Identity theft has become a international multi-million dollar problem. According to the Federal Trade Commission, millions of Americans will have their identities stolen each year and most will not know until it is too late.
The most common types of identity theft are:
- Using or opening a credit card account fraudulently.
- Opening cell phone or utility accounts fraudulently.
- Passing bad checks or opening new bank accounts.
- Getting loans using another person’s name.
- Applying for or receiving governmental aid using another person's name.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
Look at your credit card statements and check your bank account regularly. This is the first place that fraudulent or unauthorized activity will show up. Report any discrepancies or unrecognized charges or withdrawals to the Fraud Unit with your bank or credit card company as soon as possible. Federal laws limit the amount of time that you have to report such issues in order to recover or deny charges and withdrawals from your accounts.
Never give out personal information over the phone, by email or through the regular mail unless you initiated the contact or personally know the caller. Thieves will pose as bank representatives, internet service providers, or even government agents in order to get your personal information.
Never give personal or financial information responding to an e-mail request, no matter who it appears sent it. No financial institution, government agency, or other legitimate organization will ever ask you for your personal information, such as Social Security numbers, account numbers, credit card numbers, PIN numbers, passwords, etc. Don’t click on any links found within the e-mail. If you are concerned about whether an email is genuine, contact the organization that is referenced in the e-mail using a telephone number you have from other dealings with the organization. Or open a new browser window and type in the correct web address yourself. Never cut and paste a link from the message into your browser's navigation bar. Phishers or other fraudulent persons can make links look like they are legitimate and will go to one place when they actually send you to their look-a-like website.
Shred any documents that contain any personal information. If you do not have a shredder you can tear the items into small random pieces and dispose of them. These documents include physician, credit card, and bank statements, credit card receipts, expired credit cards, insurance forms, old loyalty shopping cards, and even credit card offers.
Deposit outgoing mail, like bill and credit card payments, directly into a secure post office box, do not leave it in your own unsecured mailbox. Thieves are known to search mailboxes for personal and financial information.
Don’t carry your Social Security card around on your person or in your wallet, only carry your ID and the minimum number of credit cards necessary for what you are doing at that time.
Don’t pre-print your Social Security or driver's license numbers on your checks.
Only give out your Social Security number when it is absolutely necessary. Instead ask if you can use other identifiers when possible.
Order a copy of your credit reports once a year to verify their accuracy. There are three different Credit Reporting Agencies and each one could have different information. You are entitled to one free copy of your report each year from each of the Credit Reporting Agencies. If is recommended that you request the reports on a rotating cycle. This will allow you to get a report every four months allowing you to keep current on what the reports say. Just like with your accounts, you should report any discrepancies to the appropriate Credit Reporting Agency as soon as possible.
If you are a victim of theft or lose or misplace your credit/debit cards immediately contact your bank, Visa (1-800-336-8472) or MasterCard (1-800-307-7309) to cancel them and order a replacement. Do not carry your Social Security Card on your person. If you lose your Social Security Card, contact 1-800-772-1213 to report it.