Identity Theft...Keeping Yourself Safe
Identity Theft is the number one consumer complaint category for the 15th year in a row according to the Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft is when someone takes a piece of your personal or financial information and uses it by posing as you and stealing from you by performing financial transactions in your name without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. Identity theft can destroy your credit and ruin your good name. Each year, millions of Americans are affected by identity theft. More people are victims of identity theft each year than are victims of a home burglary. If your identity is stolen, you could spend months or years and possibly thousands of dollars reclaiming your name and cleaning up the mess that the thief has left for you.
Identity theft can strike anyone but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. If you are a victim of identity theft it is important that you take the proper steps to stop your identity from continuing to be misused. If you detect the fraud quickly you can minimize the damage.
How do Thieves Steal Your Identity?
These are some of the most common forms of identity theft:
Dumpster diving is when thieves search through trash at your home or office
Document loss occurs when you lose your wallet, checkbook or credit cards or your mail or trash is stolen. Stolen wallets and purses are one of the primary ways thieves gain access to your personal info
Personal Betrayal Personal betrayal occurs when a friend, relative, employee or stranger steals your data. This could be a friend, relative, coworker, or any individual that you trust.
Robbery or burglary at your home or business where your personal information is taken
Business Leaks personal files being stolen and exploited
Computer Crime occurs when data is stolen from you during your online activities.
Social engineering is a collection of techniques used to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information.
Phishing / pharming - criminals pretending to be your financial institution and send you spam or popup messages asking for personal information including passwords, login and financial information.
How Thieves Use Your Information
Identity thieves can be separated into different groups. One type of thief steals your information and sells it to others for cash. Another type of thief buys your information and uses it to open new accounts or fraudulently uses your existing accounts. And still, another type of thief steals and uses your information. Below are some common ways thieves will use your information.
Buy merchandise with existing accounts
Take out loans
Open new accounts
Change your mailing address
Write bad checks
File for bankruptcy
Protect Yourself from Identity Thieves
Nearly everyone is vulnerable to identity theft because there is so much personal information out there. If you have applied for a credit card, credit line or loan, you are at risk. If you have ever had a savings account or checking account, you are at risk. If you have ever had medical insurance with an employer, you are at risk. If you have ever attended college, you are at risk. If you have ever had a job, you are at risk. If you have ever subscribed to a magazine, you are risk. You can minimize your risk by aggressively managing your personal information and through continual awareness of the problem. There are many way in which you can protect yourself against identity theft.
Shred confidential documents. Buy a crosscut shredder and USE it! Any document that has more information about you than the phone book should be SHREDDED!
Don't give out personal information! Ask why the information is needed and what the consequences are for not giving the information.
Do not carry your SS# with you
Only give out your SS# when you absolutely have to
Check your SS earnings and benefits statement for fraud
Do not write your SS# or full account numbers on your checks
Protect your mail. Do not leave mail with personal financial information in a mailbox outside your home allowing easy access for identity thieves.
Use strong passwords for online account access! Strong passwords have upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols in them.
Secure your personal information at all times at home or work. Don't carry personal information with you unless you know you will need it.
Update virus protection software regularly on your computer
Use a secure browser and become familiar with your browser's security indicators
Don't download files from strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know.
Be careful about the amount of information you put on social networking sites and be aware of who has access to that information For example if EVERYONE knows you'll be on a cruise for a week then you've left your home vulnerable to burglary while you're away.
Monitor your financial statements for signs of identity theft and take action:
Review monthly financial statements and reconcile your checkbook regularly. Look for charges or debits you did not authorize. Call the account holder IMMEDIATELY if you detect any unauthorized activity.
Review your credit report regularly. Consumers are entitled to receive one free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus. You can visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 18773228228.
Signs You May be a Victim of Identity Theft
Sometimes you find out that you have been a victim of identity theft at the most inopportune time. For example, a lost job opportunity, a loan denial or even an arrest may be the first clue that you have been a victim. Some of the most common ways to know if you have been a victim of identity theft include:
You receive collection phone calls or letters for accounts or purchases that you did not authorize.
You have been denied credit unexpectedly.
Your financial statements don't arrive on time or have stopped altogether. Someone may have changed your address and taken over the account without your knowledge.
You have been denied employment for either bad credit or criminal activity that you are unaware of. An identity thief may have ruined your credit or may have given YOUR name when they were arrested.
What to do if You are a Victim of Identity Theft
If you become a victim of identity theft, act quickly to restore your good name. The steps to take if you have been a victim of identity theft include:
Contact the credit bureaus
Ask for a fraud alert to be placed in your file
Review your credit reports carefully. The only accounts that should be on your credit report are the ones YOU signed up for.
Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently
Fill out a fraud dispute form or provide the FTC ID Theft Affidavit
Ask for written confirmations that the accounts have been closed and that fraudulent debts have been discharged.
FILE A POLICE REPORT. Without a police report there is no evidence that a crime has been committed.
Contact government agencies
Contact the FTC ID Theft hotline at 1877ID THEFT
Contact the Social Security Administration if someone is using your SS# o Contact the Postal Service if your mail has been tampered with
Contact the DMV for a lost DL
Contact the major check verification services about any checking account fraud.
Maintain good records
Keep all police reports, correspondence with creditors, documents, or other records relating to the fraud for future reference.
Consumer awareness and quick action can help reduce this crime in our community!
Receive your free annual credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 18773228228.
www.ftc.gov is a onestop national resource to learn about the crime of identity theft. It provides detailed information to help you deter, detect, and defend against identity theft.
www.OnGuardOnline.gov provides practical tips from the federal government and the technology industry to help you be on guard against internet fraud, secure your computer, and protect your personal information.
Visit www.palmettocitizens.org for steps and resources for protecting your personal identity.
When you will be away from your home for an extended period of time go to www.usps.gov to place a vacation hold on your mail.
If you are a victim of identity theft, use our Take Action guide for a step by step on how to minimize the damage and report the crime to the authorities.
Information provided by: Accel Members Financial Counseling
Accel is a provider of financial education and counseling.