Stealing identities has never been easier, thanks to today’s increasingly sophisticated technology – in particular, easy access to high-quality computer software, scanners and printers. Common sense is your best protection against identity theft and there are several things you need to know to protect your identity.
What is Identity Theft
Identity theft may occur when thieves obtain personal information such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank account numbers, credit card account numbers and even birth certificates and passports. Accounts are then opened in the victim’s name for credit card and loans with the mail diverted to a different address. Such stolen information can be used without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. A fact that surprises many consumers is that a large percentage of identity theft is committed by someone the victim knows. This is why it is important not to share confidential information such as passwords.
Why Protect Yourself?
Identity theft is a serious crime. Victims of identity theft can incur not only a loss of money but a frustrating loss of time as they work to clear the damage criminals have made of their good name and credit record. If identity theft goes undetected for an extended period of time, it could take a great deal of time to fully repair the damage that has occurred. This makes regular preventative action important.
What Can I Do?
The good news is that there are many steps you can do to ensure that you are not an easy target. We have strict procedures for protecting and monitoring your information when it is in our care. We never require you to send personal information to us via email. We urge you to be just as vigilant when sharing or managing your own information, and offer the following guidelines.
How To Guard Against It
- We will never email or call you for your account number.
- Remove mail promptly from your mailbox. Never use your mailbox for outgoing mail containing confidential information. Identity thieves raid mailboxes to steal credit card offers and financial statements.
- Guard your social security number. Do not give out personal information like PIN or credit card numbers over the phone or the internet unless you initiated the transaction. Identity thieves often call you posing as an internet provider or credit card company to gain knowledge of your accounts.
- Be very careful with receipts. Make sure you have them when you leave the store or ATM and do not throw them into a public trash can. Thieves use these receipts to access your accounts.
- Review your credit report from time to time. You can obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the credit reporting agencies. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Online at: www.annualcreditreport.com
Toll Free at: 877-322-8228
- Shred confidential documents and pre-approved credit card offers instead of simply discarding them in the trash. A home shredder is the best thing to use on financial statements, receipts and old cancelled checks that you are discarding. Prior to shredding review for accuracy
- Account for all new checkbooks when you receive them in the mail. If any are missing, report stolen checks immediately. Keep new and cancelled checks in a safe place.
- Block your ATM transaction with your body. Keep the keyboard from view to prevent someone from learning your personal identification number (PIN).
- Commit all passwords and personal identification numbers to memory. The less you have on paper the less likely it is that someone will learn these numbers.
- Be creative when you select a password. Don’t be obvious like using the last four digits of your social security number, phone number, address, birth date or any format that could easily be decoded by thieves.
- When conducting a transaction on the internet, make sure the websites you visit are secure and reputable. Beware of any email that links you to a website asking for personal or financial information. Never provide your pin number in an internet or phone transaction or as a way of identifying who you are.
- General security over your personal computer such as virus protection and physical access controls should be used and updated regularly.
- Avoid sending sensitive information, such as account numbers, through UNSECURED e-mail.
- Don’t wire money to people you don’t know.
- Never click on a link inside an email to visit a website. Type the address into your browser instead.
- Be cautious of work-at-home job offers.
- Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau. It’s easy for a business to look legitimate online.
- Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. You can’t win no matter what they say.
- Check your monthly bank statements for charges you don’t recognize.
- You can stop credit bureaus from selling your name to lenders by going to www.optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688. Opting out should stop most offers, and it’s free.
- Secure your devices. Make sure your smart phone, iPad, other mobile devices, and portable flash drives containing personal data have security applications and encryption in case they’re lost or stolen.
What To Do If You Are A Victim
- Contact your credit card company and your financial institution and close your accounts. The FBI suggests that you put passwords (not your mother’s maiden name) on any new accounts you open.
- Call the three major credit bureaus (numbers shown below) to tell them your identity has been stolen. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed on your file, as well as a “victim’s statement” asking that the creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
EQUIFAX: 800-685-1111 (www.equifax.com)
EXPERIAN: 888-397-3742 (www.experian.com)
TRANSUNION: 800-888-4213 (www.tuc.com)
- Call the Social Security Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) theft hotline: 877-438-4338
- File a report with the police and be sure to get a copy of the report in case you need proof of the crime later for credit card companies etc.
- If your checks are used fraudulently:
NATIONAL PROCESSING COMPANY: 800-526-5380