How to Prevent Identity Theft
11 Steps for Identity Theft and Fraud Prevention
Fraud, it’s something you hear about often, but many people still believe it won’t happen to them. In reality, it can happen to anyone at any time. According to Javelin, 16.7 million US consumers became victims of identity fraud, up eight percent, or one million people, from the prior year. That equates to one in fifteen individuals. What’s even more alarming is that more than one million children were among those victims.
Fraud can have a negative impact on your financial health by lowering your credit scores and costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses. By following these simple and practical tips, you can help prevent becoming a victim to fraud and identity theft.
1. Create new and unique passwords regularly.
In today’s digital world, you undoubtedly have several online accounts. And if you are like a lot of people, you use the same password on multiple accounts that contain easy-to-remember numbers like birthdates as well as the names of family members and pets. According to IdentityForce, 41 percent of internet users use the same password for multiple accounts. 20 percent use the aforementioned personal features in their passwords. Fraudsters know this and use it to their advantage by coming up with likely passwords for your accounts using these features. Some will even try a dictionary of words to guess your password. So if you are using one or more simple words, there is a good chance they will guess it. Make their job harder by coming up with unique, nonsensical passwords. Don’t use any actual words. Instead, use a combination of letters (upper and lowercase), numbers and symbols. Change your passwords often, ideally every three months, and use a different password for each account.
If you are unsure if you can remember the unique passwords that you set up for your online accounts, it’s okay to write them down as long as you store them in a secure location. Don’t put your passwords in your purse or wallet which can be easily lost or stolen. Instead, store them in a locked drawer or a safe at home. Be sure not to leave them laying around for just anyone to see.
2. Use a secure connection.
According to IdentityForce, 86 percent of internet users don’t check to make sure they have a secure connection before accessing personal and sensitive information on their computers. This leaves you vulnerable to any hackers who are waiting to steal your personal information. Be sure to password protect your home’s WiFi and always be sure you are on a secured network when logging on away from home. When selecting a network, look for the padlock symbol next to the network name. This lock indicates two levels of security: 1) that data is encrypted as it goes over the wireless network and 2) a password is required to access the network.
3. Don’t put personal info online or on social media.
Whether your social media accounts are private or not, never place personal information online. You never know who might be paying attention to what you put into cyberspace to use to steal or defraud you. Plus, you have no control over who your “friends” share your information with. For example, don’t post a picture of your cool new credit card on social media. A fraudster could easier use your credit card number and expiration date to make unwanted purchases. Or, if you got a big check as a gift from a family member, don’t share your excitement by posting a picture of it. A fraudster could copy their name, address, account number and even signature and defraud your generous family member.
Sometimes sharing personal information via social media isn’t as obvious to you. Even something as seemingly harmless as a quick survey to determine your popstar name or personality type could be potential phishing scam. Scammers use simple questions such as your name, birthdate, children’s names, mother’s maiden name, birth city, high school mascot, make of your first car etc. to uncover valuable information about you that could be used to steal your identity or defraud you. Further, these quizzes often ask access your personal information from your social media account in order for the quiz to work. While finding out the answers to these quizzes may seem fun, dealing with potential fraud isn’t worth it.
4. Don’t leave your purse or wallet in the car.
In the banking industry you hear about countless individuals who have had to close bank accounts, dispute fraudulent charges and stop payments, all because an opportunistic thief broke into their car and stole their purse or wallet along with their checkbook, driver’s license and credit cards. Keep your purse and wallet with you or safely in your home at all times. Also, don’t carry around sensitive information about you or your family members that you don’t use very often such as your Social Security cards or birth certificates. Keep these locked up in a safe place such as a safe at home or even your bank’s safety deposit box.
5. Never give personal information over the phone to someone you don’t know.
70 percent of consumers who reported a fraud-related complaint in 2017 cited the phone as the initial method of contact, according to Experian. A common practice is for fraudsters to pretend to be a representative from your financial institution or other organization who is updating files and needs to verify your personal information such as birth date, social security number, address, etc. If anyone you don’t know or aren’t familiar with calls for this type of information, hang up and call the institution back. Be sure to use a phone number you are familiar with to verify that the request is legitimate.
Along the same lines, if a person or financial institution calls and requests money or other personal information, don’t automatically trust the caller ID. Technology has made it easy for fraudsters to fake caller ID information so the name and number aren’t always real. If you are suspicious, hang up and call the number back and see if the caller is legitimate. Don’t worry about offending the caller, a trustworthy financial institution would encourage and applaud you for taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from fraud.
Similarly, don't respond to email, text, or pop-up messages that ask for your account number. Don’t click on links within them either – even if the message looks like it’s from an organization you trust. Legitimate businesses won’t ask you to send account numbers through unsecure channels.
6. Don’t wire money to people you don’t know and trust.
There are numerous scams taking place where an innocent victim is contacted via phone, text or email and told they have won a large sum of money, or that a loved one is in trouble and needs money quickly. The victim is then asked to wire a substantial amount of money to a specific account only to find out later that everything was a scam and that money is lost. If you think things don’t feel right or it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Take the necessary steps to validate that the institution or person requesting the money is legitimate.
7. Do your research.
Before purchasing anything from a company you are not familiar with, do some research to determine their track record. The Better Business Bureau provides consumers with valuable information about a business such as whether or not they are a legitimate business, if they have ethical business practices or if they have complaints against them. Checking with the Better Business Bureau prior to doing business with a new company could save you from falling victim to fraud.
8. Pay your bills online.
Occasionally fraud results from account information being intercepted through the mail. Thieves have been known to drive through neighborhoods looking for raised flags on mailboxes indicating there is mail for the postal carrier to pick up. Often these are bill payments that contain checking account numbers with a signature that matches the signature on file with the bank - a perfect storm for checking account fraud. To reduce this risk, consider paying bills online. If you must receive and pay bills via the mail, drop off bill payments in a nearby big blue USPS mailbox and shred statements before throwing them away.
9. Monitor your credit regularly
If you don’t monitor your credit regularly, it could takes months or even years to realize that you have become a victim of identity theft or fraud. By keeping an eye on your credit, you are more likely to catch unfamiliar new accounts and charges and dispute them before they wreck your credit.
Per the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you may order one free copy of your report from each of the credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), at least once every 12 months. You can request these copies of your credit report each year by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Many lenders also offer credit reporting services to their customers, free of charge. These services allow customers to view their credit score continuously throughout the year. For example, FNBO credit card holders can keep tabs on their FICO® credit score monthly by logging in and viewing their credit score online 24/7.
10. Don’t forget to monitor your children’s credit reports
A typical child doesn’t have a credit report until their teen years so your young child could be the victim of identity theft and you may not know it for years. This could seriously impact their ability to obtain a credit card or get a loan in the future. By monitoring your child’s credit now, you helping to protect their financial health, just as you would their physical health. Each credit reporting company has a different process for requesting your child’s credit report.
11. Sign up for free scam alerts.
Stay one step ahead of fraudsters by having the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox. Sign up by going to ftc.gov/scams and clicking on “Get Consumer Alerts.”
At FNBO we are committed to preventing fraud on our customers’ accounts and helping to mitigate the impact should it occur. Learn more about our Fraud Protection efforts.
If you do find that you have fallen victim to fraud, the Federal Trade Commission recommends that you immediately place a fraud alert on your credit report.
The articles in this blog are for informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations. When making decisions about your financial situation, consult a financial professional for advice. Articles are not regularly updated, and information may become outdated.