Identity Theft Awareness - Protect Yourself
by Jeff Miles, VP/Information Services Manager
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information (such as your name, Social Security number, or credit card number), without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves use a number of methods to obtain the information needed to conduct fraud. A popular method used to obtain credit or debit card information is through use of a skimming device. The scammer attaches the device to an ATM machine, gas pump, or other Point of Sale (POS) terminal that captures your card information when you swipe your card. Another method is through a data breach. A data breach occurs when an identity thief steals information electronically by compromising a computer system that stores consumer data. A third method is through a phishing scam that is designed to trick you into giving out your information via e-mail or telephone. Lastly, there are still low-tech methods such as “Dumpster Diving” and “Social Engineering” where the identity thief physically digs through your garbage or tries to obtain the information in person.
How do I protect myself from Identity Theft?
There is no foolproof way to protect yourself from identity theft; however, there are some best practices that will help reduce your risk of identity theft. It is a good practice to shred all sensitive information before discarding it. Don’t give out your personal information over the telephone or via e-mail. Review your bank statements regularly. Create strong passwords and change them often when you utilize the Internet. Review your free credit report on an annual basis. You may want to consider purchasing an identity theft protection service. When you use your debit or credit card, look at any device you are inserting your card into for evidence of tampering or an added-on card reader. Doing some or all of these things will reduce your risk of being an identity theft victim.
What do I do if my identity has been compromised?
If the theft is related to your credit or debit card, contact your bank or credit card company. This is the most common type of identity theft and the banks and credit card companies are adept at helping their customers through a compromise. There are many consumer protections provided by Regulation E and VISA rules as long as you are timely in notifying your institution. Depending on the nature of the compromise, you may need to file a police report and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. You may also want to place a fraud alert with a credit bureau agency in order to protect yourself from new credit accounts being opened with your information.
Talking about identity theft always seems to leave folks with some anxiety. It was my intention to write this article to create awareness and not fear. If you take reasonable precautions and know what to do in the event of a compromise, you'll be able to keep these worries in perspective.
The Federal Trade Commission has additional information on this topic at www.ftc.gov\idtheft.