All too often on the news, we hear about the latest identity theft tactic or a data breach that occurred at a big box retailer, financial institution, or in the cloud.
Identity theft affects 12.6 million victims a year and the consequences can be devastating. Within minutes, thieves can ruin credit, steal money from bank accounts, and ring up debts – affecting a person’s ability to secure employment, loans, and safe medical treatment.
How do you know if your information has been compromised?
- Mysterious charges that show up on your credit card statement
- Unexpected bills that arrive in the mail
- Your regular bills or other mail is not being delivered
- Medical bills for services you never had
- A letter from your bank, credit card company, or retailer informing you of a data breach in their system.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, here are some tips to help you deal with it.
- Contact a credit reporting company and ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit report.
- Ask the credit reporting company for a copy of your report. The company may provide it to you free of charge.
- File an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- File a report with your local law enforcement officials.
- Inform companies with which you have financial relationships that you’re a victim of identity theft.
- Create a document to help you keep track of a) phone calls make b) names of the people with whom you’re working c) important dates d) recommended steps to take to get your identity back.
How to protect against identity theft.
- Choose good passwords and PINs.
- Protect your computer with strong and regularly updated firewall, anti-virus program and anti-spyware program.
- Beware phishing scams- emails seeking information such as passwords, account numbers, or credit/social security details should be an immediate red flag.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers” when using an ATM or paying with a debit or credit card that requires you to enter a PIN.
- Be careful what you carry in your purse and wallet. Never carry our Social Security card.
- Shred all documents at home that have identifying information.
Some identity theft protection is provided by most credit card companies and additional coverage can be purchased through you homeowners insurance.