Identity Theft & Phishing
Thieves and con artists know countless ways to rip people off, so protecting your identity needs to be a high priority.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information, without your knowledge, to obtain credit cards, phone service and other types of loans. In other words, the thief uses your good credit to go on a spending spree.
To avoid being a victim, consumers need to pay extra attention as they go about their daily routine. Here are tips to protect yourself against the fastest growing crime in America.
Warning signs: You get bills, credit card statements, calls from businesses or collection agencies, or other notices for debts and purchases you know nothing about.
Consumer's Best Defense:
- Do not give credit card, Social Security numbers or other personal identifying information to anyone over the phone or in an email unless you contact them first. Legitimate financial institutions never call customers asking for account information. Do not respond to emails or phone calls that warn of dire consequences unless you take action immediately.
- Do not include your Social Security number on your checks and object if printed on student or work IDs that others can see. Do not carry your Social Security card in you wallet.
- Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Never leave outgoing mail in your mailbox or at your doorway. Instead deposit it in a blue collection box or take it to the post office. Leaving the red flag up on your mailbox can alert thieves that there is something of value in the box.
- To deter thieves from going through your garbage, shred credit card slips, monthly bank statements, loan checks and credit card offers.
- Put in a safe place your ATM, credit card receipts and bank information.
- Never leave your wallet unattended. Only carry with you the credit cards you plan to use.
- Closely review your credit card bills and bank statements. Report any unauthorized charges immediately.
- Carry only the credit or ID cards that you actually use in your wallet. Try to limit yourself to only one or two credit cards, a debit card and a few personal checks.
- If you become aware of anyone using your identity immediately notify creditors, law enforcement authorities and the major credit bureaus.
- Review your credit report at least once a year. To receive a free copy of your credit report go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877.322.8228.
- To opt-out of receiving pre-approved credit card or insurance offers, call 888.567.8688.
College Students Risking Their and Parents’ Identity
The 18-29 year old age bracket continues to account for almost 30 percent of all identity theft complaints, yet a recent survey of college students shows that most are indifferent when it comes to protecting their personal security. And, as a child goes off to college, many parents aren’t thinking about identity theft as a risk for their child’s information, much less their own.
Why would a parent’s information be at risk? This comes into play because routinely, it is a parent’s name, bank account numbers and other personal information that is used to co-sign apartment leases, write tuition and housing checks, and maybe even to register online to receive grades. The paper documents that contain this information often barely make it into a desk drawer in a college student’s room, much less into a securely locked place. The information is just too readily available for anyone to take.
Unfortunately, college students more typically think about protecting their personal belongings, like a laptop or mp3 player, than their personal information. Parents can help prevent their college student from becoming a target for identity theft with the following steps:
- Talk to them about all the different ways they could be scammed. The risk is not only with paper documents unprotected in their room, but also via e-mail, blogs and casual conversation.
- Supply them with a cross-cut shredder so that they can immediately destroy documents they no longer need or mail that is unsolicited.
- Remind them to not share passwords or other personal information with roommates or friends.
- If they really need their social security card at school, they must keep it in a locked safe place. Supply your college student with a security box or rent a small safe deposit box from a local bank for your student to keep their valuable and personal information.
College students must also take responsibility in protecting their own information. They can minimize the risk of identity theft with the following guidelines:
- As mentioned above, never share personal information or passwords with roommates or friends.
- Don’t post personal information on social media Web sites.
- Don’t let someone borrower a driver’s license or ID card. They could use it in many different ways that could hurt you.
- Don’t loan a debit or credit card to a roommate or friend.
- Don’t co-sign loans, cell phone applications or utility accounts.
- If the student has a credit card, they can check their credit report annually.
- Lock up. Lock dorm or apartment doors, car doors and put confidential documents in a locked, secure place.
The college years can be a fun and challenging time for both parents and students. Don’t let identity theft make this time simply challenging.
Phishing (FISH-ing) is a new twist on an old telemarketing scan; however, instead of the phone, scan artists use the computer email system.
Phishing refers to how thieves steal victims' personal financial information. They're phishing for information. Phishing con artists pretend to represent a trusted source, like a bank, and then scare the consumer with threats if they don't act quickly.
These scammers steal credit card, bank account and Social Security numbers. They also seek passwords and any sensitive financial information.
Phishing scams are constantly evolving and we offer the following tips so you don't become a victim:
- Never give out your personal financial information over the phone or the computer, unless you called them first. Banks will ask you to "verify" your financial information or ask you to click on a special site link.
- Do not respond to an email that may warn of dire consequences. Always confirm these emails separately with the bank or company.
- Check your credit card and bank account statements regularly for unauthorized charges, even small ones. Report these discrepancies immediatly.
- When submitting financial information to a web site, look for the padlock or the key icon in your browser and make sure the address begins with "https." This is no guarantee, but the lack of these icons or "https" does indicate that the web site is not secure.
- Report suspicious activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
- If you do respond to a fradulent email, contact your bank immediately so they can help protect your account and identity.
For more information on phishing or identity theft to go www.antiphishing.org or www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Each year, phishing con artists convince 5 percent of the public to fall for their scams. Make sure it's not you.