Identity theft occurs when someone steals and uses your personal information, such as your credit card and bank account information, Social Security number, or driver’s license. Their intent is to use your personal information to steal money, gain unauthorized access to an account, and/or to access your tax refund. Identity theft is considered a criminal act and there are ways to prevent this from happening to you.
Ways Your Identity Can Be Stolen
- Phishing and spam attacks: fraudulent emails sent to trick you into providing your account information.
- Malware: also known as malicious software. This is any type of software designed to damage your computer system. This includes a virus or spyware that copies or deletes your data.
- Data breaches and Wi-Fi hacking: when a skilled computer expert or hacker accesses your personal information to sell.
- Credit card theft: when someone steals your credit card information to open new credit cards or make unauthorized purchases.
How To Prevent Identity Theft
- Consult a family member or trusted adviser regarding suspicious information.
- Keep your personal information safe by not leaving your computer or documents out in the open, and dispose of personal documents that can be used to identify you by shredding vs. dumping in the trash.
- Stay informed about scam trends, and follow basic guidelines for internet safety.
- Develop strong passwords when using online accounts, which can include combining lower and uppercase letters, numbers and characters. Using a two-factor authentication, which is an extra security step when logging into sensitive accounts, is also a great way to protect your information.
- Do not respond to suspicious emails directing you to a website or asking for your personal information. If you receive an email that appears suspicious and is asking for personal information, make sure to go directly to the website to ensure the request is valid.
Steps To Report Identity Theft
- Contact the company/business that you think an identity thief has stolen your information from to explain the situation and begin clearing your name.
- Contact the credit bureaus to alert potential creditors that you have experienced identity theft and to block fraudulent accounts and transactions from your credit report. The credit bureaus can place a fraud alert on your account and/or put a freeze on your credit report. These alerts on your credit report can prevent someone from opening any more accounts using your information.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission as they will walk you through the process of recovering your identity.
- File a police report.
- You are entitled to one free credit report each year. Be sure to check your credit report for any inconsistencies. Review your credit report online.
- Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks for financial transactions as they are not secure. Ensure that you are using a private network when completing financial transactions.
- If your ID or credit card is stolen – Report your stolen credit card to the provider to cancel or freeze your card. Report your stolen ID to your local police department non-emergency line.