Prevent Identity Theft
April 04, 2011 | Alliant Credit Union
The Federal Trade Commission defines identity theft as "when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes." It is estimated that 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. In 2010, identity theft was the top consumer complaint.
Identity theft crimes can vary and can include renting an apartment, obtaining a credit card, opening a telephone account and filing false medical claims. Credit card numbers and PINs can be compromised by the use of fake fronts on ATMs and gas pumps.
Many do not find out about the theft until they review their credit report or a credit card statement and notice inaccurate charges, or their credit card company puts a freeze on their card due to suspicious activity. Identity theft should be taken seriously because it could potentially cost hundreds of dollars and a significant amount of time to repair the damage made to your name and credit record.
To help reduce the risk of identity theft, be aware of how thieves steal identities. The Federal Trade Commission lists the following methods:
- Dumpster Diving: Thieves rummage through the trash looking for papers, such as bills, that include your personal information.
- Skimming: When processing credit cards, thieves collect card numbers through the use of special storage devices.
- Phishing: Pretending to be financial institutions or companies, the thieves will send spam or pop-up messages to get consumers to reveal personal information.
- Changing Your Address: By completing a change of address form, billing statements will be diverted to another location.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing: Includes the stealing of wallets and purses, bank and credit card statements, pre-approval credit offers, new checks and tax information. In addition, thieves steal personnel records or bribe employees that have access to records.
- Pretexting: Thieves use false pretenses to obtain personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies and other sources.
It is also important to know what you can do to protect your identity, monitoring your personal information and knowing what to do when you suspect, or know, that your identity has been stolen.
You can help deter identity theft by:
- Shredding your financial documents and paperwork with personal information before discarding of it.
- Protect your Social Security number by not carrying it in your wallet or writing it on checks.
- Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or online unless you know whom you are dealing with. At Alliant, we will never solicit members for personal information. For more information on Alliant security practices and fraud alerts, visit the Security section of the Alliant website.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails and posts to social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Don't use obvious or the same password for every account.
- Store your personal information in a secure place.
Detect suspicious activity by monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements routinely and balancing your checkbook monthly. Several signs of identity theft include bills not arriving, unexpected statements, credit denials and charges that you don't recognize.
It is also recommended that you inspect your credit report. You can order your credit report for free from annualcreditreport.com, the only web site authorized by the U.S. government to provide free credit reports from the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
If you suspect your identity has been compromised, you should defend yourself by:
- Placing a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports. A call to one of the three major credit bureaus is sufficient because they are required by law to report the fraud alert to the other bureaus. By placing a fraud alert for 90-days, you are entitled to a free copy of your report so review it carefully.
- If an account was opened or charged without your okay, contact the security or fraud departments of each company. Visit www.ftc.gov to learn more about the steps and paperwork that may need to be completed.
- File a police report.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft for more information on how to contact them.
Rest assure that Alliant is constantly keeping fraud prevention methods up to date to stay ahead of the would be thieves. To learn more about Alliant's security and to stay updated on fraud alerts, visit Security. For more information on identity theft, visit www.ftc.gov.
Source: NYTimes.com, FTC.gov
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