Today’s world still has much beauty, honest people, and many things for which we are grateful. Unfortunately, there are “red flags” that we must pay attention to to protect ourselves from the theft of confidential information or fraudulent schemes.
We’ve received several governmental alerts in recent months concerning fraudulent activities that dupe individuals into releasing sensitive information to unauthorized people either by phone or mail. Criminals sometimes pose as bank employees in an effort to obtain account information. Be very careful and always call your bank to validate any such request. Once this information is released to the wrong people, an avalanche of fraudulent transactions can take place before you are aware of it.
Sometimes called Account Takeover Fraud involves criminals stealing individuals’ personal information and assuming their identities. They apply for credit cards and open bank accounts, then run up huge bills and don’t pay them making your credit history take a turn for the worst.
Nearly one American every minute is a victim of Identity Theft. Follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim of Identity Theft:
- Manage Your Mailbox
- Do not leave bill payment envelopes clipped to your mailbox or inside with the flag up; criminals may steal your mail and change your address.
- Know your billing cycles, and watch for any missing mail. Follow up with creditors if bills or new cards do not arrive on time. An identity thief may have filed a change of address request in your name with the creditor or the post office.
- Carefully review your monthly accounts, credit card statements and utility bills (including cellular telephone bills) for unauthorized charges as soon as you receive them. If you suspect unauthorized use, contact the provider’s customer service and fraud departments immediately.
- When you order new checks, ask when you can expect delivery. If your mailbox is not secure, then ask to pick up the checks instead of having them delivered to your home.
- Although many consumers appreciate the convenience and customer service of general direct mail, some prefer not to receive offers of pre-approved financing or credit. To "opt out" of receiving such offers, call (888) 5 OPT OUT sponsored by the three credit bureaus.
- The Direct Marketing Association offers services to help reduce the number of mail and telephone solicitations. To join their mail preference service, mail your name, home address and signature to: Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, P. O. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
- Check Your Purse or Wallet
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended – even for a minute.
- Protect your PINs (don’t carry them in your wallet!) and passwords; use a 10-digit combination of letters and numbers for your passwords, and change them periodically.
- Carry only personal identification and credit cards you actually need in your purse or wallet.
- If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors immediately, and ask the credit bureaus to place a "fraud alert" in your file.
- Keep a list of all your credit cards and bank accounts along with their account numbers, expiration dates and credit limits, as well as the telephone numbers of customer service and fraud departments. Store this list in a safe place.
- If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
- Keep Your Personal Numbers Safe and Secure
- When creating passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) do not use any part of your Social Security number, birth date, middle name, wife’s name, child’s name, pet’s name, mother’s maiden name, address, consecutive numbers, or anything that a thief could easily deduce or discover.
- Ask businesses to substitute a secret alpha-numeric code as a password instead of your mother’s maiden name.
- Shield the keypad when using ATMs or when placing calling card calls.
- Memorize your passwords and PINs; never keep them in your wallet, purse, Rolodex or electronic organizer.
- Get your Social Security number out of circulation and release it only when necessary — for example, on tax forms and employment records, or for banking, stock and property transactions.
- Do not have your Social Security number printed on your checks, and do not allow merchants to write your Social Security number on your checks. If a business requests your Social Security number, ask to use an alternate number.
- Never give your Social Security number, account numbers or personal credit information to anyone who calls you.
- Bank, Shop and Spend Wisely
- Store personal information in a safe place and shred or tear up documents you don’t need.
- Destroy charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank checks and statements, expired charge cards and credit offers you get in the mail before you put them out in the trash.
- Cancel your unused credit cards so that their account numbers will not appear on your credit report.
- When you fill out a loan or credit application, be sure that the business either shreds these applications or stores them in locked files.
- Tear up receipts, bank statements and unused pre-approved credit card offers and convenience checks before throwing them away.
- When possible, watch your credit card as the merchant completes the transaction.
- Use credit cards that have your photo and signature on the front.
- Sign your credit cards immediately upon receipt.
- Carefully consider what information you want placed in the residence telephone book and ask yourself what it reveals about you.
- Keep track of credit card, debit card and ATM receipts. Never throw them in a public trash container. Tear them up or shred them at home when you no longer need them.
- Ask businesses what their privacy policies are and how they will use your information: Can you choose to keep it confidential? Do they restrict access to data?
- Choose to do business with companies you know are reputable, particularly online.
- When conducting business online, use a secure browser that encrypts or scramble purchase information and make sure your browser’s padlock or key icon is active.
- Don’t open e-mail from unknown sources. Use virus detection software.
- Review Your Information
- Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies every year and make sure all the information is correct, especially your name, address and Social Security number. Look for indications of fraud, such as unauthorized applications, unfamiliar credit accounts, credit inquiries and defaults and delinquencies that you did not cause.
- Check your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement once each year to make sure that no one else is using your Social Security number for employment.
- They open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they use the credit card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
- They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your credit card account. Then, your imposter runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem.
- They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
- Contact your bank and credit card issuers immediately so that the following can be done:
- Access to your accounts can be protected
- Stop payments on missing checks
- PIN and Online Banking passwords changed
- A new account can be opened
- ATM and/or Debit Cards can have alerts placed
- File a police report and obtain a report number with the date, time, police department, location and officer’s name. This report may initiate an investigation into the loss with the goal of identifying, arresting and prosecuting the offender and possibly recovering lost items.
- Contact the fraud department of each of the three major credit bureaus and report that his or her identity has been stolen. Also, consider placing a "fraud alert" on your file and request that no new credit is granted without prior approval.
- Contact the major check verification company to request they notify retailers using their databases not to accept these stolen checks, or ask your bank to notify the service.
- For any accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened, contact the security department of each affected creditor or financial institution. Consider closing these accounts. Also, on any new accounts you open, consider using a password, but do not use your mother's maiden name or previously used passwords.
- Maintain a written chronology of what happened, what was lost and the steps you took to report the incident to the various agencies, banks and firms impacted. Be sure to record the date, time, contact telephone numbers, persons names and any relevant report or reference number and instructions.
- PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
- PO Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
- Trans Union
- PO Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064
- Order A Credit Report
- Report Fraud
- TeleCheck: 800-710-9898
- International Check Services: 800-631-9656
- Equifax: 800-437-5120