It seems as if every couple months there is a major company that announces a data breach that compromises hundreds of thousands of customers. Having your identity or credit card information stolen can lead to a long, tedious, and stressful recovery. While it is not possible to completely protect yourself from identity theft, it is helpful to understand tips on guarding your personal information, ways to spot fraudulent behavior, and how to recover your identity.
How to Protect Your Information
Our current electronic world makes it much easier for people to steal sensitive information. However, not everything is taken only online. It is important to remember to keep your paper documents and credit cards secure, as well as any activity on the web. First, don’t carry unnecessary documents with you such as social security cards or passports. Next, shred any records or statements that contain personal information such as your social security number or bank account information. It is still common for thieves to go through your curbside trash or snatch lost wallets.
The most common information stolen these days is credit card data. This can be done a number of different ways so it is important to always be aware when you are using your cards. Thieves can be anyone, even the waitress that takes your card behind the counter and swipes it through a “skimmer.” These are small devices that capture and store your card’s information to be used later, or sold. Be on the lookout for card readers at ATM’s, checkout counters, or gas stations that look to be tampered with. Devices can be attached inside of the readers that again store your all of your card’s information. When using your credit or debit card online make sure that the website is reputable and secure. Always make sure you have functioning identity theft programs installed on your computer that prevent malware and spyware. These are types of viruses that can get into your computer and steal personal information, credit card and bank account numbers, and passwords. As a rule of thumb, check to see if the website begins with https, which means it is secured, rather than http which is not.
How to Spot Fraudulent Behavior
Fraudulent behavior can be spotted by staying up to date and in tune with your credit reports, and bank and credit card statements. Look for charges or withdrawals that you did not make. You are entitled to a free credit report each year on annualcreditreport.com. It is recommended you check every year to ensure full coverage. First, confirm your personal information is correct, then look to make sure all of the accounts in your name are accurate. Next, see if there have been any inquiries under your name by companies you haven’t contacted. Another great way to spot irregularity on your accounts is to sign up for alerts and notices when certain transactions take place, such as outside of the US, online, or above a certain amount. Your bank should also contact you if they think there is suspicious activity associated with your account.
What to do if Your Identity is Stolen
- Call the companies where the fraudulent activity occurred. Explain to them that it was not you that made the transaction/opened the account/etc. Ask them to freeze or close your accounts so that no more wrongful transactions can occur.
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus (they will contact the other two) and ask for a fraud alert. This will make it harder for someone to open an account in your name. Next, pull your credit report and make note of any discrepancies.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and complete an online complaint form. Print and save your form.
- Contact local law enforcement and file a police report that someone stole your identity. Take with you all documentation of the incident.
Next you will want to remove the bogus charges or information off your accounts and credit reports. Although this can be a frustrating process it is important to remember fraudulent behavior can be reversed.
Peer Counselor II
Powercat Financial Counseling