Guarding Against Identity Theft
There’s no way to completely eliminate any risk of someone fraudulently obtaining and using your personal information, but you can reduce the risk by exercising a little caution. Here are some suggestions from the Federal Trade Commission and the Identity Theft Resource Center on how to protect yourself:
- Don’t put your Social Security number or your driver’s license on your checks.
- Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.
- Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox.
- If you have a laptop computer, avoid storing financial information on it. If you do, use a strong password — a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password so that you don’t have to enter them each time you log in or enter a site. And always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop gets stolen, it’s harder for the thief to obtain your personal information.
- Before you dispose of a computer, delete personal information. Use a 'wipe' utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. It makes the files unrecoverable.
Is Someone 'Phishing' for Your Personal Information?
Phishing is a type of identity theft that occurs online. Scam artists steal personal information from consumers by creating fraudulent Internet pages. The damage inflicted by these "phishers” can hurt your reputation and damage your credit rating for years to come.
Here are a few tips to prevent becoming a victim of phishing:
- Never respond to unsolicited requests for personal information.
- Contact the company yourself if the message appears to be from a company you deal with.
- Review all financial statements closely to ensure all transactions displayed were actually made by you.
- Request your credit report from the three credit bureaus at least once a year and review the accounts and payment histories closely.
What to do if you’re a victim
If you think you’ve been a victim of a phishing scam, here are the steps you should take:
- Contact your financial institution and let them know that your account information may have been compromised.
Contact the three major credit bureaus and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file. This will prevent Internet thieves from opening new accounts in your name.
Report all phishing activity to the Federal Trade Commission by calling (877) IDTHEFT.
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Vishing: A New Take on an Old Scam
Scam artists have come up with a similar ruse to phishing dubbed "vishing.” Basically, it’s phishing by phone.
Vishing scams come in two varieties. The first is conducted solely by phone. A consumer is called, usually by an automated dialer, and told that the privacy of her credit card account or some other account has been compromised. She’s then told to call a certain number immediately to "verify information” related to her account.
The second type of vishing is just like the first, except that the intended victim gets an email, not a call. The message is like that of a phishing email, but instead of clicking on a link the person is asked to make a call.
Either way, when the consumer calls the number, an automated system asks for things like her account number, password, birth date, and Social Security number. As the unsuspecting consumer enters the numbers on her keypad, the crook records her keystrokes.
Follow the same steps to report a vishing scam as you would to report a phishing scam if you think you have been victimized.