By Kelly Martin-Papai, BSA Compliance Officer & Risk Manager
Over the past several years identity theft has become a more common crime. With the vast amounts of data being transferred digitally, opportunities for criminals to steal vital personal information have increased exponentially. As a result, extra precautions and efforts are required to ensure you don’t become a victim.
What do we mean by “identity theft?” It’s fraudulently obtaining and using someone’s private identifying information, usually for personal gain. Your private identifying information can include your name, Social Security number, credit card number, or details like your home address or phone number.
With this data, criminals can access your money, obtain credit, make purchases and receive other benefits in your name.
According to legal experts, 45 percent of identity theft is committed online. The continuing evolution of technology, particularly smart phones and tablets, gives hackers numerous ways to get your information.
From creating fake forms to posing as legitimate companies, the internet has spawned a wide array of tactics to fool you into providing your personal and financial information, which means you need to remain vigilant.
Some of the most common forms of identity theft are:
- Tax ID theft: using your Social Security number, a criminal falsely files tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service or state government to obtain a refund.
- Medical ID theft: your Medicare ID or health insurance member number is stolen to get medical services or to issue fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider.
- Senior ID theft: seniors are vulnerable to ID theft because they are in more frequent contact with medical professionals, creating more opportunities for information to be stolen; in addition, caregivers and staff at long-term care may have access to personal information or financial documents.
- Social ID theft: using your social media account, a criminal can lift your name, photos, and other personal information to create a phony account.
Despite the prevalence of identity theft, only half of respondents to a recent survey indicated that they closely monitor their financial accounts to check for fraudulent transactions.
On the other hand, 10 percent figure that someone will let them know if any of their accounts have been compromised; they just leave protecting their identity and accounts to their financial institutions – not realizing the headaches and potentially significant costs that may be ahead.
Here are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft:
Guard your (and your children’s) personal information.
Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write the number on your checks. Only give out your Social Security number when absolutely necessary. Ask if there is an alternative way for you to verify your identity. Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information and store personal information in a safe place.
Keep an eye on your accounts.
Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills or statements are late, contact the sender. Collect mail promptly and put your mail on hold when you’re away for several days, so thieves don’t have a chance to get to account information from mail left in your mailbox.
Review your receipts and compare them to your account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions. Shred receipts and credit card offers and other paperwork you don’t need, but that could contain personal information.
Be vigilant online.
Install firewalls and virus detection software on your home computer and create complex passwords that fraudsters can’t easily guess. Change passwords often, especially if a company or organization has your information and has suffered a database breach.
Order your credit report once a year.
Review it to make sure it doesn’t include accounts you have not authorized. Check more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information. You can pull this information for free at some sites.
Because of the increased risk of identity theft, as a consumer you need to make an increased effort to protect yourself and your information. For additional information, you can visit Cinfed’s Security Corner web page or visit your nearest branch.