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Identity Theft: What to do if You’re the Victim

| April 11, 2016
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In 2014, identity theft happened every two seconds.[1] This is a topic I want to touch on because around this time of year you see a lot of identity theft in the form of fraudulent tax returns. Thieves steal victim’s Social Security numbers to file fraudulent returns in order to receive money back in the form a tax refund. Typically people are not aware of this until they attempt to file their own return and are alerted that one was already filed under their Social Security number.

If you are a victim, this could do damage to your credit. Not only do identity theft thieves try to file fraudulent tax returns, but they also attempt to deceive you by applying for loans and credit cards with your personal information. They can even create fake identification documents with your personal information and use them to possibly participate in other illegal activities.

I worked at a bank for many years, and witnessed various instances of people trying to get cash advances with obvious fake IDs and credit cards. I had to fill out account fraud forms multiple times a week. And this was just at one branch of one bank in the city of Chicago, so imagine what is going on all over the United States. In this post, I will review ways identity theft can happen, how to deal with it, and how to prevent it.

 

HOW?

When a criminal is looking to steal someone’s identity there arevarious way it can happen. Here are some of the more common occurrences:

Internet: Hackers can steal your personal information that you enter into websites, whether it’s to access your bank/credit accounts, pay bills, or make purchases.

Phone: A thief can call you pretending to be a certain organization claiming to need your personal information. Always request this information be sent to you by mail rather than over the phone.

Email: Email phishing can occur when a thief sends an email asking for personal information. For example, they might say they are the IRS and need to verify your Social Security number. I would question any email asking for personal information and call the organization to verify if this was really sent by them.

Mail: People can steal your mail in hopes of finding some personal information such as a credit card/bank statement, tax information, checks and more.

Direct: A thief might try to steal your wallet or purse directly from you in order to get a hold of your ID and credit cards.

ATM/Card Machines: ID thieves are able to put something called a skimmer on the ATM. When you swipe your card an ATM with a skimmer attached, it will capture your card and pin numbers. Thieves can then create a duplicate debit card and use it with your pin number to use. As you might remember, Target had a huge data breach with anyone who swiped their cards at their store on “Black Friday.” All that information captured from making purchases was hacked causing many consumers to have ID theft. Most people now have chips in their card, which is supposed to prevent this going forward.

Third Parties: Often times identity theft can happen and it’s out of your control. Hackers try to steal medical, financial, and personal information from outside organizations.

 

WHAT TO DO IF I’M A VICTIM?

The first action you will want to take is to place an initial fraud alert on your credit report and do this as soon as possible. You will want to contact all three credit bureaus (Transunion, Experian, Equifax) to let them know you were a victim of identity theft. Please note, the alert stays on for 90 days, so if your case is not resolved before the 90 days are up, you might want to put an extended alert on that will last 7 years. You can also consider putting a credit freeze on your account so creditors cannot obtain your report. The freeze will prevent anyone trying to open a new account in your name. Once you place the alert you will be entitled to free copies of your credit report. This way you can review it to determine if you were a victim.

If you were a victim of a cyber security breach, generally they will offer you free credit monitoring services. This tool will allow you to monitor any unusual activity they may happen in the event of this type of breach.

The type of fraud committed will determine what next steps you need to take. Here is a comprehensive guide from the Federal Trade Commission on how to dispute different types of fraud and requirements needed:https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge.pdf.

 

PREVENTION:

Although some identity theft occurrences are out of your control, here are some tips on what you can do:

Do not carry your Social Security card, birth certificate or bank account numbers. Make sure you have these items in a safe place in your home that only you have access to.

Be aware of emails, and calls from people claiming to be from the IRS and other entities requesting personal information from you. Pro Tip: the IRS will only reach out to you by U.S. mail. Always question the organization that is asking for this information or ask for them to send you the request by mail then call the actual organization to verify.

 Shred mail, emails, credit card offers and other documents that someone might be able to try to use to defraud you.

Set up alerts for transactions that you have credit card accounts with, including store cards. This way you will be aware of all activity.

Make sure your computers are secured properly with virus software and firewalls

Stay up to date with the news. Generally large cyber security attacks are reported through the media and the sooner you know your information may have been compromised the faster you can take action to prevent the hackers from using your personal information.

Check your credit reports annually. You are entitled to a free copy from all three bureaus once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

As a financial professional, I will make sure to keep all personal identifiable information safe and secure. I have guidelines that I must follow for electronic communication and storage of information. If I feel an email from a client does not look right it will always be questioned. I am always here to help you if you have any questions about identity theft or in the unfortunate event you find yourself to be the victim.  

 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized financial or legal advice.


[1] 2015 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy and Research. Actual research conducted in 2014.

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