As part of International Fraud Awareness Week, we are sharing some of the current scams, ways to protect yourself from being a victim of fraud, and how SPIRE can help.
What is Identity (ID) Theft?
ID theft occurs when someone steals your personally identifiable information (PII) to commit fraud. This information includes your name, social security number, date of birth, address, financial account or credit card numbers, and other information. Thieves can use this information to apply for accounts and loans in your name, file taxes to get a refund, or to impersonate you in order to make purchases or withdrawals from your existing accounts.
How ID Theft May Happen
Although thieves have numerous possibilities to access personally identifiable information on unsuspecting victims, here are some of the most common forms.
The mail you receive can contain sensitive data, which thieves can use to commit ID theft. Pre-screened credit offers, financial statements, pay stubs, tax information, and even checks are sought after by criminals searching through mailboxes.
Criminals will dumpster dive looking for any piece of paper that contains sensitive data. These can include health insurance documents, financial statements, credit card statements, mail, and anything else that may have your personal information on it.
Phishing, Vishing, and Smishing
Phone calls, emails, and text messages made by fraudsters often impersonating reputable businesses asking you to verify your personal information or asking you to click on a link to a fraudulent site to enter your information.
Criminals can place skimming devices on ATM, gas pump, and point of sale credit card readers in an attempt to capture card numbers and PINs.
ID Theft is likely to occur if someone directly steals your wallet, purse, or records containing your personal information.
Thieves hack into an organization's database and steal personal information of a large number of people at a time.
Warning Signs of ID Theft
ID theft is hard to recognize until you notice your money is gone. Here are some signs to look for that may mean your identity has been compromised:
- You receive calls from bills collectors or other agencies regarding debts or accounts that are not yours.
- You no longer receive regular statements or bills in the mail.
- Unfamiliar accounts and/or loans appear on your credit report.
- You are turned down for a loan or account due to unexplained debt on your credit report.
- The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) informs you that more than one tax return has been submitted with your information.
- Unauthorized withdrawals or purchases appear on your bank or credit card statements.
Steps to Safeguard Your Information
Even though ID theft has become increasingly common, there are ways to protect yourself from being a victim of fraud.
Freeze Your Credit
The best way to protect against unauthorized access to your credit reports is to place a security freeze on your reports. This prohibits thieves from opening credit cards, lines of credit, or loans in your name. The process is easy to do and is free. Unfreezing your credit file is also an easy process when you do want to apply for credit.
Secure Your Mail
Collect your mail as soon as it is delivered. Consider replacing a mailbox with one that locks or setting up a Post Office Box at your local Unites States Post Office. Always shred your mail and other sensitive documents before putting it in the trash.
Request for Verification/More Information
Never provide your PII to unsolicited calls, emails, or texts. If you receive an unexpected communication from someone claiming to be from a company you do business with, do not provide any information to them. Hang up or call the company using a legitimate phone number - not the phone number provided in the unsolicited communication. Companies you do business with will NEVER email, call, or text you unexpectedly to ask you to verify your information.
Secure Your Personal Documents
Store your personal documents such as financial statements, social security card, passports, and tax forms in a safe, or secure place.
Keep Your Devices Up-to-date
Make sure all of your devices have the most updated version of software, firewall and anti-virus detection installed. This not only includes your computers and mobile devices, but also your internet modems and routers and Bluetooth devices (speakers, personal assistants, etc.)
Use Caution When Connecting to an Unsecured WiFi Network.
Never transmit personal information if you are using an unsecured public WiFi network. Only enter personal and/or financial information on secured websites – those starting with https. Websites without the ‘s’ (http) are more vulnerable to hacking.
Monitor Your Accounts Frequently
Reviewing your financial and credit card statements and your credit report frequently is the best way to detect any unauthorized activity. Early detection of unauthorized use is key – the longer the fraud goes undetected, the bigger the losses and headache to clean it up will be. Sign up for alerts for your financial accounts and credit and debit cards.
Get Identity Theft Insurance
If you currently have homeowners insurance, you can check with your agent to see if your coverage includes ID theft. Some insurers offer an endorsement or rider that can be added to your current policy for an additional cost.
Use a Free Credit Monitoring Service
Many companies offer credit monitoring services for a fee or monthly premium and some offer a “free” service. These services generally include watching your credit reports and then notifying you when something changes on the accounts listed within the report or when a new account has been reported in your name.
Make sure a free service is truly free. Most services offered for a cost can be done on your own for free.
What to do if You're a Victim of ID Theft
- Contact the companies where you know the fraud occurred. Request the account/loan be frozen and ask what information is needed to fully close it and report as fraud.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit and obtain your credit reports. Review them to determine if any more fraudulent accounts have been opened.
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Visit identitytheft.gov or call 877.438.4338 to start the report. The FTC will provide additional steps to take and suggestions for a recovery plan.
- File a report with your local police department.
To find out more information on how to prevent, identify, and report identity theft, please visit myspire.com/fraud.
The information contained in this article is meant for general informational purposes only. You should not rely solely on one piece of information to protect yourself from ID Theft and/or fraud and in no way does SPIRE guarantee that ID Theft and/or fraud will never occur if you follow these recommendations.
SPIRE has made the utmost effort to make sure the information contained in this article is up-to-date and accurate. Under no circumstances shall SPIRE be liable for any loss or damages arising directly or indirectly from the use of the information provided within this article.
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