Recognizing a Minefield: An Identity Theft Primer
Your identity is one of the most valuable things you own. The intangible nature of your identity is what makes it so valuable and so important to protect.
Why steal identity? Because it is easy, requires no special tools and offers little risk of being caught. The biggest reason? It’s lucrative. It is worth billions in revenue to the thieves.
Conversely, identity theft creates huge losses in time and money for the consumer, in addition to the loss of their good name. It is estimated that it costs the average consumer more than $500 and 30 hours of time to report and undo the damage of a case of identity theft. And the repairs are often ongoing, over the course of years as more damage is uncovered.
What is the easiest way scammers get your information? They ask for it! Rummaging through trash, although it does happen, is not the preferred method of collecting information. Here are a few of the ways personal information hits the streets and ways to counterattack:
Phishing Scams – An e-mail shows up in your inbox under the auspices of being from a known legitimate business. The e-mail has a legitimate look, complete with a business logo. They need to verify your information or your account will be frozen, terminated, etc.
- Never click into a website using a link provided in an e-mail. You will likely be diverted to a scam site. Log into websites for businesses you do business with only via a website address you enter yourself.
- Financial institutions, credit card companies, etc. will never ask you to verify information out of the blue.
E-mail Scams – The Nigerian e-mail scam is the most well-known – someone needs your help to get their funds out of the country, and your assistance will be greatly rewarded! Other types of e-mail scams may invoke a religious tone, etc.
- Never reply to these types of e-mails.
Telephone Scams – “You’ve won a prize in a lottery! We’ll just need your account number and routing information to send your winnings.”
- Meet any such calls with skepticism and hang up. Never provide any personal information on the telephone when you have not initiated the contact.
Stealing Mail – Outgoing and incoming mail is stolen from boxes or your mail is diverted by scammers completing a change of address form with the USPS.
- It is advisable to not leave mail (incoming or outgoing) in the box any longer than necessary.
- Question statements that are new and unfamiliar, or expected statements that do not arrive.
- Shred credit card offers, etc. before disposal.
Stealing Information from the Workplace – One bad apple employed by a company that has a legitimate reason for keeping your data on file is all it takes. Think of all businesses that keep your data on file – financial institutions, hospitals/doctors offices, schools – the list is endless.
- Be as choosy as you possibly can about giving out info – make sure there is a need to know.
- Check your credit report often.
Stealing Wallets – Your wallet is a treasure trove of information.
- Carry only a minimum of credit cards.
- Do not carry your social security card. Insurance cards and other identification showing your SSN will soon be replaced by law.
- Write “Check photo ID” in the signature area of your credit card.
- Make a trip to the photocopy machine with wallet in tow. Lay out the contents and copy both sides. Make sure you have contact information for each company. Keep these where you can easily find them to take action quickly.
After day-to-day vigilance, the two most proactive steps you can take are to review account statements in a timely fashion, and obtain an annual credit report. These two steps will hopefully uncover any surprises as quickly as possible. You may obtain one free credit report per year from www.annualcreditreport.com, or by contacting a credit bureau.
Additional Prevention Tips
- When writing checks to pay credit card accounts, do not write the complete account number on the “for” line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your check as it passes through check processing won’t have access to it.
- Put your work phone on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a post office box, use that instead of your home address. Consider putting just the initials to your first and middle names on your checks (although sign the check as you have set up with your financial institution). Leave your driver’s license number off your checks – make the clerks write it down (and hopefully check the ID in the process). The point here is to not let an ID thief have all the components to your identity on your check.
- Never allow your name to be listed in a “Who’s Who” guide.
- Opt out of credit card solicitations: 1-888-567-8688 (Opt Out Line)
- Reduce telephone solicitations: DMA Telephone Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9014
- Reduce mail solicitations: DMA Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 9014, Farmingdale, NY 11735
- Join the National Do-Not-Call List: 1-888-382-1222 or www.donotcall.gov
- Guard against overuse of your social security number. Make sure a business/individual truly has a need to know before disclosing.
- Keep your credit card/debit card/ATM receipts.
- Consider not listing your telephone number in the telephone book, or listing only with limited information. List your telephone number with a fictitious first name that only a select few would know.
- Make it your personal policy to never purchase merchandise when solicited over the telephone or e-mail.
If You Fall Victim
- File a police report – You will need this to prove your case or file a dispute.
- Contact the fraud units of all three major credit reporting agencies
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline to complete an ID Theft Affidavit
- FTC: 1-877-IDTHEFT or www.consumer.gov/idtheft
- Contact the Social Security Administration: 1-800-269-0271
- Contact your financial institutions and credit card companies immediately. Close accounts and reopen new ones. Ask for a warning to be put on your account noting that your identity was compromised so service representatives will take extra steps and use extra caution when transactions/requests appear. The key is to act quickly (this is where the copies of your wallet contents come in handy)!
- If you have a lost or stolen debit card, during normal business hours please call 718-266-2204. If you are calling after hours, please call 800-236-2442.