Tip of the Month: Keep your identity safe this holiday season!
What is Identity Theft?
- Identity theft occurs when someone acquires a key piece of information about an individual and uses it to impersonate them. This is now the top reported crime in the United States. Information involved may include financial information, address, phone number, birth date, social security number, etc. Once this information is obtained, the thief can use it to their benefit in several ways.
- Make purchases using the victim‘s accounts
- Open bank or credit card accounts using the victim‘s information
- Take out loans in the victim‘s name
- View and take over existing accounts
How are identities stolen?
- Phishing – Thieves will try to steal your information by pretending to be your bank, credit card company, or some other legitimate business. If you receive an email from a company asking you to send any personal information, delete it. If the email message asks you to click a link, close the email and visit the website that you know belongs to the company. Emails, websites, and their addresses can be faked and this is the only way to be sure that you are at the correct and legitimage location.
- Keyloggers – Malware on your computer can steal information, usernames, passwords, and even financial information by recording what you type. Be sure to run antivirus software like McAfee and antispyware software such as Ad-Aware or Windows Defender.
- Internet (social networking, etc.) – Remember that what you post online may be viewed by people that you don‘t intend, even if you are careful with your privacy settings. Once you post information such as your address, phone number or where you will be at particular times, individuals with malicious intent can use the information to their advantage.
- Trash – Never simply throw away documents that contain sensitive information. Be sure to shred the documents so that nobody could have access to financial statements or personal information as easily as rooting through a trash bag.
How can you protect yourself?
- Run antivirus and antimalware software on your computer and be sure to update daily and run full scans at least once a week.
- Review bank account and credit card statements as soon as you receive them. Look for any suspicious withdrawals or charges that you didn't make.
- Shred documents that contain any personal or financial information. Identity thieves are not above digging through garbage to find the information they‘re after.
- Use strong passwords on the accounts for your online credit card, phone and bank accounts.
- Only enter passwords or sensitive information into websites that are secure. Check to see that the address beings with https (rather than just http) and look in your browser for a closed padlock. The padlock‘s location varies depending on the browser, but in Firefox it is in the bottom left, and in Internet Explorer it is on the right of the address bar.
- Install updates. Unpatched software, whether an operating system or 3rd party software can leave your computer vulnerable to malicious software that can steal your information.
- Order a copy of your credit report at least once a year and make sure that you are responsible for everything on it to ensure that nobody is damaging your credit.
What to do if you think you have become a victim of identity theft:
- Report the theft to local authorities.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus and ask them to put fraud monitoring or a security freeze on your account.
The main bureaus are:
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
P.O. Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013
(888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
- Contact any financial institutions that you use, such as your bank and credit card companies and notify them that you believe your information may have been compromised.
- Apply for an Identity Theft Passport.
For more information about identity theft and what you can do to prevent or respond to it visit the following resources.
- Federal Trade Commission
- Montana Department of Justice
- Free Credit Report