Identity theft occurs when someone acquires key pieces of another person’s identity – such as name and credit card information or Social Security number – with the intent to commit fraud. Once criminals have access to sensitive personal information, they can commit different kinds of fraud, including accessing bank accounts, obtaining loans, making purchases, renting apartments, etc.
The Federal Trade Commission reported 399,225 cases of identity theft in the United States in 2016. Identity theft can happen to anyone, regardless of whether or not they use the Internet. Taking proper precautions with your personal information is generally the best protection against identity theft.
Work with your bank
Banks take great care to protect personal information, and use sophisticated fraud monitoring processes to closely monitor accounts 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help ensure that account information is kept confidential. However, even the most advanced systems are enhanced when you take part in the effort to protect yourself. Financial institutions generally recommend that you:
Monitor your accounts. Check your bank accounts regularly and look for unusual withdrawals, deposits and transactions.
Set up alerts (and review them closely). Ensure your online bank profile/contact information is up to date and set up fraud watches, email and text alerts on all your accounts. If you do receive an alert, review it carefully. These will notify you if there were changes made to your account, and help spot unusual transactions.
Protect your information. Do not provide personal information to anyone you don’t know, and be especially careful if someone asks for personal information in an email. Fraudulent (“phishing”) emails may ask you to provide personal information, open an attachment, or to click a link to verify or change your account in some way. Avoid clicking on the links, opening attachments, or sharing any of your information unless you’re absolutely sure the email is legitimate. And avoid sharing sensitive personal information like a Social Security number via email, because an email is like a postcard: it might be read by third parties while it is in transit.
Report anything unusual. If you suspect fraudulent activity on your account, contact your bank or credit card company as soon as possible – they might be able to take steps to reduce the impact.
Increase your sign-in security. Use different username and password combinations when online – and change them regularly. When possible, choose strong authentication options for your accounts. This may include two different security checks when you log in. Examples could include a password, image, answering a security question, a six-digit mobile phone PIN and more. This double check will reduce the likelihood of someone being able to fraudulently change or access your account.
Additional tips for preventing identity theft include:
- Change all passwords regularly. Use a mix of at least 12 numbers, symbols and upper/lower case letters. Some third-party vendors and apps offer password management solutions to assist you with generating, tracking and updating secure passwords.
- Never share your passwords or PINs. Be wary of emails or callers. Your bank will never ask for these via email or phone.
- Never provide personal information over the phone. Exception: you initiated contact or know with whom you are speaking.
- Take precautions with the mail. Take outgoing mail to the post office. Consider a PO Box for delivery of checks. Pay bills automatically online.
- Don’t carry extra credit cards or your Social Security card in your wallet. If your wallet is lost or stolen, your identity can be compromised.
- Don’t use your credit card number online. Exception: the site is secure (look for “https” in the web address or the lock icon).
- Make a list of your credit card and bank account numbers. Add customer service numbers, and keep it in a safe place.
- Shred all personal documents and unwanted mail. Criminals often work in groups going through trash.
- Monitor your credit card statements every month. If you miss receiving a bill, your credit card company may have received a change of address from someone other than you.
- Order a free annual credit report from all three credit agencies. Review them carefully and report any discrepancies in writing to each credit agency.
The above information is provided courtesy of U.S. Bank, which is endorsed by ADA Member Advantage. Please note the views expressed in this content do not necessarily reflect those of the ADA.
If you suspect identity theft:
- Immediately contact your bank and the Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Hotline: 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).
- Contact one of the following credit reporting agencies to report the fraud and ask about putting a fraud alert on your record:
- Equifax: 800-525-6285
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- Trans Union: 800-680-7289
- Contact local law enforcement to file a police report. Record the police department name and case number.