Nearly 33% of Americans have been victims of identity theft attempts at some point in their lives. In 2021, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million identity theft reports, with credit card fraud being the most common. If criminals obtain your personal identifying information, it can wreak havoc on your finances, particularly your credit.
What is identify theft?
Identify theft is a crime where someone steals your personal and financial information for their financial gain. These criminals commonly steal your information through credit card fraud, social media fraud, hacking, phishing, and impersonation. Criminals often target your personal identifiable information (PII), such as a birth certificate, social security number, passport information, date of birth, credit and bank account numbers, and your phone number. With this information, criminals can create new bank accounts in your name, withdraw money from your bank accounts, and hack into other private accounts. By taking certain precautions to protect your PII, you can avoid identity thieves from committing fraudulent activities in your name. Follow these tips for guarding your information against others.
1 – Review credit card and bank statements frequently
According to the FTC, credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft. Regularly reviewing each credit card and bank statement will enable you to identify any unusual charges made to any of those accounts. Your bank or credit union may alert you if unusual transactions appear different from your usual spending patterns, shopping locations, or a high withdrawal amount. However, smaller transactions could go unnoticed if you do not check your statements. FinLocker can provide you with a real-time view of your transactions made in all of your accounts once you enroll, allowing you to spot suspicious activity quickly.
2 – Collect mail daily
Criminals can steal plenty of personal and financial information from your mailbox. Credit card and bank statements, medical bills, and credit card offers are all documents that come through the mail and are at risk of getting stolen. Collect your mail daily and notify someone if the mail you were expecting does not show up. If you are going out of town, ask a trusted neighbor or friend to collect your mail or get your mail held by the post office until you return.
3 – Properly get rid of important documents
Throwing away unwanted mail or financial offers directly in the trash could still expose you to identify theft. It’s best to shred any unwanted mail and documents that contain personally identifiable information or use a permanent marker to cover up sensitive materials. By doing this, you are avoiding your information from lying around in the dumpster, available for anyone to steal.
4 – Create strong different password for each account
Although it may seem easier to have the same password for each online financial account, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of becoming a victim of identity theft. The FTC encourages everyone to have a unique and complex password for each online account. Avoid using personal information in your password that someone else could obtain from your social media account.
5 – Avoid giving out personal information over the phone
As technology advances, it becomes easier to impersonate others for personal gain. If you get an unusual phone call from someone who starts asking personal questions, avoid giving out any personal information because they could be pretending to be someone else.
6 – Keep your belongings secure
When using an ATM, take a moment to make sure not to leave any cards behind accidentally, and close out of the ATM transaction screen before you walk away. If you have a roommate, keep your personal belongings locked up or somewhere safe and out of view. When traveling, limit the number of personal belongings and only bring what you need, such as ID and credit or debit cards. Try to avoid carrying around your social security, and instead keep it in a secure location.
7 – Freeze your credit
When you freeze your credit, you are restricting others from accessing your credit information, which can be useful to prevent someone from illegally using your information. Contact each of the three credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. The credit report widget in the FinLocker app enables you to freeze your credit report with each credit bureau, making it easy to submit your request directly from the app. Be prepared to provide your full name, date of birth, current address, and social security number. You will be required to verify your identity by answering a few questions, and afterward, you will receive a PIN that you can use to unfreeze your credit when you want to apply for a loan. You can also get a credit lock, the same concept as a credit freeze, except it is much easier for you to unlock at any time.
How to report identity theft
If you believe that you have become a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission encourages that you report it to IdentityTheft.gov for assistance. This website can help you clearly explain the issue, create a personal recovery plan, and then guide you step by step to implement that plan to recover from identity theft. If you happen to know who is trying to steal your personal information or someone used your name in a police encounter, you may want to file a police report, too. The personal and financial impact of identity theft can take years to recover, depending on the type of theft, how quickly you notice it, and address it. Diligently guarding your personal information and regularly using your FinLocker to review your financial transactions and credit reports can help you reduce your exposure and recover quicker if identity theft occurs.