All an identity thief needs is a copy of your tax return and he or she can gain access to some of the most sensitive information about you: demographics, place of employment and social security number. As the Boston Globe points out, “[it's] easy to dismiss [u]ntil it happens to you.” It is not our intention to scare you with identity theft, rather to arm you with the right information to protect your money and yourself.
Online Preventative Measures
- Passwords/PINs – We recommend not having the same password for any of your money-sensitive or identity-sensitive accounts. Switch your passwords frequently and use a variation of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols (if allowed). A strong password has a mix of all allowable characters. Do not store all of your passwords in any one location, either.
- Simply be aware of the information you freely give away. Would you have blogged about your mother’s maiden name or previously shared your high school mascot? These are typical security questions that you may be using to confirm your log in information. Make sure to also keep this type information confidential as well.
- Online Banking – Frequent review of transactions will alert you to fraud sooner than waiting for statements to arrive in the mail. eStatements also prevent statements from sitting in your mailbox.
Offline Preventative Measures
- Adapt your trash habits to shredding confidential documents. Digging through trash is a dirty job, but criminals do it because it’s a nest egg of information about you. In the previously linked article, Jim Stickley points out that both at work and at home, you can’t be too cautious with over-shredding. A sticky note here with the babysitters name on it and a grocery list there makes you easily trackable if a thief gets at your garbage prior to the garbage man.
- Be aware of your mail patterns. If you start to receive mail late or not at all, specifically statements from utilities or credit cards, start calling your service providers to probe with questions about your mail. Also, make sure you open every piece of junk mail. Often there may be sensitive information in those envelopes, like pre-screened credit card offers. Make sure you hold your mail at the post office when you’re unable to pick it up for more than a day or two.
- Limit your wallet contents and invest in a lock box. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet or extra credit cards that you do not plan on using. Limiting the value of cash in your wallet also prevents you from being an easy target of theft. All excess cards, passports and valuable documents should be kept in a private and locked location in your house.
What are the right steps to take if you suspect you have a tampered identity?
- Involve your local police and let them know you may have been a victim of identity theft. File a police report and obtain a copy of it.
- If the suspected fraud involves a credit card, contact the provide as soon as you notice something out of sorts. They will take action in accordance to their regulations for fraud.
- Contact your primary financial institutions. Think: credit cards, home loan, personal accounts, business accounts, utilities, etc.
- Be in touch with the credit bureaus following your claim. Consider security freeze on your credit bureau reports. After the dust has settled, ensure that all three reports reflect your resolved financial situation
Fraud does not need to be feared if you take proactive steps to protect yourself. If you have questions about your vulnerability to fraud, check out FNB Fox Valley’s additional resources, including DeluxID TheftBlock, and give your personal banker a call.
Image credit to The Renwick Group