Experts agree that we can't totally protect ourselves in every situation, but there are many things we can do to reduce our chances of becoming a victim of identity theft. We have tips and tools to help minimize your risk of identity theft and to know what to do if you or a family member are a victim of fraud.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your:
- Social Security Number
- Credit Card Number(s)
- Debit Card Numbers(s)
- Account Information
- or other identifying information without your permission.
Because fraud affects so many individuals and has such negative consequences on our financial lives, it's essential that we raise awareness of the seriousness of this crime. Many people don't even know their identity has been stolen, until they spot mysterious charges on their credit card or account statements, they're turned down for credit, or they start getting phone calls from debt collectors.
According to Gartner every 60 seconds, 18 or 19 people will fall victim to identity theft. That means that in the next hour, 1,080 to 1,140 people will have their identities stolen.
Whose Most Vulnerable?
- All of us, even if we take precautions
- People who leave personally identifiable information in places where others can get them
- People who give personal information without asking "Why do you need it?"
All of us are at risk for identity theft, even if we take precautions, because more thieves are turning to database theft from merchants or even employers in order to access thousands of records at a time. Identity thieves often target older people for many type of fraud, including telemarketing fraud, Medicare fraud, and so on.
If you have a senior citizen or older adult in your life, it's important to have conversations about avoiding scams, such as the lottery, others asking for information over the phone, and anyone who mysteriously comes into to their lives acting very friendly or helpful, and then asking for money.
Friendly Fraud. You Know the Thieves
Friendly fraud is another common method of ID theft. Friendly fraud means the thief is someone you know. It could be perpetrated by a family member, friend, roommate, housekeeper, friends of your children, repair people or even a co-worker.
How to Protect Yourself from Friendly Fraud:
- Safeguard wallets, purses, checkbooks, credit and debit cards, account statements, etc. when at home and at work.
- Don't leave wallets or purses in clear view of anyone coming into your home or office.
- Review statements monthly (more often online) for all charges
- Don't write passwords or PINs on the back of the card or carry that information in your wallet.
- Shred sensitive information. Do not throw it in the trash.
Tips to Protect Your Social Security Number
- Never give your SSN, account numbers, passwords, mother's maiden name, birth date, PIN, or personal information over the phone, unless you initiate the call. Remember, that most places that you do with business with, especially your financial institution, already have that information and have no reason to ask you for it.
- Don't carry your Social Security Card with you unless you need it for a particular reason that day.
- Don't use the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number as a PIN number.
- Don't print your Social Security Number on your checks.
Identity theft often starts with your Social Security Number and one other piece of identifying information. The more we protect our numbers, the less likely we are to become victims of fraud.
Beware of "Skimming"
Skimming is yet another reason way you need to review your statements and accounts, and report any transactions that you didn't make. Skimming happens when a card is swiped or entered into an ATM, and there is a device on the ATM that captures the information on the card. The thieves then copy the information from your card to fraudulent cards and begin making transactions.
Tips to Avoid Skimming
- If you regularly use the same ATM, be sure to look for any irregularities where you would put your card in. If something looks funny, notify the ATM owner immediately.
- Use ATM's in well lit or public areas. It's harder for thieves to put a skimming device on machines that are highly visible.
More Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
- Review your accounts and statements regularly.
- Set up auto pay for as many bills as you can, that way you're not sending checks or card information through the mail.
- Beware of shoulder surfers at the ATM
- Shred statements, pre-approved credit offers and other papers that may have your personal information.
- Check your credit report annually.
- Use direct deposit for your paycheck, pension, or social security payments.
- Don't authorize a payment over the phone unless you call a specific creditor.
- If an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.
If You are a Victim of Identity Theft
- Contact your financial institution right way. They can help you shut down your accounts, open a new one, order new checks and cards, etc.
- Contact one of the credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on your credit bureau
- File a police report
While there are many precautions you can take to avoid identity theft, the chance of it happening is still there. Fraudsters and identity thieves are constantly coming up with new ways to steal your identity.
It's important to act quickly if you are a victim of identity theft. You could end up spending a great deal of time cleaning up the mess they cause-taking time off work, writing letters, making phone calls, getting affidavits notarized, and working with current and future creditors to help restore your good name.