Each year, more and more people are becoming victims of identity theft. In fact, the incident rate is doubling every two to three years. Banks and government officials are encouraging individuals and businesses to take steps now to reduce exposure to these crimes, which cost the average identity theft victim 175 hours of personal time and over $1,500 to correct.
First, make it more difficult for criminals to get your Social Security number (SSN), your birth certificate and all financial account information. Treat these like valuable jewelry. If you are not using them, don't carry them around. Lock them up. If someone requests this information in person, email, mail or on a website, ask why. Be satisfied with the response before sharing this information.
If your driver's license number is your SSN, change it. If the medical insurance card in your wallet shows your SSN or that of another family member, ask the insurer to provide a card without the SSN. Alternatively, carry a photocopy of the insurance card with the last 4 digits masked out, along with a medical emergency contact number so a family member could provide the last four digits if necessary.
Given the number of financial statements, loan and credit offers arriving in mail boxes, people are interested in preventing the thefts that often lead to fraudulent acts should rent PO Boxes or have locking boxes at their homes or businesses to receive incoming mail. They also should be careful with outbound mail, being certain not to leave invoice payments in mailboxes where they could be pilfered. Drop payment mailings off at a US Postal Serivce office or in steel USPS postal boxes. Better yet, pay bills online using NorthSide Community Bank's secure website. Secure pages are identified as https://www..... instead of http://www....
If you pay bills online or purchase items from secured sites on the internet, it is best of use one credit card exclusively for web purchases. The credit card will provide greater personal protection against identity theft than a debit card, and by using one card for all online transactions, it will be easier to identify any fraudulent activity that may arise.
Monitor your monthly financial statements carefully, and at least once a year request your credit file from the three major credit reporting bureaus. If you find any questionable charges on any of these documents, immediately notify the financial institution(s) concerned, as well as the fraud departments at the credit bureaus.
Experian 888-397-3742 www.experian.com
Equifax 800-437-4619 www.equifax.com
TransUnion 800-916-8800 www.transunion.com
Next, file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (877-438-4338; www.consumer.gov/idtheft ) and with local law enforcement, including police, postal inspectors and Secret Service. Informing these groups is vitally important, especially since the Identity Theft Clearinghouse reports 60% of 2003 victims did not notify law enforcement of the theft perpetrated against them.
Make no mistake, an identity thief can compromise the quality of your life. Be sure to close any accounts you know or suspect to have been tampered with, and use the ID Theft Affidavid available from the Federal Trace Commission when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
Also, the following 12 steps are crucial to reduce your risk of being an identity theft victim.
There are internet criminals who perpetrate identity fraud. We know that they accomplish this by sending out emails that attempt to trick victims into visiting fraudulent banking websites where login, account, or otherwise private information is requested.
Financial institutions NEVER send emails to customers requesting sensitive information.
Should you receive an email that you suspect might be from a phisher follow these common sense identifiers:
If there is any question about the emails integrity contact the bank.
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