How can identity theft affect you?
Identity theft isn't something most people give a thought to on a regular basis. They figure they are safe as long as they don't take part in what they see as questionable online activities. They think their information can't be stolen or isn't worthy of someone taking it. They think they are immune to becoming a victim.
Unfortunately, this is a false comfort that can end up costing a person their entire life savings. Their reputation and financial future could also be at stake. Our everyday behavior and normal activities don't protect us from this type of crime. We need to change our thoughts and habits to lessen the chances of it happening to us. Identity theft can occur anywhere, at any time and to anyone.
According to the Social Security Administration, "Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America."
How the Thieves Do It
The ways in which thieves can get your information is staggering. Many of their methods are things that most people never even think of. They include, but aren't limited to the following:
1. Actual theft of your purse or wallet with your identification inside.
2. Theft of mail including bank statements, pre-approved credit applications, tax paperwork and bills.
3. Thieves dig through the trash for any papers that may be useful in their efforts. They may include paystubs, employment or health forms. They are searching for any items with personal information. This can occur at home or work as well as in public dumpsters.
4. Hackers can grab your personal information from unsecured websites. Any site that might request and store your details may be vulnerable to attack.
5. Records from doctors, employers, and other service providers aren't always protected and secured. Thieves can steal this information or even buy it. Unscrupulous people working at these offices have been caught selling personal details.
6. Calling and requesting information directly from you is a common ploy. The thief poses as someone you may deal with such as a doctor's office, your landlord or bank.
Ways to Protect Yourself
While this whole situation may seem frightening, frustrating and futile, all is not lost. Keeping a close eye on your personal and financial information is the key. It can help deter or lessen the impact of identity theft in your life. Here are several things to keep in mind:
1. Don't carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a secure place away from your other identification and information.
2. Opt out of pre-approved credit offers whenever possible, both online and paper-based.
3. Shred or incinerate unneeded financial paperwork with identifying and financial information. Keep only the paperwork you need in a secure location.
4. Be vigilant online. Be sure any site you're sharing personal or financial information on is a secure site. The "https" and the small lock symbol are two easily found signs of a site's security.
5. Along the same lines, also be vigilant in public. Protect your pin and account numbers from prying eyes when paying at checkouts or ATMs.
6. Be careful when using free or public wi-fi on your phone, tablet or laptops.
7. Never give your information over the phone when "they" have called "you". This is one of the top methods thieves use to trick you out of your details.
8. Even if you are expecting a call from someone, have them verify the information they already have on file. Have them read your own information back to you. Don't offer them any details.
9. Monitor your finances at all times. Know what your bank and credit accounts should or should not have on them.
10. Request your credit report on a regular basis. A free report is available once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com. It will include a report from all three main credit bureaus.
What to Do If It Happens to You
It is a sad fact that even with the most vigilant attention, identity theft really can happen to anyone. Following the above guidelines will definitely help, but they won't completely protect you from identity theft. There really is no way to totally ensure your information is always truly safe. These tips will, however, give you the upper hand in being proactive in your own financial future. With that in mind, we'll now go through steps you can take if you do become a victim.
The first and most important thing to do is stop the thieves from opening any new accounts. It can also be helpful in closing those fraudulent accounts already in use. Do this by calling the agencies who deal with crime, credit, finances and identification.
1. Law enforcement should be your first call. File a local police report with whatever department has jurisdiction over where you live. You may then choose to contact the local FBI office as well as that of the Secret Service. With increasing threats to national security, both of these agencies may have an interest in your case.
2. Credit Bureaus: Equifax.com (800) 525-6285, Experian.com (888) 397-3742 and TransUnion.com (800) 680-7289. They can place an alert on your account as well as flag it for any future activities. 'the flag can ensure that your account is being monitored. You can request they call you and/or email you directly any time a credit request is being made. This will allow you to start the process of stopping and refuting false information and account entries. Be sure to contact all three in order to have everyone on the same page.
3. The Federal Trade Commission (877) 438-4338 is a good resource for further information. The FTC also provides assistance in ensuring the proper parties are aware of your complaint.
4. Contact the Social Security Administration at (800) 269-0271 or ssa.gov. If your social security number is stolen it is a good idea to contact the SSA directly. In extreme cases, you may even need to apply for a new number. They can assist you with protecting your account and your future.
5. Internal Revenue Service is another "must call" at (800) 829-0433. Your tax status may be affected if violations have been made using your identity. A thief could even file a return with your information and steal your tax refund.
6. The Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov is another great resource to get your complaint filed and your information registered.
Immediately notify any creditors about possible fraudulent accounts and activity. Along with banks and credit cards, this may include local utilities such as power and phone companies. Alert your bank or credit union if any checks have been stolen or may have been ordered for an active account. Have the bank stop payments on outstanding checks from any accounts with your name attached.
Change Passwords and Pins
As a routine internet security measure, you should already be changing your online passwords every few months. If you suspect a breach, change everything immediately - both online and physical. Use different passwords on every account. Don't use the same pin for every card. Don't share your passwords or pins with anyone.
Protect Your Identification
Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles and advise them that your identity has been compromised. They can assist you in determining if another license or ID has been issued with your information. If you have a passport or yours is missing, you may also want to contact the US Department of State.
If this unfortunate situation does occur and you have become a victim of identity theft, you are not alone. There are many agencies and private institutions full of trained people ready to help get you back on the right track.
Consumers who have been targeted by scammers over the phone or the internet could have had their identity breached. It is highly recommended that everyone who suspects their personal information has been compromised, obtain identity theft protection as soon as possible. There are several organizations that provide identity theft protection services to US residents. We have selected the best 3 US-based protection plans for you to choose from. Select the most suitable option for you below.
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