How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
Identity theft is a troubling topic for many. It occurs more often than we would like and it is difficult to pick up the pieces once it has happened. In 2016, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that an estimated 10% of persons age 16 or older reported they had been victims of identity theft during the prior 12 months. With so many victims of identity theft, it is important to learn about ways to protect yourself.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information in order to commit fraud. Some examples of personal information that identity thieves will use are your Social Security Number (SSN), your mother’s maiden name, your credit card information, or your date of birth. This information that they steal is then used to open credit card accounts, file fraudulent tax refunds, take out loans, and charge purchases to your credit card.
How Do They Do It?
With so many different ways to steal your information, it only takes one careless misstep for your identity to be stolen. There are various ways that thieves can steal your personal information:
- Swipe wallets with personal information inside.
- Steal credit union or bank statements from the mail.
- Divert mail by submitting a change address form.
- Rummage through trash for personal documents.
- Steal personal identification information from workplace records.
- Intercept electronically transmitted information.
- Call you, disguised as a business or a credit union, to solicit personal information.
- Phish for your personal information through false websites and emails.
- Create synthetic identities that are cobbled together from different individuals’ personal information.
Although identity theft may seem impossible to prevent, there are many different steps you can take to keep your person information safe:
- Control access to your financial information.
- Get an identity protection PIN (IP PIN) from the IRS.
- Carry only the minimum amount of credit cards and other identifying information.
- Monitor your billing cycles and statements carefully.
- Guard your mail from theft by either locking your mail box or setting up a P.O. Box.
- Opt out of pre-approved credit cards, direct mailing lists and telephone solicitation.
- Install security software with firewall and anti-virus protections.
- Use strong passwords- never use personal information and make sure to use a combination of letters, numbers and symbols.
- Shred your documents with a cross-cut shredder.
- Avoid submitting financial or personal information through an unsecured website (look for the “s” in the “https” to show it is secured)
- Employ identity theft protection services.
- Ask if there is a fragmented file attached to your main credit file.
- Know that the IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information.
- Refuse to share personal information without verifying the legitimacy of the inquirer.
- Scan email attachments for computer viruses regardless of who sent it.
- Disregard emails warning you, with little or no notice, that your account will be suspended.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your information is taken and used. In most cases, you will not find out that your identification is compromised until the bill is at your door or tax time comes around. However, there are some warning signs you can be on the lookout for:
- You notice suspicious activity in your credit reports.
- You notice that you do not get your bills or other mail.
- You have unexplained withdrawals from your financial accounts.
- You have been arrested for a crime someone allegedly committed in your name.
- You receive notice from the IRS that says you were paid by an employer that you do not know.
- You receive notice from the IRS that more than one tax return was filed using your SSN.
- You receive calls from debt collectors about debts that are not yours.
Reporting and Correction Resources
Once you have detected that you are the victim of identity theft, you need to do some damage control. It will definitely take some time to fix everything but there are plenty of resources at your disposal to assist you in fixing the damage. Nevertheless, there are three initial steps to take before you do anything else:
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit records. You may also consider requesting a credit freeze- this would require contacting each bureau.
- Request credit reports from each credit bureau.
- Create an identity theft report- register a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) and file a police report.
After the three initial steps, you need to change your passwords, investigate your credit reports, and start disputing the fraud that was created using your name.
Steps to create an Identity Theft Report
- File a complaint with the FTC at www.identitytheft.gov or 877.438.4338. Make sure to keep a copy of the completed Affidavit.
- File a police report by taking your FTC Affidavit to your local police station, along with a government-issued photo ID, proof of your address, proof of theft (if you have any on hand), and FTC’s Memo to Law Enforcement. Make sure to get a copy of the police report.
- Create your identity theft report by attaching your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report.
Place a fraud alert on your credit records by contacting one of these three credit reporting agencies:
For more detailed instructions on what to do in case of identity theft, consult Identity Theft, A Recovery Plan.
Call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800.908.4490 if you previously contacted the IRS and did not have a resolution or if you believe you may be at risk.
Report false calls, mail, faxes, emails and any IRS impersonation schemes to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800.366.4484 or online at IRS Impersonation Scam Reporting.