The Federal Trade Commission processed 1.4 million fraud reports—totaling $1.48 billion in losses—in 2018. Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person uses your personal identifying information, such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or financial account information, without permission. The most alarming aspect of this crime is that you may not realize you are a victim until you review your financial statements, or you are contacted by a debt collector.
Identity thieves can obtain your personal information in a number of ways—beyond stealing your wallets, purses or any of your documentation, which includes sensitive information that has not been shredded. They can:
- use devices to access your credit, debit or ATM card, or break into merchants’ credit card electronic databases;
- access unprotected information on public Wi-Fi that is sent on a laptop or smartphone;
- trick you into revealing your personal information through spam or pop-up messages;
- contact you claiming they are someone else (e.g., a research firm) and obtain your personal information;
- pose as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legal right to your credit report;
- divert your billing statements to another location by submitting a change of address; or
- listen in on phone conversations in which you provide your credit card number.
Reduce the risk and protect yourself:
- Shred documents with personal information, including pre-approved credit offers.
- Review financial account and billing statements.
- Use firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software and keep it updated.
- Do not respond to spam, pop-ups or unsolicited emails. Use trusted, encrypted websites.
- Limit the amount of personal information on social-networking sites.
- Use strong and different passwords on each online credit and banking account.
- Never provide personal information over the phone, through the mail or internet unless you know the firm or person.
- Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your number on a check.
- Destroy labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out.
- Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services.
- If you are an active-duty military member and away from your usual duty station, place an active-duty alert on your credit reports to minimize the risk while deployed. This will remove your information for prescreened credit card offers for two years.
Even if you take necessary precautions, identity theft can happen to you. Identity theft has serious implications, such as: loss of money and time spent to repair damage to your name and credit record; loss of job opportunities; denied loans for housing, cars or education; and possible arrest for crimes you did not commit.
Identity-theft insurance can provide reimbursement for expenses resulting from the crime, such as phone bills, lost wages, notary and certified-mailing costs and attorney fees. It is inexpensive and may be endorsed to your homeowners or renters insurance policies. If you are interested in the insurance, give our agency a call and we can provide more details on this coverage.