Identity Theft: What You Need to Know


The Damaging Effect of Identity Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime that occurs when another person steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. In many cases, identity theft can result in damage to your finances, your credit, and even your reputation.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to remedying the damage that identity theft causes; only patience and time can resolve identity theft issues. However, by following the simple steps below, you can prevent identity theft or begin to repair the damage if you have already fallen victim to identity theft.

Safeguard Personal Information

In order to minimize your risk of identity theft, you should always safeguard your financial information by keeping it locked up in a safe place. The following are tips to help safeguard your personal information.

  • Lock up your belongings: When you are at work, keep your wallet or purse locked in a secure cabinet or desk.
  • Do not carry important cards: Only carry the financial information that you need to have with you, and never carry your social security card or the original of your Medicare card. Instead, carry a copy with all but the last four digits blacked out.
  • Follow-up on crime properly: If you have your purse stolen, make sure you file a police report. Once you file your police report make sure to get a copy of it, as well as, a copy of the police blotter (log sheet) for the day that the police report of the theft was logged. You may need it in the future so store it away in a safe place. For example, if someone uses your identity to rent a car for a drug deal, and someone ends up dead from the drug deal, you will need to prove you had your purse stolen two years earlier and that you reported the theft.
  • Shred your financial information: Shred your receipts, credit offers, insurance forms, bank statements, expired credit cards, and similar documents when you no longer need to retain them.
  • Destroy prescription labels: Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you dispose of them.
  • Hold your mail: Place your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes, and do not leave your incoming mail to sit in your mailbox for several days. Instead, have it held at the post office.

Many identity thieves, and identity theft rings steal financial information from mail boxes. Once they have it, they go online, and will try and remove and transfer monies from your bank account to a new bank account they will set up using a computer, and the bank’s call center. Many times they will also try and write fraudulent checks in addition to transferring money. If you have your banking and other information stolen from your mailbox you should report it to both the police and your bank immediately.

If you do online banking make sure you change your password regularly. If you do not bank online consider having the bank put a block on that part of your bank account. Blocking helps makes it hard for stores to use services like “Tela Check” which are automatic check debiting services. Also, putting a block on your credit line will help to make it hard for anyone to open new accounts.

Secure Your Online Financial Information

The tips below can help you keep your financial information secure online.

Delete before disposal: Always permanently delete any personal information from your computer or mobile device before disposing of it.

Know who you are connecting with: Do not give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact. Today many identity thieves are collecting personal information from people over the phone. For example: If you or a loved one receives a call from Medicare to verify their personal information, such as the last few numbers on their checking bank account (the last numbers on the check after the bank branch and routing numbers) do not give them out. Bank branch and routing numbers are public numbers anyone can get. This should be an indicator of a possible scam. Note: Medicare will never contact you by phone. 

Thieves do this because once they have the ending numbers they can transfer the monies to other accounts. That includes all direct deposit account monies. Medicare will only contact you by formal letter. If the above situation happens to you do not give out information over the phone. Go to your bank immediately to change your accounts. Notify the police, and Medicare. Notify the major credit houses.

Use encryption software: When making a purchase or paying your bills online, use encryption software to keep your browser secure and guard your online transactions.

Secure passwords: Keep your passwords private and avoid using commonly used (and easily cracked) passwords, such as your birth date, your child’s birth date, or your dog’s name. Do not use the same password for multiple accounts.

Avoid social media slip-ups: Monitor how much information you post about yourself on social networking sites. Posting too much personal information makes it easier for an identity thief to use that information to his or her advantage.

Steps to Take if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

If you have already fallen victim to identity theft, you should immediately contact one of the three national credit reporting agencies – Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax – and ask them to place a free initial fraud alert on your credit report. This will make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts. The credit reporting agency that you contact is required to contact the two other companies, and the initial fraud alert will remain in effect for 90 days. Know that you can extend the credit alert at the end of the fraud alert.

Next, order a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies. If you find unauthorized charges or accounts on your credit reports, you can file disputes with the credit reporting agencies in order to correct your reports, and then follow up with the actual creditors in order to begin resolving the fraudulent activity.

Finally, contact the Federal Trade Commission about your problem. You should create an Identity Theft Affidavit through the Federal Trade Commission, which you then can submit to your local law enforcement agency in order to make a formal identity theft report. These reports are always required to be made to the local law enforcement agency where the theft took place.

Identity theft is a very emotional and hard experience to go through. It leaves you feeling very violated. You can get through it safely, but it takes work. Consider hiring an identity protection company, it is a small cost to pay to keep your financial identity intact. Identity thieves often allow things to quiet down for six months to a year or more when they realize you are on to them. Always be ready for them, because to be “forewarned is to be forearmed.”

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