Important Tips for Identity Theft Protection
According to a CNN Money report, “Every two seconds another American becomes a victim of identity fraud.” In the United States alone, there was an increase of 500,000 identity fraud reports in only one year, resulting in a total of 13 million reports. This is why identity theft protection is important.
Why Identity Theft Protection is Important
Last year, a majority of the identity fraud reports came as a result of the data breaches of large corporations such as Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus. Approximately one in three people who received notifications that their identity was compromised in those breaches also received notification that their identity had been fraudulently used.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, it takes a victim of identity theft somewhere between 175 and 600 hours, and an average of $1,200 out-of-pocket, to recover. The Commission also stated that if a victim does not report the fraud, the average loss per attack is in the neighborhood of $10,000. Those are pretty scary statistics.
Some Ways Identities Are Stolen
As I was researching this story, I was amazed at the creative lengths thieves will go in order to steal someone’s identity. Often, it is not the major data breach hackers that do the most damage, but the thief who either works alone or with a small team. Here are just a few of the ways they try to get your personal information:
- They will rummage through your personal trash, a businesses trash…or even go to a dump.
- They may work for, or pretend to work for, companies you do business with, all in an effort to get your personal information. That includes drugstores, medical offices and clinics, and government agencies.
- They call you, pretending to be someone from an institution you trust, such as your bank.
- They will even try to disguise themselves as a friend, or a friend of a relative and try to stay in your home.
So How to Protect Yourself
Here are some helpful identity theft protection tips so it never happens to you.
- Protect your social security card or government issued ID. If you do not have to, do not carry it in your wallet and do not write the number on a check, even if asked to.
- If you have a PIN, do not make it an easy combination that someone could guess, such as your birth date, address and do not write it on the credit card or on a piece of paper that you carry with you. The same goes with passwords.
- If you are in a store paying by debit card, even though most machines now have protective shields, use your body to even further shield the numbers you are putting in.
- Here is one I never, ever thought about, but it is an absolute treasure trove for identity thieves. This is your mailbox. Most people do not have locked mailboxes which makes it easy for thieves to take your mail and get your information. Some thieves, when caught, have said that they scan the mail, get the information, then put the mail back. So, collect your mail as promptly as you can when it is delivered and if you are going to be away for more than a day or two, have the post office hold your mail.
- Keep a list at home of your credit card bill pay cycles. That way, if a bill is late, or does not come, you can contact the institution.
Keep receipts for everything you purchase, then when the bills arrive you can compare your receipts against the statement. If something is inaccurate, call the company immediately.
If you have online access to your bank account, check it daily for unauthorized transactions. I found several unauthorized items a few months ago, none of which was more than $4. Thieves count on your not reporting those to the bank since they are so small. Just imagine how much money is involved if a thief charges $4. against 20,000,000 accounts!
Tear Up Receipts
Tear up or buy a shredder and shred receipts you are not keeping, expired credit cards, credit card offers, basically anything that has any identifying information on it. Doing this will definitely keep the dumpster divers from getting your information.
Keep Personal Information in a Safe Place
Make sure your personal information is in a safe place both at home and at work. I keep mine in a safe at home. When I worked in an office, I kept it in a locked file drawer.
Do not ever give out personal information on the phone. As a matter of fact, unless it is a number I recognize, I do not even answer the phone. If it is something legitimate, the caller will leave a voicemail.
Additionally, do not respond to emails you may get stating, “The bank needs to verify your identity, click here.” If you want to check its validity, either call the bank or go to the bank’s website directly from your browser, never from the email you receive. If you respond to the email, identity thieves could access your IP address and hack into your computer.
Make Sure Your Computer is Protected
Make sure your computer has up-to-date. Make sure it has effective firewalls, virus detecting and malware software. If you get rid of your computer, make sure the hard drive is wiped clean of all data.
Do not open emails from people you do not know or if the email does not make sense. Thieves are known to hack emails and send a phishing email to everyone on that person’s list. Usually the email does not make sense, but there is a link to click on. They count on people not thinking and just clicking, so if you get an email from someone you know and it makes no sense, do not open it or click on the link.
Check Your Credit Report
Get your credit report at least once a year. If you think someone has hacked your computer or gotten personal information, check your credit report more often.
If you shop online, make sure the site is legitimate. Do not go to the site from a random email you may have received. Also, make sure the site has encrypted security. If the security symbols are not present (they are the lock encryption icons), then do not give your credit card information.
What Should You Do if You Think You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
If you believe your identity has been stolen, here are the proper steps to take.
- Call your bank and credit card companies and report it. Ask them to freeze those accounts and issue new cards.
- Call your local police department immediately and report the theft. Keep a copy of the police report for future use.
- Send a letter to all of the credit reporting agencies asking them to put a fraud alert on your account. That keeps merchants from opening new accounts in your name without your express approval.
- Complete an identity theft affidavit. You can search “identity theft affadavit” online or find information available at FTC Complain Assistant. The credit reporting bureaus, as well as most merchants, have agreed to accept the affidavit.
Methods to Watch For
Identity thieves particularly target baby boomers and seniors because they think we are easy pickings! We are not, but here are a few of their methods to look out for.
- You may receive a call offering products, benefits and services. If the caller asks for your personal information (birth date, Medicare number, social security number), you can pretty much rest assured that it is fraudulent.
- Be sure you know who is preparing your tax returns.
- Be aware and review all medical statements that are sent to you. Often, identity thieves try to fraudulently bill for services in your name.
- If you, or a loved one, are in a nursing home or long term care facility, be acutely aware. This is an environment that is ripe for fraud.
Identity Theft Prevention
Lastly, if you can, two of the surest ways to deal with identity theft before it happens is to: