educator for the UW-Madison Division of Extension in Kenosha County.