En español | As consumer fraud has surged in both quantity and variety, so have products and services to help protect you from scams. Some are free and come from government agencies, nonprofits or large corporations; others are from entrepreneurs with unique and often high-tech protections that you'll pay for. How to sort them out? We reviewed lots of services and devices, then talked to anti-fraud experts and former law enforcement officials. Their advice: Focus on specific needs.
1. Take a financial vulnerability survey
The Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology has developed an online financial vulnerability survey, at OlderAdultNestEgg.com, to help older Americans evaluate decision-making. Through its SAFE program, the service also offers one-on-one coaching to help users catch fraud or identify theft.
2. Review a broker's history on Brokercheck by FINRA
FINRA, the independent, nongovernmental regulator of securities firms doing business in the United States, has a free online tool, BrokerCheck.finra.org, that lets you review broker history as well as find complaints and disciplinary actions against brokers. And remember: Always hang up on a cold-calling broker. Legitimate ones don't work that way.
3. Protect your packages with Informed Delivery
A free service from the U.S. Postal Service, InformedDelivery.usps.com emails images of your mail before it arrives. It also allows users to track and manage package delivery to keep purchases safe from thieves.
4. Sign up for identity theft protection services
A number of companies promise to keep your identity safe for a fee. Plans from NortonLifeLock offer identity theft protection to AARP members at a discount of at least 20 percent. EverSafe.com and IDShield.com are among the companies that patrol the dark web, searching for illicit use of your Social Security number, false changes of address and other misused personal information while also monitoring your bank accounts and credit cards to ensure they haven't been compromised. You can compare basic fees on each company's website.
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5. Stop phone scammers with call blocking software
Start by signing up for the National Do Not Call Registry at DoNotCall.gov. Next, call your carrier and ask what call-blocking services it provides; more are adding free call-screening options in response to the epidemic of fraudulent phone calls. If you want fuller protection for your smartphone, consider services like RoboKiller.com or Truecaller.com.
6. Verify a person's profile photo with a reverse image search
To lure victims, online dating scammers often use stolen photos. Before you respond to a connection request, drop that profile photo into a reverse image search tool that will show you where else the image appears on the internet — which can help expose crooks. Image search services include images.Google.com, TinEye.com and Yandex.com.
7. Keep a loved one safe from fraud
Persuade the person to sign up for a service that constantly reviews all their financial accounts for unusual transactions and then sends alerts to you and others if they occur. GuideChange.com and EverSafe.com promise to put older Americans’ finances under a microscope and root out fraud. Their computers constantly monitor how money is spent, searching for red flags. These services can offer peace of mind — at a price. Check websites for fees.
8. Confirm a caregiver's background before hiring
While anyone can find information about a person online, many companies will do a professional job for a fee. They provide detailed information on criminal records, civil court filings and credit scores. And services like Goodhire.com, Checkr.com and IntelliCorp.net will provide monthly updates for additional peace of mind. Services and fees are listed on the companies’ websites.
9. Secure sensitive emails with decryption
Email services like ProtonMail.com, Tutanota.com and Mailfence.com encrypt your incoming emails so no one can read them without going through a highly secure login and decrypting process. Compare prices on their websites.
Joe Eaton is a writer, professor and former investigative reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.