Have you or someone in your family been the victim of electronic fraud? Do your elderly parents take phone calls from phony IRS agents or a fake Social Security, Facebook, or Microsoft representative looking to rip them off?

Rob D’Ovidio, associate professor of criminology and justice studies at Drexel University, can help.

He will speak Oct. 26 at a workshop at Bryn Mawr College, “Understanding and Preventing Fraud in the Digital Age," in which he will explain why it’s not a question of if you will fall victim to electronic fraud, but when; and how to protect yourself.

An expert on electronic crime, D’Ovidio will explain how cyber criminals commit electronic fraud, and how to reduce risk, and, if that fails, how to handle an intrusion.

He will focus mostly on security around trading and brokerage accounts, as well as services that prevent scammers from “scouring for your identifiers and access credentials,” he said. Password protectors like Keeper can help, he said, and he uses it personally.

Registration opens at 9 a.m. and the workshop starts at 10 a.m. at Bryn Mawr College Park Science Center, Lecture Hall 25, Bryn Mawr.

For more details and a registration form, visit the website of the host organization, the American Association of Individual Investors’ Philadelphia chapter: www.aaii.com/localchapters. The cost is $17 at the door.

Public WiFi and credit freezes

You can place free security freezes on your credit reports with all three major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion). It’s the best way to stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. You can also order your free credit reports annually at annualcreditreport.com.

While free public WiFi is a great modern convenience — an AARP survey revealed that about 4 in 10 U.S. adults use free WiFi at least once a month — it poses horrifying risks.

AARP recommends avoiding public WiFi networks, especially those that do not require a password. If you are prompted to enter a credit card to access the public WiFi network, be wary. This could be a scammer trying to steal your credit card information.

If you access public WiFi, “You’re asking to be scammed,” D’Ovidio said.

If you are going to use public WiFi, use a VPN as a way of better securing your connection to the public WiFi. Make sure your device is set so that it does not automatically connect to public WiFi access points.

If you have been victimized, call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1‑877‑908‑3360 for guidance. For more information on the Helpline, visit aarp.org/fraudhelpline.

According to the 2019 Mobile Security Index, 83% of businesses are also at risk from mobile threats. Here are some steps to protect your phone.

  • Don’t reply to text messages from numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Add your mobile device to the national "Do Not Call” list (donotcall.gov).
  • Avoid clicking on and opening links in texts or emails, especially links that are short or look suspicious.
  • Don’t download files unless you are expecting something from a trusted source; call the person who emailed you first to check if they sent it.

Fake charities are another scam to watch for, especially if they ask you to wire money or send cash — both red flags.

Do some due diligence on charities at www.give.org or www.charitynavigator.org before donating. You can also reach out to your state government (find out which office at www.nasconet.org) to see if the charity is registered to solicit in your state.

Cost-of-living adjustment

When the Social Security Administration issued the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), it was just a 1.6% increase. That doesn’t even match the government inflation measure of 2% annually.

Nearly 69 million Americans will see a 1.6% increase in their Social Security and SSI benefits in 2020. January 2020 marks other changes that will occur based on the increase in the national average wage index. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax, as well as the retirement earnings test exempt amount, will change in 2020.

Want to know your new benefit amount as soon as possible? In December 2019, Social Security will post COLA notices online for retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries who have a “my Social Security” account. You will be able to view and save these COLA notices securely via the Message Center inside that account. You can also opt out of receiving notices by mail that are available online.

Sign up for or log in to your personal my Social Security account today and choose email or text under “Message Center Preferences” to receive courtesy notifications so you won’t miss your online COLA notice.

You can find more information about the 2020 COLA at www.ssa.gov/cola.