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Avoiding identify theft

Millions of Americans have fallen victim to identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it’s the country’s fastest-growing crime. Fortunately there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Steps you can take to protect your identity

  • Be Cautious when using the Internet
  • Delete all suspicious e-mails without opening them.  Be especially careful when opening attachments to e-mails.
  • Beware of “Phishing” scams, which begin as legitimate looking e-mails asking you to provide your password or other confidential information either in a response to the e-mail or into a website.  Criminals will then use this information to commit fraud.   If you are unsure always call the company sending you e-mails using telephone numbers they have previously provided to verify any requests for information.
  • Do not send confidential information via e-mail; this is typically not secure unless you know it is encrypted when sent over the Internet.
  • Check to be sure that commercial websites you visit utilize secure transmission measures (usually Secure Sockets Layer or SSL), typically indicated by a key or padlock icon along the lower section of your screen.  This is likely the case with financial institutions and major online retailers, but always check to make sure.
  • Always log out of Websites that require an ID and password, instead of just exiting or continuing to browse other sites, to ensure your confidential information is properly deleted from both the vendors system and your PC.
  • When using instant messenger services be wary of links sent to you by those on your “buddy list.”  Screen names can be hijacked to send viruses or other malicious software to your computer.

Additional computer precautions

  • Protect your password. 
    • Do not use the same password for all your accounts.
    • Do not write your password down.
    • Do not share your password with others.
    • Use complex passwords wherever possible that are not easily guessed.
    • Change your password regularly. Consider who else can use your computer before you use the “Remember this Password?” feature on your browser.
  • Obtain and update anti-virus software for each PC connected to the Internet.
  • Keep up with “patches” or upgrades for your software from the manufacturer.  Microsoft’s upgrade Website link is provided below.
  • Consider purchasing firewall and anti-spyware software to further protect your PC.
  • Never transmit confidential information from public PCs, such as at an airport, .
  • Use caution with WiFi and Bluetooth wireless services.
    • Use your own firewall, as these services may not be secure.
    • Disable your wireless connection when not in use.

Protect your identity with vendors

  • Always provide the minimum necessary information to any third party.  Question why they need your information for the specific transaction, especially your Social Security Number.
  • Never give out confidential information to someone who calls you.  If they claim to be from your bank, or another vendor you do business with, call the company back using their published customer service number.
  • Before purchasing goods or services online make sure you are dealing with a legitimate business.
  • Immediately report any lost or stolen credit cards, debit cards, ATM cards or checks.
  • Call to confirm fax numbers before sending confidential information; then call to verify receipt.
  • Review your credit card bill and banking statement promptly and immediately question any suspicious charges or withdrawals.
  • Cancel unused credit cards and reduce the number of cards you use and carry where possible.

Additional considerations

  • If any offer sounds too good to be true, it likely is a scam.
  • Retrieve your postal mail promptly from your mailbox, and make arrangements for the Post Office to hold your mail if you’ll be away.
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse.
  • Shred or destroy all documents containing confidential information before you throw them away, even those with just your name and address.
  • Be discreet when discussing confidential information in public, including cell phone conversations.
  • Periodically obtain and review your Credit Report from one of the major credit reporting agencies to check for inappropriate activity.
  • If you have any suspicion at all that your identity may be stolen, immediately contact authorities, credit agencies, and your financial institutions.

Some warning signs of Identity Theft

Although errors on your account statement or credit card bill can occur, do not assume any unexplained charge, withdrawal or other transaction is a simple mistake and will be corrected on your next statement.  Follow-up with your financial institution immediately if any of the following occur unexpectedly.

  • Unexplained charges or deductions appear on your account.
  • Your account statements or bills have not arrived on time.
  • Renewal credit cards do not arrive on time.
  • New credit cards are sent to you that you did not request.
  • Your credit applications are denied or limited without apparent reason.
  • Billing agencies, creditors and others contact you about unknown goods and services.

What to do if you believe you may be a victim

  • Contact your local police and fill out an incident report.  This report can be used with creditors to request removal of inappropriate charges.
  • Contact one of the three Credit Bureaus (who will notify the other two) to request that a Fraud Alert is placed on your account(s).

    • Equifax Credit Information Services, Inc.
      (800) 525-6285
      P.O. Box 740241
      Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
      www.equifax.com
    • Experian Information Solutions, Inc.
      (888) 397-3742
      P.O. Box 9532
      Allen, TX 75013
      www.experian.com
    • TransUnion, Fraud Victim Assistance Division
      (800) 680-7289
      P.O. Box 6790
      Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
      www.transunion.com
  • Contact your banks, creditors and other Financial Institutions you do business with and request they place a hold or other monitoring measure on your accounts to protect you.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission using their Identity Theft Affidavit attached below.

After these immediate contacts you can consider additional steps.

  • Keep records of all calls, paperwork, etc. for future claims.
  • Close or transfer effected accounts.
  • You can also consider requesting a change of your account numbers, passwords and answers to “secret questions” you may have in case you forget your password.

Terminology

Phishing: An online scam using e-mail that appears to come from a legitimate business asking for your confidential information so criminals can use it to commit fraud.  Links to fraudulent websites within the e-mail message where you are asked to provide your confidential information are frequently used to make the scam appear real.

Spyware:  A generic term that refers to a variety of computer applications that typically are downloaded to your PC without your knowledge and then monitor your computer usage.  They frequently communicate this activity to hackers or other criminals.

Spam: Unwanted e-mail sent to your PC.  If you open or respond to spam it will frequently load spyware onto your PC, usually without any visible indication of the installation.

Complex Password:  A combination of letters (upper and lower case) and numbers that is not easy to guess, such as “g00ds3curitE”.

Additional resources

Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Resources
(877) ID-THEFT -or- (877) 438-4338
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/

Federal Trade Commission - “Take Charge: Fighting Back From Identity Theft”
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.shtm

Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Affidavit
http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2002/02/idtheft.htm

Social Security Administration
(800) 269-0271
http://www.ssa.gov/reach.htm

Microsoft Windows Update Website
http://update.microsoft.com/

National Association of Securities Dealers Investor Alerts
http://www.nasd.com/web/idcplg?IdcService=SS_GET_PAGE&nodeId=1145&ssSourceNodeId=5