The rise in identity theft scams continues. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, fraud losses increased 15% in 2019 to $16.9 billion. This was led by account takeovers – ID theft where a criminal gains unauthorized access to an online account belonging to someone else – which were up 72%.
With government stimulus and small business loans over the past six months (and potentially more on the way), we’ve also seen criminals get more creative in order to either claim payments that do not belong to them or impersonate federal agencies in order to collect personal information. (Equifax)
While you cannot completely protect yourself against being a victim, there are several tips from experts like Retired FBI Agent Jeff Lanza that can help:
Protect Your Personal Information
The key to most ID Theft is your Social Security number (SSN), so do not carry your Social Security card with you. Instead, keep it in a secure location with all other sensitive documents. Also, don’t provide your SSN to anyone unless there’s a legitimate reason, like employment application, opening a financial account, or checking/freezing your credit reports.
Protect Your Documents
Before you throw out any sensitive documents, shred them in a cross-cut or similar manner. Also, don’t leave outgoing mail with personal information in your mailbox for pick-up. Always drop this type of mail in a U.S. Postal Service box or location.
Protect Your Communications
It’s always wise to keep your computer and security software up to date. Criminals are constantly creating new ways to commit cybercrimes, so these updates are crucial to have the best chance to protect your computer from hacks. Also, don’t conduct sensitive transactions on public Wi-Fi or on a computer/device that is not under your control. Use Wi-Fi with a WPA2 encryption and a strong password.
Protect Your Digital World
Strong passwords are one the easiest and best ways to protect your information online. Experts recommend using passphrases of 12 or more characters (example: protect@allcosts) and to use different passphrases for different accounts. Some people use password managers
Finally, if you do become a victim of identity theft, here are the steps you should immediately take:
- Contact the financial institution immediately where the suspicious activity occurred to let them know of the incident and possible fraudulent activity.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Their Identity Theft Hotline can be reached, toll-free at (877) 438-4338. Any suspicious emails or calls should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission
- File a police report with your local police department.
- Notify your major creditors. Contact your credit card companies to check for fraudulent charges and to stop future charges.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit bureau reports and review your reports for any suspicious activity. You only need to contact one of the reporting agencies to place the alert on your report. That agency is required to notify the other agencies. The contact information for the credit bureaus is as follows:
- Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc. P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374, (888) 766-0008
- TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834 (800) 680-7289
- Experian 475 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (714) 830-7000 (888) 397-3742
If you would like more information about identity theft, please contact:
Federal Trade Commission / Consumer Response Center
ADDRESS: 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580
PHONE: (877) FTC-HELP [877-382-4357]
ONLINE: www.ftc.gov (click on Avoid ID Theft)