WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft is the crime of stealing personal identifying information for the purpose of using that information to commit fraud. Personal identifying information includes Social Security numbers, credit/debit cards numbers, account numbers, usernames and passwords. Fraudulent use of personal indentifying information includes opening new loans and credit card accounts to make purchases and steal money directly from a victim’s account. Identity Theft is a crime that leaves its victims the task of clearing their credit and proving their innocence.
AVOIDING IDENTITY THEFT
- Pay your bills at a post office mailbox instead of leaving it in your box for pickup. Criminals can easily remove mail from your mailbox and obtain plenty of indentifying information from the bills and the checks you use to pay them. They can also use the Change of Address requests on your bills and account statements to change your address without your knowledge resulting in what is referred to as “Account Takeover.”
- Know your billing and account statement cycles. Follow up with banks and creditors if statements, bills or new credit/debit cards do not arrive on time. This will help insure your address was not changed without your knowledge.
- Review all account statements and bills as soon as they arrive. Any suspected unauthorized use should be reported to the bank or creditor immediately.
- Consider using a PO Box for the receipt of your mail with sensitive information such as account statements, credit card bills and medical documents such as insurance statements.
- Consider using electronic statements instead of paper copies.
- Ask for an estimated time of delivery when ordering new checks or credit/debit cards.
- To opt out of receiving direct mail offers for pre-approved financing and credit, call 1-888-5 OPTOUT (888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Never share your login information with anyone.
- If you must write down your passwords, keep them in secure location.
- Change your passwords periodically.
- Avoid using easily identifiable information such as family names, birthdays and phone numbers when creating a password.
- Notify your Financial Institution immediately if you suspect your internet banking password has been compromised.
- Always keep your computer’s virus protection up to date and be sure to install updates to your computer and internet access software when they are released. Software and program updates often contain important security upgrades.
Personal Items & Information
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended.
- Do not carry your Social Security Card or PIN numbers for your credit/debit cards in your wallet.
- Carry only personal ID (Drivers License or State ID) and credit/debit cards you use on a regular basis. Contact your financial institution immediately if your credit/debit cards are lost or stolen. Contact the Credit Bureaus and request a fraud alert be placed on your file if your ID is stolen.
- Keep a list of all your credit cards and bank accounts along with account numbers, expiration dates and credit limits. Keep current contact information for the customer service/fraud department for each account. Store this information in a secure location.
- Ask businesses to substitute a secret identifying security question other than your Mother’s Maiden Name.
- Only provide your Social Security Number when necessary such as on tax forms, employment records and for bank or credit account opening.
- Do not have your Social Security Number printed on your checks and do not allow merchants to write your Social Security Number on a check. If a business requests an ID number, offer your Drivers License Number instead.
- Never give out personal information on the phone, by mail or over the internet unless you are absolutely sure you know who you are speaking with.
- Store all personal information in a secure location. Shred any documents you no longer need. Shred all pre-approved credit or financing offers, used checks, receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, medical documents, statements and expired credit/debit cards.
- Close unused accounts and cancel unused credit/debit cards.
- Sign credit/debit cards immediately upon receipt.
- Never open emails and/or links from unknown sources as they could contain harmful viruses and spyware and infect your computer.
- Always use proper log out procedures for any website you are logged into and close your browser window when finished.
- Order a free copy of your credit report each year from the three major credit reporting agencies. Make sure all of the information is correct, especially your names, address and Social Security Number. Look for any unauthorized inquiries and accounts as well as any defaults or delinquencies you did not cause. To obtain your annual free credit reports go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8728.
Shopping & Spending Wisely
- Shield keypads when using an ATM or a card terminal located within a store.
- Whenever possible watch your credit/debit card while a merchant completes a transaction.
- Inquire about how a business keeps your personal information secure. Is access restricted? Are hard files stored securely and if computer files are password protected.
- Only do business with reputable merchants. If you’ve never used the merchant, research the company and their reputation.
- Always make sure the business’ internet site is secure and encrypted. Look for the lock symbol at the bottom of the webpage or beside the URL bar, click and verify that it matches the webpage you are visiting.
- Use firewalls, antivirus and anti-spyware software to protect your computer. Keep them up to date.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT
If you suspect you may be the victim of Identity Theft take action immediately. Keep detailed chronological records of all conversations and correspondence while taking these suggested steps:
- Contact your banks and credit card issuers immediately. Ask them how to protect access to your accounts and cards, and if existing accounts should be closed and re-opened with new account and/or card numbers. Place stop payments on any missing checks and change all PINs, logins/usernames for online account access as well as passwords. Work with your bank and/or creditor to determine which accounts or cards may be compromised. Contact information for Customer Service or Fraud Prevention Services can usually be found on your periodic statements and on the back of your credit cards. Contact major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers using their databases to decline any checks presented on compromised accounts. Three of the check verification companies that accept reports of check fraud directly from consumers are:
International Check Services
- File a police report with your local police department. Obtain the assigned case or report number with the time and date the report was filed along with the police department/location and name of the officer taking the report. The police case or report number will be helpful when clarifying to creditors that you are a victim of Identity Theft.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus and request a copy of your credit report. Review the reports to verify any additional accounts that may have been opened in your name without your authorization. Review all inquiries listed on your report and request that any inquiries made without your authorization be removed from your report. In a few months, order new copies of your credit reports to verify all corrections, changes and alerts have been processed, and review your reports for any new fraudulent activity. Request a “Fraud Alert” be placed on your file and a victim’s statement asking creditors to contact you before opening any new account or making changes to existing accounts; this may help prevent additional fraudulent accounts from being opened in your names. The three major credit bureaus are:
- Verify with your current account providers that there have been no unauthorized address changes, title changes, PIN changes or any new credit/debit cards issued to another address. If someone has stolen your mail to obtain credit cards, bank and credit statement, pre-screened credit offers or tax information, or if the identity thief has falsified change of address forms, they have committed a crime. Contact your local post office and police department.