Guarding Against Identity Fraud – What Everyone Must Know v.2
May 16, 2022
May 16, 2022
Fraud is big business, with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reporting that fraud-related losses increased more than 70% between 2020 and 2021, including 1.4 million reports of identity theft.
Having your identity stolen isn’t just expensive; it also can be a giant hassle as you work to iron out the damage thieves have done to your accounts. Here’s what you need to know to help avoid being a victim.
Tips for preventing identity fraud
Your personal information is a goldmine for criminals, who can use it to open a bank or credit card account, apply for a loan, file taxes in your name or set up a utility account, to name a few common deceptions. Here’s how to protect your data:
1. Be alert for “phishing” and “spoofing” scams.
Most of us are wary of clicking on links in emails – even those that look legit, as “phishing” schemes have become commonplace – but we might be caught off guard if we receive a phone call or text from a number that looks like the bank, a practice known as “spoofing.” If someone asks you for personal data, tell them you will call the bank yourself and hang up, then call the bank directly. Valley Strong will never ask for account or card information, PIN verification or any other personal information by text.
2. Don’t routinely use your Social Security number.
Many companies and even healthcare organizations ask to use your Social Security number as their identifier but you can inquire about using a different identifying number, instead. Also, make sure to avoid carrying your social security card in your purse/wallet and secure it in a safe place until needed.
3. Guard your child’s information as well.
Often identity thieves will focus on gaining a child’s information, which can be used for a long time undetected. In fact, you might not realize your child’s identity has been exploited until they apply for a job or take out a student loan. Make sure to watch for red flags; for example if you begin to receive bills or calls from a collection agency about an account you haven’t opened; and check their accounts along with your own. (More on that below.)
4. Be careful with your mail.
Thieves can find your personal information through your mail so make sure to collect it regularly and shred it prior to recycling. You can request electronic statements, which helps the environment as well as stopping the paper trail.
5. Use strong passwords.
Use complex passwords for online accounts and all devices and change them regularly. An extra-secure approach is to enable two-step authentication. This requires you to enter a code sent via email or text message after you input your password, which a thief wouldn’t be able to access. In addition, when you’re on a website or app that requires you entering your password, do not use the autofill feature or any saved passwords.
6. Regularly review your credit report.
Taking the time to check your credit report will allow you to monitor any suspicious activity.
Visit AnnualCreditReport.com, which is currently offering free weekly online reports from the three credit bureaus. Don’t forget to check your child’s credit report as regularly as you check your own.
7. Monitor all your accounts.
Keep an eye on all your financial and medical accounts to ensure you recognize every transaction. Report any dubious charges immediately.
Do you need identity theft protection?
In addition to care and vigilance, there are ways to help protect your accounts. Here are several to consider:
-Put a fraud alert on your account.
Most financial institutions (including ours) will send you a text message if there appears to be suspicious activity with any of your accounts. The service is free, although you may incur charges from your wireless carrier. Learn more and sign up here. You can likely do the same with credit cards and other accounts.
That being said, use caution when a text alert requests that you click on a suspicious link to give them your log in credentials. If you bank with Valley Strong Credit Union and you receive a text from us, you can always call us to confirm the text’s legitimacy.
-Freeze your credit.
A credit freeze restricts access to your credit report, which means that when someone applies for credit in your name the credit reporting agencies will show it’s been frozen and the lender will contact you prior to approving the account. It’s important to point out that the credit freeze applies to you, too, so you’ll have to “thaw” your credit when you apply for a new account or loan. Don’t worry; it’s free. Contact the three credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to sign up.
-Consider a paid identity theft protection service.
There are additional services that monitor the web to make sure your personal information isn’t being used, in addition to checking your credit report (which you can do for free). There are a variety of different levels of services that can even include identity-theft insurance and remediation services. Make sure to note the monthly or annual fees and what they cover before you commit.
What to do if you’ve been a victim of identity fraud
Even the most vigilant consumers can become a victim of identity fraud, so here’s what you should do:
Since identity theft remains a constant threat, you should proactively protect your financial information by considering the resources above.