What thieves are after, why they’re after it, and what you can do about it.
In past years, identity thieves dived into dumpsters, grabbed purses and opened mailboxes to steal a person’s identity. Now thieves tend to be more tech savvy. They rely on phone calls and emails to gather personal information from the unwary. Are you prepared to defend yourself in this current theft environment?
Examples of ID theft
Here are some examples used by creative thieves:
The fake banker. Someone calls claiming to represent your bank. You’re told the bank needs to update contact information, including your Social Security number (SSN), date of birth and mother’s maiden name.
IRS agent. Really? An alleged IRS agent calls claiming your tax return was filed incorrectly. The caller ID even says IRS. The IRS agent tells you they need your personal information to fix the tax return.
Congratulations! You won. A sales representative informs you of prize winnings — an all-expense-paid vacation, a new car or a hefty check. You simply need to tell them your credit card information to cover the sales tax.
5 steps to dodge the ID theft bullseye
So what can you do to protect yourself? Being proactive is the best way to limit your risk. Protect yourself by following these guidelines:
- Leave personal information at home. Don’t carry Social Security cards or birth certificates in your purse or wallet unless necessary for a specific transaction (like applying for a passport).
- Shred sensitive material and go paperless. Use a shredding machine for bank statements, loan applications, insurance forms and pre-approved credit letters. Only use websites you trust for banking and bill-paying transactions.
- Check credit reports and bank statements regularly. Look for unexplained withdrawals and strange charges. If concerned, place a fraud alert on your credit file with one of the three national credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. One company is required to alert the other agencies, so one phone call should do it. When businesses see a fraud alert on your report, they’re required to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. You might also initiate a credit freeze to prevent crooks from opening new accounts with your identity.
- Use and update internet security tools. If you access the internet from a personal computer, tablet or phone make sure your anti-virus and security applications are up to date. Limit the amount of personal information on the internet as much as possible. While a hassle, also consider adding dual authentication for access to any online accounts.
- When in doubt, hang up. Never give out personal information in response to unsolicited emails or phone calls. Period.
If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, don’t respond to suspicious emails. Forward them to your bank or credit card company. Then delete them. You can also submit a theft complaint to the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov.
What thieves are after and why
Identity theft attacks often focus on user profiles, SSNs and self-reported income. Once obtained, personal information can be used for purchases on credit cards, to drain bank accounts, file fraudulent tax returns, or allow thieves to get unauthorized medical treatment.
Some of the most common red flags that your personal information has been compromised include:
- Unexplained bank account withdrawals
- Credit card charges you don’t remember making
- Calls from debt collectors about unfamiliar loans
- Bills from health care providers for services you didn’t use
- Notices that your tax return has already been filed