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It happens every day. Maybe you’ve heard stories on the news or even been a victim yourself. Identity theft is a real and scary crime that impacts individuals of all ages all over the world and, unfortunately, there’s no signs of it slowing down.
Identity theft, or identity fraud, happens when an imposter gains access to key pieces of personally identifiable information, like your Social Security or driver’s license number, in order to impersonate someone else. Gathering this information helps them for a variety of reasons – it can help them open new credit cards or gain access to your existing accounts. While we may never know the drive behind the crime, you can take steps to protect yourself today.
A good place to start is understanding the different tactics they use and terms to define their attempts, like phishing, pharming and spoofing. Although, these terms may sound like made up words or the latest tween dance craze, they are important to know and to recognize.
How does identity theft happen in everyday life?
From a simple email conversation to shopping at your favorite online stores, the most innocent experiences could turn into a big nightmare. Take a look at these everyday situations and how to help protect yourself in any of the instances:
Receive a weird email?
You receive an email from an address or sender that may or may not be familiar, telling you that your account will be deactivated if you don’t follow a link in the email to update your personal information. What do you do?
If you aren’t sure if the email is legitimate or not, call the company or individual directly to verify its validity. And don’t call the phone number listed in the email as that could route directly to the fraudster; instead, look it up online to get a more accurate contact. To help identify whether the email is valid, pay close attention to the email address that it’s sent from and read it thoroughly for spelling and grammatical errors. In the end, if you are still questioning the legitimacy of the email, always take the safe route and skip clicking on any links. If it’s actually an attempt to collect your information under malicious intent, this would be called “phishing
What about when you lose your phone?
You misplace your phone and someone finds it, gaining access to the account information and passwords you keep in your phone. What do you do?
To avoid this issue, keep your phone and tablets locked with a password or passcode – or even use biometrics like your fingerprint or facial recognition - and opt to keep your passwords in a secure place like a locked filing cabinet.
You hate extra paper around the house
so you throw your bank statement away without shredding and a thief finds it and now has your name and bank account number to access your funds. What do you do?
Take care to shred all sensitive documents before tossing them in the trash, including bank statements, insurance information, medical statements, receipts, and more. Look for inexpensive ways to help you with your sensitive document management like Firefly’s Community Shred Event or see if your community hosts other free shred events.
Get a phone call from someone asking for personal information?
You receive a phone call from an individual who claims to be from your bank or credit union, but unfortunately they are not. They are "vishing
" (v for “voice”) for information and ask you for your complete Social Security Number to verify your account. What do you do?
Never provide sensitive information over the phone if you were not the one to initiate the call. Always ask questions if you are suspicious of the request and, when in doubt, don’t give out your information and tell them you’ll call them back instead to ensure you’re communicating with the right party. Be sure to use a number you know to be for the business or look it up online to get the best (and correct) one to call.
Using free public Wi-Fi can offer convenience but could actually cost you.
You use your credit card to buy something online using public Wi-Fi and a thief steals your credit card number to rack up debt and damage your credit. What do you do?
Avoid making financial transactions or purchases where you enter payment information on public Wi-Fi or shared computers, but rather use your at-home, secure Wi-Fi. Always monitor your bank statements and credit reports on a regular basis to look for suspicious activity like fraudulent transactions and accounts you didn’t open. To help monitor card transactions, consider downloading a card control
solution like the one Firefly offers. Here are some other considerations when using public wireless points
Calling out an S.O.S.
You receive a phone call or email from an individual claiming to be someone you know or claiming that someone you know is in trouble and needs you to send them money to help them out. This is a common scam often targeting older individuals and has even been nicknamed the “Grandparents Scam
”. What do you do?
Get in touch with the individual directly to verify the information; you will often find them to be safe and sound despite what the scammer may have said. When in doubt, do not wire the money.
You are excited to be on a family vacation so you check-in and post photos of yourself at the airport, on the beach, or site-seeing. A thief sees these photos and knows that no one is home and precedes to break into your house or mail to steal important documents, items, and other personal information. What do you do?
Avoid posting to social media that could tell someone you’re out of town and may have left your home unattended. This gives thieves an invitation to explore the situation knowing the homeowners aren’t there. Stay safe on social media by setting your profile and posts to private, allowing only the people you know to see your activity and other profile details. Avoid posting any photos that include your house number or street name, too, or taking any Facebook quizzes that ask for personal information. Check out these other tips for staying secure on social media
But what if you do fall victim to identity theft?
Unfortunately, you aren’t alone. In fact, millions of individuals are impacted each and every year. According to U.S. News
, there are steps to take if you find yourself in this situation:
- Call the companies where the fraud occurred and let them know that someone has taken your identity. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your accounts then change your login and passwords as appropriate.
- If a new account was opened, ask the business to close the account and send you a letter confirming that the account wasn't yours, you are not liable for the account, and that it has been removed from your credit report.
- If you're worried about this theft impacting your credit health, contact the credit-reporting bureaus (Equifax, Transunion, and Experian) to correct any false information and ask for a fraud alert or a freeze on your account.
- Contact your financial institution to review the charge/suspicious activity on your account.
- File official statements to your local police department or the Federal Trade Commission.
Identity thieves will keep trying to find ways to access your personal information. Protect yourself by following best practices, be cautious about what you’re posting on social media, and store passwords in a secure place. Always remember - when in doubt, trust your gut.
Updated December 2019
Contents of this blog article are intended to provide you with a general understanding of the subject matter. However, it is not intended to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Information may have changed since the publication date.