Your identity is a valuable piece of information and identity theft and identity fraud are fast-growing crimes. They can involve someone impersonating you, using your personal information to open bank accounts, withdrawing money from your accounts, or even taking out loans in your name.
Let’s explore how you can protect your identity and how to spot signs of fraud.
What are the signs of identity theft?
It’s important that you pay close attention to your finances in order to recognize the signs of identity theft. Here are signs you might be the victim of identity theft:
- You notice unrecognized withdrawals from your bank account.
- You see charges on your credit or debit card that you did not make.
- You received statements from an unknown credit card.
- Debt collectors have called you about debts that are not yours.
- You have received notification of a data breach.
- Despite good credit, a loan or credit card application of yours was denied.
- You have received suspicious emails, text messages, or phone calls asking for personal information.
- When you tried to file your taxes, there was already one submitted by someone else.
- You have received a bill for a medical appointment, tests, or even medication that you do not recognize.
How do I protect my identity?
There are several best practices you can follow to avoid identity theft and protect yourself from fraud.
- Monitor your credit reports and scores. You can access your credit report for free at www.annualcreditreport.com. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three credit reporting bureaus a year.
- Monitor your financial statements. Review financial transactions carefully and correct any errors by contacting your financial institution promptly.
- Practice password safety. Log into your email and online banking accounts regularly and change your passwords every few months. Remember to use strong passwords that are difficult to guess.
- Be cautious online. Do not click on links or download files from unknown or suspicious senders. Become familiar with red flags that indicate phishing scams. Try not to use public Wi-Fi to receive or send sensitive documents or access online bank accounts.
- Secure your documents. Keep your sensitive information in a safe place. Don’t carry your Social Security card with you. Remember to shred sensitive documents once you no longer need them; do not discard or recycle them.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Cover the ATM keypad when entering your PIN and keep an eye out for “shoulder surfers” in public spaces who may be watching you key in your phone’s passcode or your credit card information.
How can I report identity theft?
If you suspect identity theft, act quickly. Start with these basic steps to prevent further damage to your personal identity:
- Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred. Ask to close or freeze the accounts. Change logins, passwords, and PINs for all of your accounts.
- Create a fraud alert and get your credit reports. Contact one of the three credit bureaus. By law, the other two will be notified. Get your free credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by going to www.annualcreditreport.com or calling 1-877-322-8228.
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (or TTY 1-866-653-4261). The FTC may help with an investigation and take action when it is warranted.
If you choose to file a report with your local police department, bring the following and get a copy of the police report.
- A copy of the FTC Identity Theft Report.
- A government-issued ID with a photo.
- Proof of your address.
- Any other proof of the theft.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can cause both financial loss and emotional stress to those affected. By following these basic steps, you can make identity protection a habit and avoid fraud.