Protect your Identity
How You Can Protect Yourself
Identity theft is a serious and growing crime that has collected over 25 million victims. It happens when someone obtains your personal information, and uses it to commit fraud. In this age of digital communication anybody can be anybody they want to be by stealing pictures and information from social media sites, creating fake email addresses, and copy / pasting corporate logos and communication and using this information to trick you into divulging your personal information to them. Now more than ever, it is important for you to be vigilant in making sure that your personal information is protected because that person who claims they are an IRS agent looking for a payment, or your niece who suddenly needs to be bailed out of jail, or the Microsoft technician who needs to remove a virus from your computer is likely lying to you in order to gain your trust, and trick you into revealing personal information.
Having your identity stolen can cost you time, money, and be an incredible nuisance while you’re trying to clean up your credit and restore your good name.
You can deter identity thieves by practicing a few simple steps.
1) Always safeguard your personal information. Be very suspicious when someone asks for it.
2) Routinely monitor your financial accounts and billing statements.
3) Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it. Many times, identity fraud happens quickly. Once an identity thief has an active victim, they will work fast to maximize their payback before being detected. They may even pass your information to other like-minded criminals on the Dark Web.
Dealing with identity theft can be broken down into four simple components: Prevent, Detect, Correct, and Report.
- Shred all financial documents and paperwork with personal information on them. Throwing them in the trash isn’t good enough. Identity thieves can learn a lot about you from what you are throwing away.
- Safeguard your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card with you or write it anywhere. Memorize it and only reveal it if absolutely necessary (such as applying for credit or a credit related transaction e.g. renting an apartment.)
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or online unless you are certain of the identity of the person or business that you are conducting business with.
- Don’t click on links or open attachments sent in random emails from sources you are not familiar with. Try to verify the sender of an email as legitimate before clicking on links or opening attachments from sources you are familiar with. Good identity thieves have skills to replicate legitimate emails.
- Use firewalls, anti¬spyware, and antivirus software (and keep them up to date) to protect your computer.
- Create passwords that are unique and varied with letters, numbers, and special characters. Avoid using names of children, pets, or birthdays.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you employ outside help, have roommates, or are having work done in your house.
- For internet commerce be sure you are on secure web pages before entering personal information. Look for locked padlock and / or the words ‘secure’ in the browser navigation bar.
- Place a Fraud Alert in your credit file, and routinely view your credit report. A Fraud Alert will instruct prospective creditors to contact you before any new accounts in your name are opened. The three major consumer reporting companies and their phone numbers are as follows: Equifax: 1.800.766.0008, Experian: 1.888.397.3742, and TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289.
- When not in use, shut your computer off. A computer without power is impossible to remotely hack.
Even using every possible effort to prevent identity theft, it still can occur. However, if detected early enough, the quicker it can be stopped.
Look for and react to the following warning signs:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected.
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements.
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason.
- Calls or letters about purchases you don’t have any knowledge of.
Additionally, be sure to take advantage of annual credit reports that are required by law to be supplied to you. Your credit report will detail most of the credit accounts you have and your payment history with them. If you do not recognize an account contained on your credit report, immediately contact the credit reporting agency that is reporting it. Similarly, if your payment history is incorrect, immediately advise the credit reporting agency. The three major credit reporting agencies have created www.annualcreditreport.com to assist you in obtaining your free credit report. You may also call 1.877.322.8228 or write to Annual Credit Reporting Report Request Service, Post Office Box 105281, Atlanta GA 30348.
If you discover any accounts that were opened without your consent, call and ask for these accounts to be closed by contacting the company where the account was established. Follow up in writing, as well. An ID Theft Affidavit is available from the Federal Trade Commission by clicking here. Document everything, including who you talked to, and when you talked to them. Also, ask for confirmation that the fraudulent accounts were closed, and any debt incurred was discharged. Some creditors may request a police report to assist the process. Do not hesitate to contact your local law enforcement authorities to file a report.
After the initial work in clearing your name and credit is complete, report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Filing a report helps other law enforcement officials with similar investigations. This can be done online by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Website or by calling 1.877.438.4338 or by mail to: Identity Theft Clearinghouse Federal Trade Commission Washington, DC 20580.