Identity Theft: How to Avoid It, and What To Do If You Become a Victim

Identity theft is a real threat, and consumers need to take precautions to secure their personal information. Due to recent data breaches, this topic has become top-of-mind for credit union members, and credit unions can help by sharing these strategies for their personal fight to preserve their identity.

Identity theft takes many forms.

 Some of the most common include:

  • Credit card fraud;
  • False applications for new credit;
  • Fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account;
  • Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards;
  • Fraudulent use of an IP address in order to engage in illegal acts online;
  • Fraudulent use of medical care; and
  • Social security fraud (for tax and employment fraud).

10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

  1. Safeguard your Social Security number. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only give the number out when absolutely necessary. Monitor your Social Security activity with a Social Security Earning and Benefits statement.
  2. Use a shredder to destroy private records and statements. Use a crosscut shredder. It is worth the extra cost.
  3. Monitor your credit report annually.
  4. Review your credit card statements carefully.
  5. Secure your mail. When possible, convert bills to online bill pay and avoid using your mailbox with the flag up to pay bills; take them to a post office.
  6. Don’t leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
  7. Keep duplicate copies of both sides of your credit and debit cards and personal information cards in a safe spot.
  8. Carry only the necessities in your wallet.
  9. Remove your name from marketing lists. States have “Do Not Call” lists that you can register for and solicitors cannot contact you. You can also register online with the Direct Marketing Association.
  10. Be more defensive with personal information. Never give out credit card or personal information over the phone or by email, unless you initiate the conversation and trust the company.

If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, there are steps you should take immediately to stop the theft and minimize the damage.

5 Steps to Take Immediately If You Have Been a Victim of Identity Theft

  1. Put a security freeze on your credit report with all three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Be sure to request a copy of your credit report from each agency.
    • If you find fraudulent items on your credit report(s), the simplest way to begin the dispute process is to click the item while viewing your credit report online. The agency will tell you what steps to take next.
    • With a security freeze in place, no one can obtain new credit in your name. New applications will be automatically denied. Each agency has a procedure for temporarily “thawing” your file in order to allow a legitimate application to be processed.
  2. Contact any institution directly affected. For example, if you know your credit card was stolen, report the theft to the credit card issuer. If your checkbook was stolen, contact your bank. For this step, it’s really helpful if you’ve prepared a list of institutions and phone numbers in advance to keep in a safe place.
  3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission to file an Identity Theft Affidavit and create an Identity Theft Report. You can file your report online; by phone at 877.438.4338); by TDD at 866.653.4261; or by mail at 600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C. 20580.
    • The FTC will provide you with information about what to do next, depending on what type of fraud was (or may have been) committed.
  4. File a police report. To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Identity Theft Report will help you when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other companies the identity thief may have used to open accounts in your name.
  5. Protect your Social Security number. If your Social Security number was or may have been compromised, contact the Social Security Administration (800.269.0271) and the Internal Revenue Service (800.829.0433).
    • It’s important to talk to the SSA if you have reason to believe your Social Security number has been compromised, even if you don’t yet see any evidence of financial fraud. A thief could be planning to swipe your tax refund, or to obtain employment in your name.

In addition to these five steps, if you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office. Fill out the online form.

For more information about how to prevent or recover from identity theft, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission offer a wealth of information and will walk you through the steps.

This article was compiled by CSCU from blog posts at www.creditsesame.com and an article by Frank Abagnale for Bankrate.com as part of the company’s ongoing efforts to provide its member credit unions — and their members — with information on fraud and identity theft prevention. For valuable credit union industry information, keep updated with CSCU News.

Strategic Link is the NWCUA’s wholly-owned service corporation, using the power of aggregation to provide the Association’s member credit unions with exclusive high-quality, competitively-priced products and discounted services. Contact Director of Strategic Partnerships Craig Reed today to find out how Strategic Link can help your credit union save money while meeting its goals in 2014 and beyond: creed@nwcua.org.

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