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Identity theft is the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain. According to a 2013 study, over 13 million Americans were victims of identity theft that year alone. In the spirit of Fraud Awareness Week, we would like to share 8 ways to minimize your chances of being a victim.
Review your credit report annually
All Americans are entitled to an annual free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. Exercise your right by requesting and reviewing your reports each year for accuracy. If you notice a loan or inquiry that you did not make, you should check your records and then contact the credit bureaus to file a dispute if you believe it is fraud.
Report any lost or stolen credit cards ASAP
Not sure if your credit card is in your other wallet or if you dropped it in the grocery store? In this case, it is often better to err on the side of caution by canceling your credit card. Retrace your steps and look around for a few minutes, but if you are sure you lost it, you should report it stolen immediately. Someone could have taken your card and they may be headed out to make a big purchase at your expense!
Keep your credit cards, IDs, and social security cards in a safe place
Unless you have an immediate need for your social security card, it is best kept at home in a safe. Do not keep your social security card in your wallet. This makes identity theft easy, as the fraudster has access to your drivers license, social security number, address, and credit cards all in one place. It is also not wise to keep confidential documents in your car. Car break-ins can easily result in identity theft as well.
Never provide personal information over the phone – unless you made the call
According to the Federal Trade Commission, thousands of Americans lose money by telephone scams. These scams can range from collection calls, IRS calls, or creditor calls. If you did not call a company directly, do not provide your full social, your birthdate, address, or credit card number. Many of these scams target the elderly as they may be more likely to give information over the phone. If you were not expecting a call from a creditor, hang up and call the number listed on your bill before providing private information.
Shred sensitive documents
There are criminals that sift through trash in order to find personal documents. If you receive credit card statements, bank statements, or any other personal information through the mail, you should shred these documents after you review them. Do not throw them in the trash without shredding them first as criminals are looking for anything with a signature, account number, or social security number. It is also important to shred credit and loan offers that are sent to you. Other items to shred include; expired passports and visas, employments records and pay stubs, canceled or voided checks, medical and dental records, tax forms, and utility bills.
Set alerts on your credit cards
Most credit cards companies will allow you to add alerts to your credit card when charges are made. Consider alerts for purchases over a certain amount, in different states, and perhaps at certain times of the day. This will not necessarily prevent fraud, but it could minimize the amount that can be stolen from you by allowing you to stop it quickly.
Install a firewall on your computer
Generally, individuals feel safer checking their online account balances and entering personal information on their home computers. Unfortunately, cyber criminals know this, and target these computers most. Firewalls, malware, and spyware can help protect you from viruses that could attack your computer and send your information to an online fraudster.
Do not open unsolicited emails
If you receive an email from a sender or a company that you are not affiliated with, asking for personal information, delete it immediately. If you open an email from an unknown source and see that they have sent an attachment, delete it immediately. This could be a virus waiting to be downloaded to your computer. At times, it could be spam, but it is best to not download anything you are unsure of. Instead, reach out to the company or person directly to confirm authenticity first.
Help to keep your identity safe by following these tips. Be sure to share with your family, friends, and coworkers. You can never be too safe!