How You Can Protect Yourself
Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when your personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. The number of Americans who have experienced identity theft has surpassed 27 million, with the incidence rate increasing every year. Identity theft can cost you time and money. It can destroy your credit and ruin your good names.
Deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
Defend against ID theft as soon as you suspect it.
Studies show time and time again that identity fraud happens much more often offline, than online. However, we feel it is important that you have the information necessary to safely conduct your personal business online. Follow this guide to learn how to prevent, detect, correct and report online fraud and identity theft.
Prevention is the most critical element to avoiding online fraud. See how many of the following you are currently undertaking – and incorporate the rest into your routine.
Prevent: General Online Security
- Shred all financial documents and paperwork with personal information, do not simply throw them in the trash.
- Protect your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write it anywhere. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; instead, type in a web address you are already familiar with. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer — and keep them current.
- Create passwords that are unusual: do not use your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you employ outside help, have roommates, or are having work done in your house.
- Use only “secure” web pages (a web page is secure if there is a locked padlock in the lower left-hand corner of your browser) when placing orders online.
- Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The following are consumer reporting companies that have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert.
- Equifax: 1-800-766-0008
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Shut down or disconnect computer from the Internet, when it is not in use.
- Always sign off from your Online Banking session
- Never open email attachments that have file endings of .exe, .pif, or .vbs. These are file extensions for executables, and are commonly dangerous files. Most computer files have filename extensions, such as “.doc” for documents or “.jpg” for images. Any file that appears to have a double extension, like “heythere.doc.pif” is extremely likely to be a dangerous file and should never be opened.
- Be careful and selective before providing your email address to a questionable website. Sharing your email address makes you more likely to receive fraudulent emails.
Detect: General Online Security
Despite all efforts to prevent it, identity fraud can still occur. The earlier it is detected, however, the swifter we can help you take action to stop it.
Be alert and take immediate action to the following:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Calls or letters about purchases you didn’t make
- Take advantage of free annual credit reports: Credit reports contain information about what accounts you have and your bill paying history. Free copies are required by law from the major nationwide consumer reporting companies– Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.
- Review your financial and billing statements regularly and look for charges you did not make.
- Keep a list of all your credit card numbers and phone numbers in case of theft, and notify each card issuer immediately if theft occurs.
Correct: General Online Security
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
- Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations about the theft.
- File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
Report: General Online Security
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Filing a report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations:
- Online: ftc.gov/idtheft
- By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, DC 20580
Always report theft and fraudulent activity to your financial institution, no matter if you are a victim or suspect the activity.