Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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Protect Yoursef from Identity Theft

Your identity, it's who you are. It's your name, your date of birth, your Social Security number. You are the only one with that individual set of personal identifying information. Unfortunately, there are crooks out there who want to become you, at least on paper. They want to use your name to take out a loan, get credit cards, or even a driver's license. They may want to use your identity because they're running from the law or just because they're greedy and want to benefit financially from your good credit.


Take an active role in safeguarding your personal information.
  • Shred all documents with your financial or personal information before you throw them away. This includes bank statements, credit card statements, pre-approved credit card offers, Social Security statements and anything else that might give a thief enough information about you to pretend to be you.
  • Keep your Social Security number private. Don't have the number pre-printed or written on your checks; use your driver's license number, instead, if the merchant needs more identifying info.
  • Be cautious of thieves pretending to be companies that you have an account with to get you to disclose your SSN; a common trick is to call you on the phone and ask you to verify information that the company you do business with should already have. They may pretend to be anybody, so be on guard. A few months ago I received a call from a "law office" who had some intricate story with a "case number" and eventually asked for my SSN "to make sure they had the right person." I refused to give it to them, and they became very rude and hung up on me. Obviously an attempt to steal my identity; don't let strangers trick you or scare you into revealing your SSN if you didn't contact them yourself.
  • Don't click on links from unsolicited e-mails, even if the e-mail looks legitimate; fraudulent sites will look very convincing. Type in the website address that you know. The link may redirect you to a site that pretends to be one you trust to get personal information from you. These fake websites may pretend to be credit card companies, banks, or even the IRS. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus spyware, and keep them up-to-date.
  • Use passwords that aren't obvious; birthdates, names of family members, your SSN or the last four digits, address or phone number are all pretty easy for crooks to figure out. Change your password often and don't share it with anyone that you wouldn't share your bank card with.
  • Keep your personal documents in a safe place; a locking file cabinet or even a safe would be a great place to store private information. Be extra cautious if you have roommates or people working in your home.
  • Pick up your mail as soon as you can; don't leave it in your mailbox overnight. Have a friend pick up your mail for you if you're going out of town, or better yet, put in a mail-hold request at the post office.
  • Avoid using a debit card for on-line or phone purchase; if a thief were to abuse your information, they could have access to all the money in your bank account. Use a credit card instead, which has a fraud liability limit of no more than fifty dollars.
  • Report a lost or stolen wallet immediately to all your credit card companies and financial institutions. Have new cards and checkbooks re-issued with a different account number.
Be on the lookout for evidence of identity theft.
  • If you don't receive bills or statements when expected, this may be a sign that your mail has been stolen. Thieves will resort to stealing private information before you have a chance to shred it.
  • Receiving statements about accounts that you didn't open can signal that a fraudulent account has been opened in your name. Also, check your monthly statements thoroughly for unauthorized charges.
  • If you are denied credit when you feel you should have been approved, it may be because you have negative credit marks due to identity theft. Thieves may open and use an account in your name, but of course, they won't be paying the bill.
  • Inspect your credit report at least annually for unauthorized accounts, and even more often than that if you've previously been victimized by an identity thief. Report all fraudulent accounts to the appropriate credit bureau immediately. They are required to remove incorrect and fraudulent marks from your credit report, but may conclude that the account is accurate when they see that the account has your identifying information on it. So, in addition, I suggest directly dealing with the company who reported you. They may come to realize after your conversation that it was, indeed, not you who opened the account and agree to remove the negative mark from your credit report.
  • Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get a free credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. You are entitled to this free annual report, by Federal law, but you must go to that site to get it; don't go to the agencies individually or they will charge you for your report. If you have been denied credit or experience any negative action due to your credit, within sixty days, you are entitled to a free report from the agency who provided the information; in that case, request your report directly from the appropriate credit bureau.
Even after you've done all to protect yourself, it may not be enough.
The identity thief isn't always someone whose digging through your trash or hacking into your computer. Sometimes it's someone you trust, or may have trusted at one time. Many victims of identity theft actually know the perpetrator, or should I say, perpe-traitor. An ex-spouse is likely to already know everything they need to open a fraudulent account under the name of the theft victim. Roommates have pretty easy access to mail and paperwork that may be laying around the house. Victims of identity theft have even found that their own siblings or adult children have falsely opened accounts in their names. It would be horrible if we were all suspicious of our own loved ones, but be aware that it has happened to others.

Most of the people we choose to include in our lives would never do such a thing. Just be alert to any unauthorized accounts showing up on your credit report, especially if you have any past relationships that may provide scoundrels the opportunity to commit fraud under your name. I had a collection account show up on my credit report last year, and I had no idea what it was about. I called the collection agency and found out that the account was for a phone service I never had in a state that I didn't live in - opened by someone I once knew, jointly with my name. After they questioned me enough to believe that I would not use or authorize a phone service in a state that I didn't live in, they removed the negative mark from my credit report.

Prevent further theft of your identity if you've already been victimized.
  • Place a "fraud alert" on your credit reports. This will let creditors know to follow additional procedure before opening a new account or changing an existing account. The fraud alert will last 90 days, and requesting a fraud alert with any of the three credit reporting agencies will apply the alert with all three. Placing a fraud alert on your credit report also entitles you to free credit reports; check them carefully for fraudulent accounts. Equifax 1-800-525-6285; Experian 1-888-397-3742; TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
  • Close all fraudulent accounts to prevent further charges. Keep copies of dispute letters, and document who you spoke to and the dates of the conversations. Follow up in writing if dealing with someone over the phone. Use the ID Theft Affidavit at www.ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement.
  • File a police report; this may help provide proof of fraud to creditors.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Their investigations may help reduce the practice of identity theft. www.ftc.gov/idtheft; 1-877-ID-THEFT; Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
Source:
Federal Trade Commission
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Monday, 26 August 2019

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