What is identity theft?
Identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain (U.S. Dept. of Justice). Typically identity thieves use your Social Security number, credit cards, and bank accounts to make purchases, open new accounts or even get a tax refund.
How does identity theft happen?
From high-tech skimmers to old-fashioned stealing, there is no shortage of ways for a thief to steal your identity.
- Dumpster diving – Thieves look through trash or dumpsters to find bills or financial statements with personal information.
- Skimming – Skimmers are small devices that can be attached to ATMs, gas pumps and other locations where a credit card is swiped. The device stores the information from a credit or debit card.
- Phishing – Phishing is typically done via email. Emails impersonating a business will be sent out in an attempt to gather personal information.
- Stealing – Pickpocketing, stealing purses or wallets, or gathering personal information during a break-in (The Standard 1/22/16).
Warning Signs and Red Flags
- You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
- You don’t get your bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
- You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
- Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
- A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account (IdentityTheft.gov).
My identity was stolen…now what?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) set up IdentityTheft.gov . This site is meant to help anyone whose identity was compromised make a report of the theft and begin the steps to recovery.
Immediate steps include calling the companies where the fraud occurred, placing a fraud alert with the credit bureaus and getting your credit reports, reporting identity theft to the FTC, and filing a police report with the local police department. For a list of all recovery steps see the complete list of possible recovery steps.
Identity Theft Prevention
- Create strong passwords– Make long passwords, include special characters ($ ! * #), change passwords often and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, don’t write passwords down in an obvious place and do not share them.
- Know what you share – Check your privacy settings on social media and know what information is shared. Phone number? Birthday? Pet’s name?
- Avoid Phishing Scams – Do NOT click on links, open files, or download programs sent by strangers.
- Stay Secure – Use secure wireless networks, security and anti-virus software, and password locks on your computers.
- Lock your phone – Put a password or pattern lock on your cell phone
- Update – Update your operating system and apps. Be sure to check application updates to see if they are asking permission to access other apps on your phone (For example, an app that needs to access the camera to operate).
- Don’t Save Logins – Especially for apps with personal or financial information
- Shred – Shred anything with personal information.
- Process Mail – Do not leave mail hanging around your house. You may miss charges that were not made by you and bills have personal information and account numbers.
- Review credit reports and account statements – verify all charges were made by you and that no new accounts were opened without your knowledge.
- Be aware when using credit and debit cards – look out for skimmer devices, cover the pin pad when entering your pin number at ATMs, gas pumps, and at stores.
For more tips check out our Pinterest Board, Keep your identity safe!
Sources: Federal Trade Commission – How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure Mobile Payment Apps and Identity Theft: What You Need to Know How to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft Online How to Avoid Being a Victim of Identity Theft Department of Justice – Identity Theft IdentityTheft.gov The Standard – Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft