BE VIGILANT - Learn what identity theft is, how to prevent it
Story by: FORT RILEY POLICE DEPARTMENT
As many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Identity thieves may use your personal information to access your financial accounts, open credit cards and even rent an apartment in your name.
Criminals use a number of methods to commit identity theft, some less high-tech than others, many of which involve stealing your personal information from right outside your doorstep. These old-fashioned identity theft tactics occur at or around your home, so it's important to remain conscious of ways you can be exposed.
Here are tips from the FTC, National Consumers League and Gibson Research on avoiding identity theft:
• Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. They could lead to legitimate-looking websites aimed at tricking you into entering your Social Security Number, user name or account passwords. Also, don't give out financial or account information to unsolicited callers, even if they say they're from your bank.
• Get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers. These lists are a "gold mine" for identity thieves, said the National Consumers League. Call (888) 5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or go to www.optoutprescreen.com to remove your name from national lists. You will have to provide your Social Security number.
• Don't put your full date of birth on Facebook or anywhere else online. If you want your friends to know your birthday, use only the month and day, not the year. Date of birth is one of the key pieces of information that many companies use to confirm identity.
• Use long passwords. According to Gibson Research, a password that is 10 characters is vastly harder to crack than one that's nine characters, provided it is not a real word. The best thing to do is use a mix of letters, numbers and characters, like this: !co4D4)f%z.
• Shred charge receipts, financial account statements, insurance forms, medical bills and other items with personal information when it's time to throw them away. ID thieves have been known to look through trash for account numbers and other identifying information, the FTC warned.
• "Dumpster-diving" remains one of the top non-Internet ways thieves collect a victims' data, according to the Federal Trade Commission. As the name suggests, the process involves rummaging through your trash when you put it out for pickup. Most of the personal or financial details that a criminal needs to assume your identity comes from your bank and credit card statements, bills and even credit card solicitations.
Shred all mail that contains identifying data and financial account information. Even if the details listed are incomplete, the best way to dispose of sensitive information is to shred it. This means if your cell phone bill lists your customer account number, your name, address or the last four digits of your SSN, shred it. Criminals have committed identity theft with less information in the past.
Elect to receive electronic communications where applicable. Some criminals may not wait for you to throw your mail away, choosing instead to steal directly from your mailbox. Opting to pay your bills online will reduce the amount of sensitive information that is sent to your home and lower your identity theft risk, just make sure your online security software is up-to-date. If you prefer to maintain a copy of paper statements for your records, you can opt to have bills, bank statements and other private documents sent to a locked P.O. Box, rather than your home address, which may not be as secure.
Enroll in credit monitoring. Many Americans have found credit monitoring to be an effective method of staying abreast of their financial information. This credit tool monitors your credit report daily and alerts you to key changes. Monitoring changes to your credit, like a new line of credit in your name or an account in delinquency, may help you detect identity theft and is frequently provided for victims of major security breaches.
What to do if you become an identity theft victim
• Notify your bank right away. They will be able to place a block on your cards and reimburse you for unauthorized charges.
• Notify your local law enforcement agency and file an identity theft report.
• Contact the three credit bureaus, which can place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will ensure additional information is required before opening accounts in your name.
• Regularly check all your financial accounts and credit report to keep up with any unusual activity.
If you are a victim of identity theft, report it to the desk sergeant, Fort Riley Police Department, at 785-239-6767.