IDENTITY THEFT is an increasing problem that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. In 2014, an estimated 17.6 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES became a victim of one or more incidences of identity theft. 86% of these victims experienced fraud involving account information, such as credit card or bank account information. Considering these statistics, it is important to know exactly how criminals can steal your information so that you do not become a statistic yourself.
THERE ARE SEVERAL METHODS of identity theft:
- PHISHING (when thieves pretend to be financial institutions or companies and ask for personal information),
- SKIMMING (where credit/debit card numbers are stolen by using a special storage device attached to ATM machines),
- HACKING into a computer’s network
- SHOULDER SURFING (taking a video of the victim punching in their PIN at an ATM)
- DUMPSTER DIVING
6 do-it-yourself tips to avoid identity theft in 2016:
LEARN ABOUT SPAM AND SCAMS
Spam and scams can be easy to fall for, because an email or phone call can appear to be coming from a familiar source, such as a bank or an insurance company. Most online spam and scams will have a mismatched URL, poor spelling or grammar, will ask for personal information or money, or make an offer that seems too good to be true. It is important to never give personal information to anyone who contacts you by phone, email, or even text message unless you have already confirmed that the request for information is legitimate. If you receive a phone call and are unsure, ask for their contact information so that you can verify their legitimacy; any legitimate business will gladly give you the time to find out more about their company.
MONITOR YOUR CREDIT REPORT
Monitor your credit scores at each of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) at least once a year. Many people first find out that they have become a victim of identity theft when they discover fraudulent charges on their credit report. If the charges are caught early on, it is easier to fix than if they were found too late. The federal law permits you to get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies annually. It is beneficial to stagger your requests to each agency, so that you can get one report every four months. If you are especially worried about identity theft, you can put a credit freeze on your credit report. This will prevent a thief from accessing your credit report to obtain credit.
PAY ATTENTION TO BANK & CREDIT CARD STATEMENTS
In addition to monitoring your credit report, make sure to keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements. If there is unusual activity, or if you suspect that something is incorrect, contact your financial institution immediately. Don't wait!
USE STRONG PASSWORDS
Use a strong and unique password for each online account you own. If you use the same password for all accounts, then if there is a data breach and someone gets your password at one company, your accounts at other companies are at risk. Use a password with a combination of capital letters, small letters, numbers and a symbol. You can also use two-factor authorization to add a second level of authentication to an account log-in. Single-factor authorization is when you enter your login name and password; two-factor authorization requires the user to have two out of three types of credentials before being able to access the account. To find out which companies use two-factor authorization, go to twofactorauth.org.
PROTECT YOUR INFORMATION
Protect your physical information. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet, in case it gets stolen. If you have a smartphone, ensure that you have a strong password and that your apps do not automatically sign you in upon opening. Also, never throw away or recycle documents that contain personal information. Invest in a shredder or use a shredding service to ensure that your documents will not be readable to an identity thief.
BE ALERT & VIGILANT
Always be on alert when you are using an ATM, as it could be hooked up to a skimming device or have a camera hidden nearby. When you approach an ATM, check for obvious signs of tampering; check the top and sides of the ATM, the side of the screen, the card reader, speakers, and the keyboard. If there is an ATM next to yours, compare them. If there are any obvious differences, don’t use either ATMs and report it to your bank. When entering your PIN, cover your hand to ensure that any person or camera cannot see the number sequence. Finally, be aware of the location of the ATM and avoid ATMs that are located in quiet areas. ATMs in banks or grocery stores are usually safer than ATMs on the street because of the extra level of security.