Protect Yourself from Rising Number of ID Thefts
Unfortunately, if you are the victim of an identity theft scheme, the burden of proof is on you, and resolving the consequences can cost you time and money. Don’t let yourself fall prey to this crime – educate yourself about identity theft and what you can do to protect yourself.
Identity thieves use a number of methods to invade your privacy and steal your information. Not a day seems to go by without news of yet another business whose networks have been compromised. Widespread security breaches at businesses can leave a large percentage of the population vulnerable to identity theft. While hackers and thieves can steal information from businesses on a large scale, they also reach out to individuals directly. Common avenues and schemes include:
- Telephone: Scam artists will phish to uncover your personal information. They may call and pretend to be calling from your bank, credit card, PayPal, or utility company to alert you to a problem, and ask you to “confirm” your identification information. In one resent scam, consumers were sent e-mails that were supposed to be from Ebay asking them to call a number and provide sensitive information in order to “unlock” their accounts.
- Mail: Thieves may divert your mail by changing your address with the post office without your knowledge. Some will even steal your mail to get confidential information from credit card and bank statements. Pre-approved credit card offers are goldmines for thieves – they can steal them from your mailbox and fill them out to obtain credit in your name. They will also shamelessly dumpster dive to look through mail that you have thrown away.
- Internet: More crooks are using the Internet to steal your identity. They may use deceptive advertising to get you to click on links to phish for confidential information. Emails and texts warning you of a problem with one of your accounts (credit card, bank, etc.) or informing you that you’ve won a sweepstakes or auction are another common ruse intended to prompt you into revealing account data.
- Other: Stolen or lost purses/wallets/credit cards are obviously a significant threat to your privacy. In a scheme known as skimming, sophisticated thieves will either tamper with or install fake card readers to access account information. In the fall of 2010, discount grocery giant, Aldi, discovered that thieves had installed fake debit card terminals in stores in 11 different states, and stolen account and pin numbers from thousands of customers. In 2012, a 49-year-old man was convicted of two counts of identity theft and seven counts of stolen credit cards after he slithered across movie theater floors in Connecticut and stole credit cards from open purses.
To put it simply, they steal from you. They can run up your credit cards, clean out your bank account, take out loans, or obtain medical services in your name. Your credit can be ruined, making it impossible for you to buy a car or a home when you want.
But this might be the least of your problems when your identity is stolen. Did you know that some thieves will use your identity to commit crimes and even acts of terrorism? Imagine being arrested and having a record for a crime you’ve never committed. This is what happened to Malcolm Byrd of Wisconsin whose identity was stolen by a criminal. Byrd was repeatedly arrested and even lost his job because of the “criminal record” racked up by his identity thief.
- Shred junk mail, pre-approved credit card offers, bills, and the like to prevent a dumpster diver from obtaining your personal info.
- Don’t leave checkbooks, bills, or other documentation with identifying information in your car or bag where it might be stolen. Likewise, be careful with the information you have strewn around your living space, especially if you are having work done and have strangers entering your home.
- Be vigilant about safeguarding your wallet. If it does get stolen, alert banks and credit cards immediately to change account numbers or close accounts. Also, follow the steps outlined below in the section on “What to do if you are a victim.”
- DO NOT carry your Social Security card other than for the rare occasions when it might be needed (e.g. your first day on the job or when you apply for a passport). Also, do not give it out or use it as an identifier unless necessary. You can ask organizations, such as your health care company, to use another number to identify you. Just because there’s a spot for your SSN on a form doesn’t mean that you need to enter it.
- Monitor bank and credit card statements regularly, and dispute any unauthorized charges.
- Check your credit report regularly for irregular activity. By law, you are entitled to one free copy per year from all three credit-reporting bureaus.
- Don’t give out personal info over the phone or on the Internet unless you know without a doubt with whom you are dealing. Remember, in Phishing scams, a scammer might be posing as your bank, your credit card company, or other trusted party to steal your information. If you’re not sure, call the official number or go directly to the website that you have for your institution rather than clicking a link.
- Be wary of posting too much personal information such as address, telephone number, birthdate, etc. online, including on social networking sites like Facebook.
- Get your mail at a P.O. box instead of in a mailbox at the end of your driveway. This makes it harder for thieves to poach your information.
- Don’t use the same login and password on every site you use. If you do, and thieves get your info, they can get into multiple accounts.
- Make sure your computer’s virus software is up-to-date, and employ spam filters to weed out junk e-mails.
For more tips on safeguarding your privacy, check out other links under TINA.org’s Privacy and Security section.
What to Do if You Are a Victim:
If you become a victim of identity theft, there are a lot of things to do, so keep meticulous records – details on every phone call you make, names of people with whom you speak, photocopies and receipts for letters you send. Here are some of the steps you should take immediately:
- Contact the three major credit-reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert on your file.
This warns potential creditors that they need to go an extra step to verify identity before opening credit cards or issuing loans. You are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each one so be sure to review them for anything that looks suspicious, incorrect, or unfamiliar. If you do see any of the above, take steps to correct the information. Details will be found on their websites.
- Close any accounts that have been compromised. Don’t just rely on changing your pin number or password. Contact the fraud departments of these companies, and for extra security, follow-up in writing via certified or return-receipt mail. You may need to file disputes if there are charges made or accounts opened without your knowledge or consent.
- File an identity theft complaint with the FTC. A printed copy of your Identity Theft Report can be helpful when trying to prove that you are a victim when dealing with companies or the authorities. You can call the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or file a complaint online.
- File a police report with the local authorities or with the police department where the theft took place. Get a copy of this report to help dispute charges with creditors.
The FTC also provides information here about what to do if you are a victim.
Established in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson, the FTC is the United States government’s primary regulatory authority in the area of consumer protection and anti-competitive business practices in the marketplace. Its Bureau of Consumer Protection assumes the lead in the Commission’s efforts to eliminate deceptive advertising and fraudulent business practices at work in the economy.
Data that can be used to identify you, like your name, address, birth date, or Social Security number
A magical piece of plastic made by banks that is sent to your home (normally accompanied with countless pages of fine print disclosures) that allows you to buy virtually anything
A method of tricking consumers into handing over their personal information by posing as a legitimate entity.
A website that allows you to build a profile and connect with others
Malware that sneaks onto your computer
An official, valid law enforcement report that alleges the consumer’s identity theft with specificity. It can be used to invoke certain statutory rights, including blocking identity theft-related information from appearing in the victim’s credit report, preventing furnishers from continuing to furnish that information to any CRAs, preventing furnishers from selling or transferring the related debt for collection, and obtaining an extended fraud alert. An Identity Theft Report must contain sufficient detail for CRAs and information furnishers to verify the allegations of identity theft. To ensure that the Identity Theft Report contains sufficient detail, it is suggested that victims provide to law enforcement a completed Identity Theft Affidavit to attach to the police report. However, any police report containing sufficient detail can be an Identity Theft Report. For the purpose of obtaining an extended, seven-year fraud alert, which carries low risk of fraud, a completed Identity Theft Affidavit filed with the FTC and signed by the victim (but with no police involvement) provides sufficient detail. See Section II.B for more information about the Identity Theft Report.