A few news stories have been circulating about the looming identity theft threat to couples who have decided to tie the knot. Thieves prey on our deepest and strongest emotions, and two people madly in love and about to take the plunge are certainly full of emotions and stress. Stress makes us more apt to decide quickly, without thinking the situation through. The sense of relief we feel may encourage us to accept an offer that seems “too good to be true” when we might otherwise hesitate. Our families and friends may also be targeted, for much the same reasons. Think like a thief- on average weddings cost over $20,000 and guest gifts range between $50-150 each. That places a rather large bulls-eye on anyone involved. Here is just a small list of the kinds of scams that are lurking out there:
- Fake vendors- these are identity thieves or card frauders. They are online, at bridal shows, and call individuals out of the blue. You may be even approaching them for a genuine service advertised in the classifieds or a bridal magazine, or it may be a “sweepstakes”. As part of the “contract” or “application” you answer personal questions in great detail or provide a credit card number that is later used to defraud you.
- Fraud vendors- this category is not technically identity theft, but still leaves you stung. Often you are promised a “free” sample and hand over your credit card for shipping and handling, and then find yourself with outrageous charges. Vendors take a deposit for renting you an item as pictured on their site, and when the big day comes, nothing arrives or what arrives bears little resemblance to the model. Sweepstakes and Giveaways should be especially scrutinized if you get a call and you “won” – there may be strings attached.
- Crooks- these people take advantage of the fact you share so much about your event. They may rob your house while you’re exchanging rings, or wait until you’re away on honeymoon. While everyone at the reception is distracted, they snatch purses or sneak into hotel rooms. Honeymooners are easily targeted by pickpockets, camera snatchers, and hustlers.
- Disappearing act- this can be anything from a deposit you paid disappearing from the books to a company suddenly going bankrupt. Bankruptcies are up 47% from last year, so this is a big concern. While insurance can help protect you, it is important to purchase coverage carefully.
- Malware - There are tons of “free” applications out there to help out couples. Cost calculators, dress design software, websites, countdown clocks, reminders, calendars, the list goes on… Then there are the flash animations and videos of weddings, decorations, crafts, flowers and more. However, some of these may contain harmful code that could harvest your information and place you at risk for identity theft and fraud.
- Robocalls and junk mail – While shopping around online or in person, you’re often asked to leave your contact information. This can result in an increase in junk mail offers and robocalls. Some of these are likely phishing attempts, and are cleverly disguised. Another risk with increased junk mail is the possibility of mail theft going unnoticed for a longer period of time. Pre-approved credit card offers may inflate your mailbox, also increasing your risk of fraud.
- “In distress” scam- this is commonly used while a couple is on honeymoon, but can strike at any time. Fraudsters may call, email, or take over your email or social networking accounts to contact your friends and family claiming to need emergency money. Excuses range from medical emergencies, to being kidnapped. Often they have “been robbed” and need the money to get home. The rest is ALWAYS to wire money or send Western Union.
- YOU – of all the threats, YOU might be your own worst enemy. Many couples have wedding announcements; send emails, e-vites, wedding websites, social networking pages, online gift registries with their personal information, personal details, family details, and wedding, reception and honeymoon specifics available to the public at large. Brides and grooms alike tend to become excited and may share greater detail about themselves, their partners and the event with coworkers and friends… and florists, photographers, DJs (or anyone else who will listen).
With a few minor changes and some awareness, you can still have all the bells and whistles to your big day while keeping your friends, family and your identity safe.
- Assume the numbers and addresses you are using to contact vendors, get quotes, order catalogs are going to be stolen, traded and sold over and over. Set up a PO Box and a separate number to use for your contact information.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau in your area about any vendor, sweepstakes, or service you are going to fork over a large amount of money to, or that you are unfamiliar with. Do this before you provide them any personal or contact information.
- Always assume that calls you receive are compromised and never reveal any personal information. You may trust calls you initiate to a trusted business more, but still exercise caution.
- Read ALL fine print carefully. TWICE.
- Keep all receipts; require everything in writing and document, document, document. Go over all your credit card and bank statements monthly and notify your financial institution right away if you notice any unusual activity.
- Quarantine. Don’t use the same passwords or email account for your social networking sites, registry, and wedding webpage. You should never attach your “trusted” email account you have been using to communicate with your friends and family to another site. A compromise of a social networking site can easily lead to an email compromise, and makes it easier for fraudsters to contact your entire address book for money. If your quarantined email is hacked and messages sent to all your friends, they should be more cautious since it is a different email than they are used to communicating with you. This will buy you enough time that you can then use your “trusted” email account to notify them all of the fraud (or better yet- call them!).
- Never send money Western Union- this is one of the few ways you can send money and never get it back. Provide contact information to their nearest consulate if you are met with this scam online.
- Limit access to personal information- If you are going to list the details of your big day and honeymoon, look for websites that allow you to create a wedding website for friends only, or that is password protected so you can control who has access.
- Be careful of accidentally revealing personal information like your mother’s maiden name (which may be derived from guest lists or online friend list on social networking sites) and your date or place of birth. Also, you will be asked a lot of questions so people can “get to know you” before your big day- make sure none of these questions and answers correspond to the security questions of any account you have. Go through each online account and determine what questions are asked if you click “I forgot my password”. You may wish to change those answers.
- Find gift registries that allow you to control privacy, and insist on revealing as little about yourself as possible. Gift registries often offer a disturbing amount of detail about you, and often are generally open to the public.
Check your credit reports regularly with www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you do experiance fraud or a scam, report it to your Better Business Bureau and the FTC and place fraud alerts with the major credit bureaus.