Identity thieves become skilled and have a variety of different methods to gain access to your personal information and steal your identity. They will go to great lengths to obtain this information, which includes;
Dumpster Diving– They rummage through trash looking for bills or other papers with your personal information on it.
Skimming– Thieves will use a special storage device to capture your credit/debit card information while being processed at department or grocery stores. At the same time, a camera can be recording you as you type in your PIN code, making it easy for a thief to replicate. Often times, a device is installed on the front of an ATM machine and designed to look like that machine.
Phishing – They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
Changing Your Address – Thieves will divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
Old-fashioned stealing – They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; preapproved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
Pretexting– Identity thieves will also us false pretenses to obtain personal information from financial institution, telephone companies and other sources.
Hacking– Tech savvy thieves hack into online databases to obtain stored personal information.
Telephone Solicitations– Fast talking thieves can convince you to provide financial or personal information and Social Security numbers over the phone. They try to project fear and use scare tactics to obtain information. Examples-They may say they have detected a virus on your computer and need money to clean it up. They claim they are from the IRS and will garnish wages if you do not pay past due taxes .They may pretend that they are a family member who was put in jail, a friend bailed them out and now need you to send the money to that friend to pay them back.
Misdirected Faxes– Similar to mail, faxes with credit card information on them can be misdirected to other phone numbers that thieves have access to.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim:
- Never give personal information over the phone (Social Security number, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, credit card number, or bank PIN code) unless you initiated the phone call.
- Be cautious of mail or telephone solicitations disguised as promotions offering instant prizes designed to obtain your personal information.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards and checks immediately.
- Check your credit card and bank statements weekly/monthly for fraudulent charges.
- Order and review your credit report from the three credit bureaus at least once a year.
- Shred unwanted pre-approved credit applications, credit card receipts, bills or other financial information.
- Quickly remove delivered mail from your mailbox or better yet get a locking mailbox. Put outgoing mail in official mailboxes or at your local post office. Mail snatchers use chemicals found in common household cleaning products to erase the ink on the checks retrieved in the mail (Check Washing) and then rewrite the checks to themselves, increasing the amount payable. Stealing mail is easy especially because they are designed in a way where thieves don’t even have to get out of their car.
- Do not carry your Social Security Number, Medicare card or other important passwords in your wallet or purse.
- Use caution when disclosing checking account numbers, credit card numbers, or other personal financial data on any website or on-line service.
- Do not respond to e-mails from companies asking to confirm person information, even if it looks like it is from a company you know. Call the Company yourself to verify.
- Use a credit card for all purchases versus your debit card. Using a debit card pulls money directly from your bank account. With Credit cards you are using the banks money. Credit cards offer more protection and you are not, generally, reliable for fraudulent purchases.
- Hide Social Security Numbers and important passwords in a safe place in your home and where thieves would not think to look. Example- place in Ziploc bag and put in bottom of cat litter box, be creative.
- Do not fall for telephone scams. Many times they have just enough of your personal information that makes you believe they are legitimate. They obtain a lot of this information through social media (i.e. Facebook). If they claim to know you or are from a company that you have an account with you may want to ask them to tell you something about yourself. If a company calls you they should be able to provide you with your address etc. since you have an account with them. If they claim to know you personally ask them questions like what is my hair color, name of dog, or birthday.
- Be careful what information you give out on social media. Posting that you are on vacation is also an open invitation to potential thieves to visit your home while your away.
- Double check the credit card you get back after paying your bills at restaurants. Thieves have been known to switch them out.
- Put an alert on your bank account to notify you for all or certain types of transactions.
- Have anti-virus software on computers, tablets and phones.
- Don’t click on attachments, videos, ads on websites or emails that are unfamiliar or look suspicious.
- Use modern browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome. Unsupported browser can put you security at risk.
- Don’t bank from your phone or tablet.
- Change your passwords every three months. Create passwords using a pass phrase that is easy to remember – I graduated from Stanford University in 1993, igfSUi93. You can also use password management software like LastPass, Dashlane or RoboForm to help create, store and organize passwords.
Start taking steps today to help protect yourself from becoming a victim! The Identity Theft prevention series Part 3 will cover what to do if you do in fact become a victim.