Identity thieves obtain your personal information in order to perform fraudulent business or financial transactions in your name. These transactions may include applying for credit, buying goods online or in stores, renting an apartment, opening accounts with utility companies, obtaining government ID’s or benefits, or using your identity during an arrest by the police. Of course, any related bills are never paid and your credit rating suffers. Identity theft is serious and the ramifications for the victim are obviously serious. The Federal Trade Commission estimates over 10 million Americans are victimized by identity theft each year, and the number is rapidly growing.
Identity thieves are crafty, and the list of methods they invent to obtain a victim’s personal information is always growing. They may steal your wallet, purse, or mail. They may pose as a legitimate business to try to get information from you via e-mail (known as “phishing”) or over the phone. They may target a company to steal computer records (known as “hacking”), or to steal physical records.The Jemez Valley Credit Union implements many practices and policies to ensure the protection of our members' information.
The warning signs of identity theft:
- You receive bills or credit card charges for items or you never purchased or authorized.
- You receive collection letters or phone calls for past due debts that you never incurred.
- You apply for a bank loan, mortgage, or car financing and are unexpectedly turned down or offered unfavorable terms due to negative credit history information…again, resulting from transactions you did not make.
- You may be denied employment because of the information a potential employer has gathered about you.
- You may suddenly stop receiving expected bills or credit card statements because the identity thief has changed the mailing address to aid or cover the fraud they commit in your name.
- You may suddenly stop receiving mail altogether, resulting from a fraudulent change-of-address with the U.S. Postal Service.
- You may receive credit cards you did not apply for, but which the identity thief has already used to make fraudulent purchases.
- You may receive communications regarding an apartment you never rented, a mortgage you never obtained, items you never purchased, or a job you never held.
- While reviewing your credit history, you may see obligations or delinquent debts you don’t recognize.
- While reviewing your credit history, you may see that your personal information (name/initials, address, employer information, or Social Security number) is not correct.
Six easy things you can do to prevent identity theft:
- Check your credit report annually.
- Review your bills and statements on a regular basis.
- Guard your mail and trash from theft by shredding or burning instead of dropping in a wastebasket.
- Use caution when giving out personal information such as mailing address, social security number, birthdate, and mother's maiden name.
- Copy the contents of your wallet or purse and keep in a safe place.
- Report lost or stolen checks or credit cards immediately.
How to Stop Computer and Internet Identity Theft
The Internet offers exciting and convenient ways to shop, pay bills, and manage your money. But criminals can use the Internet’s relative anonymity to prey on users not fully educated on the threats they face. Even computers not used for Internet access can be a jackpot for an ID thief looking for personal and financial information. Don’t let yourself be a target! Enjoy all your computer and the Internet have to offer, but follow these tips to protect yourself at all times:
- When accessing a website to retrieve or enter sensitive information, ensure you are connected via a secure connection that will shield the data traveling back and forth from prying eyes. You’ll need to make sure you know what icon your browser displays when connected to a secure website and that the icon is present before you conduct online business. Also make sure the web address (or “URL”) your browser window displays begins with “https”).
- Never click on links sent to you via unsolicited e-mail. Links can be faked to look legitimate and so can the bogus websites they take you to. Visit a company’s website by opening a browser window and manually typing an address you know to be accurate.
- Never provide financial or personal info over the Internet unless you are 100% certain who you are dealing with, and that you have initiated the contact. No legitimate company surprises customers with an Internet conversation requesting personal info.
- Make sure any accounts that allow computer access are password protected.
- Never use obvious passwords, such as your mother’s maiden name, any part of your birth date or Social Security Number, the name or birthday of a family member, your address, etc.
- Ensure any computer files containing financial or personal information cannot be easily accessed by others. Set your computer to require a password at each log-on and set it to log-off automatically after a brief period of inactivity. In addition, individually password-protect sensitive files so they cannot be opened by others.
- Ensure any computer you use to store or access sensitive information is protected with continually-updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
- Ensure you access the Internet from behind a firewall (most routers provided by Internet Service Providers include a firewall).
- Regularly update your computer’s Windows or Mac OS operating system with the free security and performance updates that become available.
- When replacing computers or hard drives, ensure the data on outgoing equipment is 100% erased and irretrievable before letting go of it. Use a utility specifically designed for this purpose…simply trashing a deleting files does NOT accomplish this!
Ask any business to whom you provide personal information to explain their policy for protecting that information, and with whom they may share it. Make sure you’re comfortable with what you learn.
Steps to Take If You’ve Been a Victim of Identity Theft
Time is a critical factor when an instance of identity theft is discovered. If you learn you have been a victim of identity theft, immediately do the following:
- Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order free copies of your credit reports. Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Check that information like your SSN, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
- Close accounts. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
- Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your authorization. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
- File a police report. File a report with law enforcement officials to help you with creditors who may want proof of the crime.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission, Attn: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Washington, DC 20580; 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261; www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
- Use the Identity Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your written statement. The ID Theft Affidavit is covered in detail in its own article.
- Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged.
- Maintain a written chronology of what happened, what was lost, and the steps you took to report the incident to the various agencies, banks and firms impacted. Be sure to record the date, time, contact telephone numbers, person you talked to, any relevant report or reference number, and required follow-up.
For more information please visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at https://www.ftc.gov/