What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the fraudulent use of your personal information to open financial accounts, file taxes, or make purchases. Identity thieves typically gain access to your personal information by stealing your mail, tricking you into divulging sensitive information through email phishing or phone calls, and by many other means.
Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft
- Never provide personal financial information in response to an unsolicited internet or telephone request. A financial institution will never ask you to verify your account information online.
- Do not be intimidated by an email or a caller who threatens actions based on failure to respond to their request. Thieves will often use the threat of dire consequences as a way to trick you into providing sensitive information. You always have the right to ascertain that the source of the request is legitimate.
- If you believe a contact may be legitimate, call the organization directly, or go to the company's web site by using a page you have previously bookmarked or using a search engine like Google or Bing. Never trust a link provided in the email.
- Make sure after typing an address into your browser that you land on a secure site. One way to check is by looking at the website URL. Make sure it begins with "https" or that the icon lock is displayed as this confirms the site is using a Transport Layer Security (TLS) certificate to protect your information.
- Review account statements regularly to ensure that all charges are correct. If your account statement is late to arrive, call your financial institution to find out why. If your financial institution offers electronic account access (such as HomeStreet's Online Banking), use this service periodically to review activity online.
- Identity theft can occur any time, not just immediately after your personal information has been fraudulently obtained. Be vigilant and monitor your account activity and credit history regularly.
- Consider freezing your credit with all three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) if you don’t anticipate any need to open new lines of credit in the near future. This will prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent and does not affect your credit score.
Other ID Theft Prevention Tips
- Never leave your wallet, purse, checkbook or credit receipts in your car. Car prowl is a prime source for identity theft.
- Have your mail delivered to a secure location. Don't place bills with signed checks in unsecured mail boxes.
- Be careful when shopping online. Only make purchases from reputable sellers.
- Keep a list of all your credit/debit cards, card numbers and issuer phone numbers. This will facilitate your reports to creditors/banks if your purse or wallet is stolen.
- Memorize the personal identification number (PIN) for your ATM or debit card. Never write your PIN on the card and never store your PIN in a purse or wallet with your card.
- Shred your financial garbage, including credit receipts, pre-approved credit offers, and credit checks. Cross-cut shredders are most effective.
- Never carry anything with your Social Security Number on it.
- Prevent credit reporting agencies from selling your name, SSN, address and credit rating. Merchants who want to offer you credit cards or sell you merchandise buy your financial information. This is a source for personal information that can ultimately be published on the internet. Consider the "Opt out" option of all credit reporting agencies.
Tips for ID Theft Victims
If you are a victim of fraud and suspect your personal information has been compromised, you should take the following steps:
- Call your bank and credit card issuers immediately so they can take necessary steps to protect your account.
- File a police report and call the fraud unit of the three credit-reporting companies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
- Consider placing a victim statement in your credit report and a fraud alert on your account.
- Keep a log of all the contacts you make with authorities regarding the matter. Write down names, titles, and phone numbers in case you need to re-contact them or refer to them in future correspondence.
- Visit identitytheft.gov to report identity theft and get a recovery plan.
- Contact the FTC’s ID Theft Consumer Response Center at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338).