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Identity Theft and How to Prevent It

September 30, 2016

A growing problem:

Identity theft is a serious crime that happens when someone uses information about you without your permission to either do things in your name or access your personal records, like healthcare files and bank accounts. The effects can be not only financially devastating, but personally traumatizing, too, which is why it’s incredibly important to protect yourself.

What You
Should Know

Identity theft is on the rise and can be financially devastating.

What You
Can Do

Beware of suspicious emails, don’t give out personal info, and check your credit report.

Man looking at paper to illustrate identity-theft protection

What are identity thieves after?

  • Your name and address
  • Credit card or bank account numbers
  • Social Security number
  • Medical insurance account numbers
  • Your phone number

What can an identity thief do with your personal info?

  • Buy goods and services (including guns) with your credit cards
  • Get new credit cards in your name
  • Open a phone, electricity or gas accounts
  • Steal your tax refund
  • Get medical care in your name
  • Pretend to be you if they are arrested
429 million identities were exposed in 2015, according to Symantec.1

In some cases, thieves target children (learn more about this here) <link to parents & children ID Theft article). This is easier than it sounds, since age verification is generally not part of many account-opening processes. And because almost no one checks to see if their child has a credit report, it can take years to find out that a child’s identity has been pilfered and their credit is in ruins.

How does identity theft happen?

Identity theft takes many forms, such as:

  • Stealing bills and other personally identifying information out of your trash
  • Sending you fake emails (called “phishing” scams) that trick you into giving thieves your personal information.
  • Hacking into the databases of the companies and government agencies that may hold your data.
  • Malware (“malicious software”) that gets unknowingly installed on your computer or other devices and can control your online activity and collect your log-in credentials.
Over half a billion personal information records were stolen or lost in 2015.1

How does identity theft work?

To get a credit card, for example, a thief will open an account in your name using your Social Security number and other personal information, but change your address. Once the card is issued, the bills then go to that address but, of course, are never paid. The credit card company will think “you” are not paying “your” bills and will report you as delinquent to the credit reporting agencies Experian, EquiFax, and TransUnion. That hurts your credit score and, once the damage is done, it’s hard to undo.

How to prevent identity theft: 

  • Don’t give out personal information to strangers either by phone, mail or online (such as name, birth date, social security number or bank account numbers).
  • Keep personal information safe—Don’t put PIN’s or passwords in full view of others.
  • Keep computer software up to date—Install or enable firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
  • Change your passwords if a company you do business with has a data breach
  • Review your credit report at least once a year to ensure it doesn’t include accounts that you didn’t open.
  • Watch out for “shoulder surfers” when in public. Cover your keypad when typing passwords into computers and at ATMs.
  • Pay attention to billing cycles—If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender to see if they are being diverted to another address.
  • Shred private documents like receipts, credit offers, account statements, expired cards, and other financial and health records to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.

How do you know if someone steals your identity?

Begin by simply paying attention to your bills: Are there charges for things you did not buy? Are there withdrawals from your bank accounts you did not make? Are there any changes or unusual activity that surprises you? You can also check your mail: Did you stop getting a bill suddenly?  Or did you start getting a new bill you didn’t know about?

Find out if you’ve been targeted
As a protective measure, get a copy of your credit report from Experian, EquiFax, TransUnion or here. Check it over for accounts or other information you don’t recognize.

Do you think someone stole your identity?

If you think someone may have stolen your identity you can learn more about recovering from identity theft from this resource: https://www.identitytheft.gov/

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