Identity theft is the fraudulent acquisition of a person’s personal information, usually for financial gain. According to a Pew Research Center study, 18 percent of online adults report having important personal information such as their Social Security Number, credit card or bank account information stolen. With a little vigilance, you can help protect your identity from would-be thieves. Here are a few tips:
- Keep your Social Security Number to yourself. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet and don’t give out the number except for tax reasons, credit inquiries or to verify your identity for employment or health care. Know what it will be used for before you give out the number.
- Be careful with other personal information. Be cautious about giving out personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the Internet, and do so only when you initiate the communication. Review and verify information from financial institutions, and shred legal and financial documents containing your personal information before you dispose of them. Clean out your wallet and leave unnecessary cards and identification at home.
- Beware of scams. Scammers target you in several different ways. At the ATM, you’re vulnerable to attacks called skimming, which happen when thieves replace the machine’s card reader with a camouflaged, counterfeit card reader or camera. The numbers on your debit card are recorded and then transferred to a duplicate card. On the Internet, watch out for phishing, when scammers lure unsuspecting targets into providing personal information. These scammers send emails posing as legitimate businesses and have links that ask for your personal data or download spyware to your computer or mobile device. Other phishing scams are conducted by phone call, text messages and social media.
- Use strong passwords. Because more personal information than ever is stored on computers and mobile devices, vigilance is vital. According to Verizon.com’s 2014 Data Breach Investigations Report, theft by hackers increased 27 percent between 2013 and 2014. Three-quarters of all online thefts occur because of weak or stolen credentials. Vary your passwords on accounts and change them regularly. Information that was once private can easily be found on your social sites, so stay away from using pets’ names, your birthday, a maiden name or children’s names for your password.
- Stay on top of your credit reports. Review them regularly to ensure your account information is accurate and immediately report any discrepancies.
Signs of Identity Theft
While millions fall victim to identity theft every year, if you know what to look for, you can take action to protect yourself before things get worse. Here are eight signs to watch for:
- Errors on your bank or credit card statements
- Errors on your credit report, such as credit cards you didn’t apply for
- Medical bills from doctors you didn’t visit
- Collection notices or calls
- Missing mail or email
- Errors on your Social Security or tax statements
- Denial on an application based on your credit
- A warrant for your arrest
If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft or fraud, act quickly. The sooner you respond, the more quickly you can avoid further damage.
Active Duty Alerts
If you’re a servicemember, you can further protect yourself when you deploy by requesting a free Active Duty alert on your credit reports. This alert can help protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft while you’re away from your usual duty station.
If a business sees an Active Duty alert on your credit report, it will automatically verify your identity before issuing credit. You may name a spouse, family member or another trusted person to act on your behalf to confirm your identity. This alert remains intact for one year. At the end of the year, if your deployment continues, you can place another Active Duty alert on your credit report. Having an Active Duty alert reduces the number of pre-approved credit card and insurance offers you receive for two years.
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