Identity theft is one of America’s fastest growing crimes. There are seemingly countless ways identity thieves and cyber-criminals can get personal information about you, steal your money, and use your identity to commit fraud in your name. The risks are real, affecting millions of people every year. It’s important to be proactive in protecting yourself and your loved ones.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity fraud occurs when an impostor obtains your personal information – such as your name, Social Security number, date of birth, driver’s license number and other personal information to assume your identity. Thieves can use your identity to open banking accounts, credit card accounts, make purchases, file false tax returns, and even get medical benefits.
The FTC estimates it takes an average of 6 months and 200 hours of work to recover from identity theft – and victims are often targeted over and over again as their information gets traded among a vast network of criminals. Identity theft affects everyone, including children, raising the importance of watching out for and protecting your entire family.
Warning Signs of ID Theft
It’s important to catch identity theft problems early on. Unfortunately, most victims of ID theft don’t find out they have a problem for a year or more after their personal information has been stolen, leaving them digging out of a deep hole.
Here are some common signs of identity theft you should watch for:
- Errors on bank or credit card statements
- Loans or credit accounts you didn’t open
- Credit report errors, sudden drop in credit score
- Unexpected medical bills, problems with insurance
- IRS tax notice that your tax return is already filed
- Errors on your Social Security statement
- Debt collectors are calling, liens or judgments filed against you
- Arrest warrant, court notice for unpaid fines or traffic tickets
- Your mail is missing, change of address filed with post office
What to do if your Identity is Stolen
If you suspect someone has stolen your identity, take action immediately.
Here are a few suggested things you can do yourself:
- Inform Alpine Credit Union if your purse or wallet is stolen and tell us what account #s it contained.
- Close checking, savings accounts and open new ones.
- Cancel other credit or financial accounts you know have been tampered with.
- Place a fraud alert with one of the main credit bureaus. They will report to the others.
- File police report with your local police department.
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Get ID theft monitoring and credit monitoring if you don’t already have it.
For more tips and guidance on dealing with an ID theft problem, check out the “Taking Charge” booklet from the FTC.
To report credit fraud, credit report errors, and file a fraud alert to the credit bureaus:
- experian.com 1-800-525-6285
- transunion.com 1-888-397-3742
- equifax.com 1-800-680-7289
Reporting identity fraud to government agencies:
- FTC Identity Theft Hot Line 1-877-438-4338
- Social Security Fraud Hot Line 1-800-269-0271
- US Postal Inspectors 1-800-372-8347
Tips for Protecting Yourself
Protecting yourself against identity theft is easier than having to clear your name and credit rating after identity theft occurs.
Here are 10 things you can do to help keep yourself from becoming one of the millions of victims of identity theft:
- Don’t share personal information. Guard your Social Security number, date of birth and other personal information. Don’t carry it in your wallet or purse. Only give out this information when absolutely necessary – generally for tax purposes or when applying for credit.
- Monitor bank and credit card statements. Watch for suspicious activity such as withdrawals, overdraft fees or purchases you didn’t make.
- Use good passwords. Don’t use the same password everywhere, and create strong passwords using at least 8 characters including upper-case letters, numbers and symbols.
- Avoid phishing scams. Be careful when receiving emails and text messages from people you don’t know.
- Secure your mobile device. Keep a close watch on your devices, and lock them down with strong passcodes so nobody can get access to them without your permission.
- Use EMV smart credit cards and mobile payments. Smart chip payment cards and mobile payment solutions like Apple Pay have extra protections that make it harder for thieves to get your account numbers.
- Shred documents. Destroy any paperwork that has account numbers, Social Security number or other personally identifying information before throwing them away.
- Sign up for account alerts. Where available with your financial institutions, sign up to receive notifications of suspicious activity.
- Watch for data breach notifications. Don’t ignore any letters you get from a business or other organization saying your personal information was possibly exposed in a data security breach. Take advantage of any protection services they offer to help monitor for future ID theft problems.
- Have a good ID theft protection service. It’s a good idea to maintain a good ID theft monitoring service to help you watch out for all the various types of identity fraud that could occur, along with a full recovery service in the event you have an ID theft problem.
Member Protection Benefit:
Take advantage of available ID theft protection services to help detect and resolve any identity fraud problems. As an Alpine Credit Union member, you can get exclusive discounted pricing on the iDefend® identity theft protection program for yourself and your family.