What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft happens when someone obtains your personal data without your permission and uses it to buy things, use your insurance, or open accounts in your name. Identity theft is a crime, and it can happen to anyone.
How Does Identity Theft Happen?
There are lots of different ways identity theft can occur. Some of the most common are:
People can steal your credit card information a number of ways, including shoulder surfing. Shoulder surfing is when someone watches “over your shoulder” when you punch in your credit card number to a machine or type it on a computer. Someone could also steal your credit card information if you give it over the phone when you’re in a public place.
If you throw away a piece of mail with some of your information enclosed, it may be an easy way for fraudsters to steal your identity. For example, if you receive a pre-approved credit card application in the mail and throw it in the trash or recycling, an identity thief could find this piece of mail and activate the card for themselves to use under your name. To avoid this type of situation, always shred or rip up any documents with sensitive information before throwing them out.
Unsolicited emails, paper mail, and phone calls are commonplace in today’s world. A company will offer some benefit and request your information in order for you to receive a special offer, win a prize, or get some other perk. Instead of giving you the promised benefit, the person or company requesting your personal information will use it to steal your identity.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
While identity theft is a real threat and may seem scary, there are ways you can prevent it from happening to you. Whether it’s in public, through your mail, or some type of spam, you can protect yourself by doing the following:
- Always be aware of your surroundings and make sure to take caution when typing in any personal information. Don’t let anyone get too close to you when punching in information. It’s okay to ask people to back away if you don’t want them to see your credit card number or PIN.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone in a public setting. Instead, wait until you are in a private setting, like your home, if you have to share information on the phone. If it is urgent and you need to give information over the phone, go to a private area like a hallway or step outside. Make sure no one is around you when you share your personal information.
- Track your bank account and payments. Keep an eye on the transactions that go through your bank accounts and credit cards. Most banks have apps that make it easy to track your information right from your phone.
- Shred important documents before throwing them out. If you do not have a shredder, you can block out account numbers with a thick marker and tear up the paper into small pieces so they are unreadable.
- Keep financial documents and other personal information in a safe place. Put social security cards, insurance information, banking documents, and anything else with personal information in a locked cabinet or a safe.
- Don’t give information over the phone unless it is to a trusted business. If an organization inquires about your social security number, ask them why they need it and how they will protect the information. Some trusted sources that may need this type of identifier are the IRS, your bank, and your employer, but keep in mind: these organizations will not call, email, or text you out of the blue to ask for your social security number.
- Protect yourself online by using strong passwords for all your accounts (and make sure you’re not using the same password for multiple accounts). Many sites also have tools to help protect you, like multi-factor authentication. This requires additional credentials before letting you log in to a site with your personal information, like a text message or an extra security question.
- Get a free copy of your credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com every year from the 3 major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Examine the reports for any discrepancies. File a dispute with the credit bureau immediately if there are any inaccuracies in your credit report.
Tools & Resources
If your identity does get stolen, report it to the Federal Trade Commission and they will help you identify a recovery plan.
You can also make it harder for anyone to open a new account in your name by placing a fraud alert on your accounts with any of the credit bureaus if you suspect your identity has been stolen. This is free and lasts for one year. You do not have to contact all three agencies to place a fraud alert, as any bureau you contact must tell the other two to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
The Village Family Service Center offers financial guidance, money management education, budgeting advice, and debt management services through our Financial Resource Center. Give yourself peace of mind knowing your finances are under control. The first step to protecting yourself in any financial situation is having the tools you need to take charge of your finances.
The Village’s Financial Resource Center provides in-person, over the phone, and web-based appointments. Online counseling services are also available. For more information, contact us at 1-800-450-4019, fill out a form online, or use our online financial counseling service.