PROTECT YOUR IDENTITY
Identity theft is no picnic. The more you know about identity theft, the better equipped you will be to ward off thieves and fraudsters, and report a problem more quickly.
HOW CAN I AVOID IDENTITY THEFT?
The best defense against identity theft is a good offens. The more proactive you are about preventing identity theft, the better. By securing your data at home, online and when you’re out and about, you can eliminate many opportunities for identity theft to occur. Here are a few things you can do to minimize the risk of identity theft.
Protect your social security number
Carrying your Social Security card in your wallet is a big no-no. Store it in a safe or a safe deposit box if you have one, or in a place at home where no one will stumble across it. Be very cautious about who you share your Social Security number with. Your social security number should never be used as a form of ID. If you’re not applying for credit, keep it private. Never give out your SSN over the phone (unless you are 100% certain of the identity of the caller) or via email.
Beware of phishing scams
Technology has made it possible for hackers, scammers and identity thieves to find their way into your inbox. You might receive a seemingly legitimate email from your bank or credit card issuer asking you to click on a link to verify your account information. When you click on it, however, you inadvertently give an identity thief access to your login details. Therefore, always verify the source of emails, and double check the URL on any website where you log in or enter personal details. Don’t download files unless you are sure of the sender.
Be smart about mobile banking and shopping
Shopping and banking from your phone or mobile device is convenient but can lead to headaches if an identity thief is able to intercept your personal information. If you use a shopping or banking app in a public place, don’t log in through public Wi-Fi. Also, shelter your entries from the view of anyone nearby who may be able to see your screen.
Use complex passwords and change them regularly
Security experts agree we shouldn’t use the same user ID or password for multiple accounts. Otherwise, any identity thief who cracks the code can access all of those accounts. Instead, use different passwords and update them every few months. The passwords you use should include upper and lower case letters, numbers, symbols and be at least twelve characters long. Use a random password generator to create unique, complex passwords for each account, and keep them in an online password safe so that you won’t have to worry about remembering them.
Secure your home Wi-Fi network
An open wireless network allows hackers to infiltrate your network and potentially gain access to your computer itself. Set up a network that requires a password for access, and change the password regularly. Most routers come with a default password used for setting up the network. Once the network is set up, create your own password.
Inspect card readers before swiping
ATM skimming occurs when thieves put a device over the top of an ATM card reader that steals the information from the card when you swipe. These skimming devices can also be found on unattended point-of-service card readers such as those on gas pumps, or self-service checkouts. Therefore, look carefully for signs of tampering. Many gas pumps will have a tampering seal. Do not use the card reader if you see signs of tampering, or if the seal has been broken, and alert store staff immediately.
Learn more about card skimming and how to protect yourself here.
Monitor your accounts regularly
Check your bank and credit card statements regularly to spot any unauthorized charges. Online banking and mobile banking apps allow you to easily check your account balances daily. Text banking is another great way to stay on top of your account information by setting up text alerts.
Shred sensitive documents
Dumpster diving is a common method of stealing personal information for the sake of identity fraud. Old billing statements or any other documents that contain personally identifying information (even if it’s just your name and address) should be shred. If you don’t have a shredder, tear the documents into small pieces and divide the pieces between two bags, and dispose of the bags separately.
What to do if your identity is stolen?
If you suspect identity theft, act quickly to minimize any negative consequences. The sooner you detect a problem, the sooner you can fix it.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
A fraud alert will last 90 days, and it puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies any institution that pulls your credit report to the fact your identity may be compromised. The alert will prompt creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. You only have to request a fraud alert from one of the three major credit bureaus and that company should notify the other two firms. (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) Placing a fraud alert on an account is free.
Contact each financial institution directly affected
If you believe someone has stolen your identity, or if you purse or wallet is lost or stolen, contact every bank or credit card company potentially implicated as quickly as possible to get your cards canceled. Not only will this help minimize the damage, but you’re more likely to get the full benefit of any legal protection the sooner you do it.
A helpful tip is to prepare a list of institutions and phone numbers in advance. Keep a list of what’s in your wallet, along with contact information for each item. In the instance your purse or wallet was lost or stolen, you would have all the information needed to contact each provider. The best place to keep this list is on an encrypted secure online file storage site.
Initiate a credit freeze
For an added layer of protection, you can initiate a credit freeze which will completely cut off access to your credit report. That means the credit bureaus won’t share your report with anyone who requests it.
File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
You will want to create a paper trail to document the theft by filing an Identity Theft Report. You can file a report online at https://www.identitytheft.gov/
The FTC will provide you with information about what to do next, depending on what type of fraud was (or may have been) committed.
Contact your local police department
To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Identity Theft Report will help you when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other entities the identity thief may have contacted to open accounts in your name.
Protect your Social Security number
If your social security number was or may have been compromised, contact the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. It’s important to talk to the SSA and the IRS if you have reason to believe your Social Security number has been compromised, even if you don’t yet see any evidence of financial fraud. A thief could be planning to swipe your tax refund, or to obtain employment or health care in your name.
Contact the Post Office
If you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office.
These are just a few steps to take if your identity has been stolen. For more information about how to prevent or recover from identity theft, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission offer a wealth of information and will walk you through the steps.
The information provided here is general in nature and may not apply to your specific situation.