Signs You May Be a Victim of Identity Theft
Stay alert for these signs of possible identity theft:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail. Missing bills could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address.
- Receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses asking for payment on purchases you never made.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, file a report with the police and contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT. You can also contact the Internet Fraud Complaint Center run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at http://www.ic3.gov.
OnGuard Online, the Federal Government’s Web site devoted to online security, offers advice on what to do if you are victim of identity theft.
Preventing Online Identity Theft
Protect your personal information online and avoid being a victim of fraud.
Online crooks want to steal your personal information. If they can find out your name, address, Social Security number, birth date or other identifying data they can open new credit lines, access your bank accounts or even apply for official documents like a driver’s license or passport—all in your name.
Identity theft is serious business; in fact, it’s a federal crime. Results of the Federal Trade Commission’s 2006 Identity Theft Survey estimate that consumers lost over $1.1 billion dollars in 2006 due to identity theft. To avoid being a victim of this type of fraud, you need to protect your personal information online. It can take months, even years, to repair the damage if your name and credit are compromised by a thief. Some people have even been arrested for crimes they didn't commit.
Protect yourself by regularly checking your credit score to make sure there isn’t any unusual banking or credit activity reported in your name. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the major nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every 12 months. To order your free credit reports, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 877-322-8228.
Protect Your Information Online
Follow these guidelines to protect yourself online:
- Don’t send personal information in e-mail or instant messages. It is too easy for someone to intercept and read your information. Remember, it is out of your control once you send it.
- Limit personal information you post on the Web and restrict who can access it. Facebook and MySpace are great for connecting with friends, but don’t post anything —like your birthday or full name—that could be used to steal your identity.
- Unless you know and trust the sender, don’t open files, download programs or click links in e-mails or IM. Phishing scams often use these techniques to try to steal your identity.
- Dedicate one credit card solely for online purchases. Monitor your statements for any suspicious activity.
- Keep your Web browser updated to ensure you have the latest security features installed. Like any other software, Web browsers need to be kept up-to-date to protect against security vulnerabilities. They are also equipped with encryption capabilities that help keep your data safe as it travels the Internet. Check the online help feature or get more information about security features on the manufacturer’s Web site.
- Avoid storing sensitive information like credit card numbers or your Social Security number on your computer. If your computer is compromised, you’ll be less exposed.
- Before disposing of an old computer, use a utility program to “wipe” your hard drive. Deleting files isn’t enough to ensure all the sensitive information on your old hard drive stays safe. If you need help, there are services that will do this for you.
- Download, install and update firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware security software regularly from the BevoWare Web site. This will help protect your computer from intruders looking for your personal information.
- Be smart about your passwords. Use strong passwords that include a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Don’t enable a login screen to save your password and remember to log off when you leave a secured site. This will prevent unauthorized users from getting into your accounts.
Protect Your Information Offline Too
There are some steps you can take offline to protect against identity theft too. Follow these guidelines to keep your personal information safe:
- Invest is a paper shredder. Shred all financial documents and credit applications to keep your personal information safe from dumpster divers.
- Memorize your passwords, Social Security number and other account numbers. If you write them down they can be seen or stolen.
- Limit the number of credit cards or identification cards you carry.
- When ordering new checks, request to pick them up from the bank. Checks are easily stolen if they are sent to your home mailbox.
- Use secured mailboxes, such as those at a post office, when mailing checks or letters. Try to pick up your mail from your mailbox as soon as possible and if you are going to be away, arrange to have your mail picked up or set up a delivery hold with the U.S. Postal Service.
Sources: Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Department of Education