According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) millions of people have their identities stolen each year. Identity theft can wreak havoc on your life and your credit...but there are steps you can take to help prevent it and ways to recover from it should you become a victim.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone takes and uses your personal information without your permission. This can be in the form of using your name, address, Social Security Number, credit card number, etc. This information is used to commit fraud such as obtaining additional credit, establishing accounts or making purchases...using your good name and credit.
Ways identity theft occurs:
Thieves go through the garbage and recycling bins looking for anything bearing personal information.
Credit or debit card numbers are stolen using an electronic device that retrieves the card number as a transaction is being processed.
This online form of identity theft incorporates the use of spam or pop-up messages appearing to be from legitimate companies or financial institutions that try to con the recipient into providing personal information.
Vishing and Smishing.
This is another form of phishing that takes place through automated calls and text messaging.
A thief may submit a change of address form to divert someone's mail to another address.
Wallets, purses, mail, personnel records...anything that contains personal information that an identity thief can use are potential targets.
Personal information is obtained from financial institutions, utility companies and other sources under false pretenses. An example of this would be pretexters placing calls to potential victims, stating they are representing a research firm, when in reality, they are attempting to obtain personal information that they can use to commit fraud. Visit the FTC identity theft website for more information and examples.
Ways to help prevent identity theft
- Shred any documents containing personal information.
- Protect your Social Security Number. Don't carry your Social Security card in your wallet or have your Social Security Number appear on your checks. Don't provide it unless it's absolutely necessary; instead, request that a different identifier be used.
- Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless it is a trusted source with whom you are familiar. Additionally, don't give it out unless you initiated the contact or transaction.
- When using a public wireless Internet connection, don't send out any personal information.
- Never click on links in unsolicited emails or respond to unsolicited text messages, especially if they are requesting personal information, passwords or Personal Identification Numbers (PINs). No financial institution will ever ask you to verify account information in this manner. Instead, contact the company or financial institution directly through the official website or phone number to report the incident.
- Create passwords that would be difficult to guess. Incorporate numbers, symbols and capitalization.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place, especially if others have access to your home.
If you've become a victim of identity theft, here are four steps to take immediately:
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and request that a fraud alert be put on your file. That bureau will notify the other two bureaus on your behalf (if you don't receive confirmation, follow up). These alerts tell creditors to contact you before any new accounts are opened or existing ones are changed.
- Close all accounts that were compromised or you suspect of being compromised. When opening new accounts that require Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) or passwords, create new ones.
- File an ID theft complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877.ID.THEFT (877.438.4338).
- File an ID theft complaint with the local police department. Have a copy of your FTC complaint with you for reference. Be sure to obtain a copy of the completed complaint so you can file it with the three credit bureaus and creditors with whom your credit has been compromised. The FTC complaint can be used as a backup.
More detailed information on ID theft, prevention and recovery is available on the FTC's identity theft website.
For tips and information on Visa card security and fraud prevention, visit the Visa Security Sense website.