A recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that in a one-year period before October 2003, almost 10 million Americans learned they were the victims of identity theft.
The cost of this crime approaches $50 billion a year, with the average loss from the misuse of a victim’s personal information around $4,800.
It is important to learn about ID Theft and Fraud to help you prevent and protect your financial and personal identity.
What is Identity Theft?
ID theft is when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. Your personal information can include:
- Your name
- Social security number
- Credit card number
- Other personal identifying information
The use of your personal information can have a serious impact on your personal and financial life. Potential damage that can occur includes:
- Damaged credit record
- Loss of job opportunities
- Refused loans for education, housing or cars
- Large amount of time and money to clear your name and regain your identity
Identity theft can happen to anyone. ID thieves do not choose their victims based on age, sex or race. It is very easy to become a victim of identity theft if you:
- Don’t take precautions with your personal information and who you give it to
- Are careless about using your ATM, credit cards and leaving receipts behind
- Throw away financial documents such as bank statements without shredding them first
How to Prevent Identity Theft
The following steps are a good start to protecting your identity:
- Sign up for eStatements to reduce mail fraud
- Learn about online banking and multi factor authentication
- Don’t give out personal information when asked over the phone or through email
- Protect your personal information (PIN numbers, birth certificates, passports, financial statements, etc.) in a secure place at home
- Shred documents with personal information including credit card offers that come through the mail
- Protect your social security number
- Instead of having checks mailed to your home, pick them up at the credit union
- Mail bills from locked mailbox or Post Office as your check and information can be stolen from an “open” mailbox
- Be on the lookout for those peaking over your shoulder when entering your PIN at ATM’s and store checkouts
- Use electronic deposit for paychecks, and other payments
In a safe place, keep a list of credit/share draft account numbers, expiration dates, and phone numbers to report theft.
- Detecting Suspicious or Unknown Activity
When protecting yourself from identity theft, it is important to be alert. By routinely checking your account and billing statements, you can be aware of any suspicious or unusual activity. A few signs of suspicious activity include:
- You notice fraudulent charges on your monthly credit card or financial statements
- You don’t receive your statements as usual or any mail for several days
- You begin receiving bills from unknown companies you did not open accounts with
- Credit collection agencies call regarding debts you do not have
What to Do if You Become a Victim
If you believe you have become a victim of identity theft, it is important to act quickly.
First, contact the fraud department from one of the three credit bureaus. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your accounts. It is also important to get a free copy of your credit report to see if and how many fraudulent accounts were opened in your name. If there are any opened, close them immediately.
Order Report: 888-397-3742
Fraud Unit: 888-397-3742
Order Report: 800-888-4213
Fraud Unit: 800-680-7289
Order Report: 800-685-1111
Fraud Unit: 800-525-6285
Next, file a police report and get a copy of the report for your records. This will help you get information from the creditors about the fraudulent accounts.
From there, close all the accounts opened or used fraudulently by contacting the company’s fraud department. It is also important to follow up in writing and send copies of the documents that support your claim including the police report. Remember to send copies and not originals of the documents.
Once you have resolved a disputed charge, it is important to ask for a letter stating that the matter has been closed. Remember to keep all copies and originals of your documents and correspondence with companies where accounts were opened or used fraudulently.
Finally, file a complaint with the FTC (www.ftc.gov/idtheft) or 1-877-ID-THEFT. This will help law enforcement officials across the country with their investigations. In addition, the FTC provides counselors to help you through this difficult time. You may also call Beacon FCU at 281.471.1782 or 800.868.6939 as we are here to help as well.