Identity Theft and Compromised Accounts
Today it feels like it is only a matter of time before your financial information is compromised. Here are suggestions on what to do to protect your information and the steps you should take if you are a victim.
Protect your information:
- Do not give out your social security number. You are often asked to supply it for any number of situations that do not really require it. Buying a phone? Paying utilities? The businesses will ask you for your social security number for their records. Push back. Demand to know why they really need it and how they safeguard it. Use alternatives numbers that you create in lieu of your social security number.
- Use the strongest passwords you can and change them often. Do not use the same password for all accounts. If asked for security question answers, do not give readily identifiable answers that can be searched on the internet or social media such as where you graduated from high school or your mother’s maiden name. You can make up something entirely such as Mom’s maiden name was momhasgiraffeknees, (for your own safety’s sake, just don’t tell her what you used). More places are allowing you to sign in only using a code texted to your phone that expires quickly. That is a great extra level of security.
- Have your phone, tablet and laptop lock quickly and automatically, keep the software updated and avoid public wi-fi. Do not let your devices memorize passwords on your behalf. Use firewall security on your home devices and keep it updated.
- Choose to use credit cards. A credit card has limited liabilty if stolen not usually offered by a debit card.
- Protect yourself from mail theft by getting a locking mail box or post office box. On the other end of the process, shred or burn any mail with your identification on it such as bills, credit card solicitations, and insurance information. Ask providers to mask all identification on any mail sent to you such as social security or account numbers.
- Stop most pre-approved credit card offers. They make a tempting target for identity thieves who steal your mail. Have your name removed from credit bureau marketing lists. Call toll-free 1-888-5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). Or opt out online at www.optoutprescreen.com.
- Limit your exposure while shopping on line to one chosen credit card instead of multiple.
- Check your credit report twice a year. Consider putting a freeze on your credit with the credit bureaus if not applying for anything new. This is particularly important with children’s accounts since it can otherwise take years to discover they have been compromised.
- Check your bills for unidentified charges. Thieves will often charge a small item first to see it goes through before going on a spending spree. Notify your credit card company, in writing, as soon as you see anything suspicious to protect your rights.
- Be cautious about supplying personal information to any e-mail or phone solicitation, particularly if they try to pressure you in to immediately acting or they threaten dire consequences. Hang up or delete the e-mail and then call your financial institution directly at a known number to follow up.
Ok, I did all that, and I still got compromised, now what?
- Call the fraud departments at the companies where you know fraud occurred. Explain that someone stole your information. Ask them to close the accounts immediately. Record who you spoke to, the phone number you called, and the date and time you called. Follow up with a letter and ask them to respond in writing to let you know what they did.
- Change logins, passwords, and PINs for ALL of your accounts immediately. Talk to the companies where you believe the information might still be safe, and get them to send you replacement cards with new numbers on them as soon as possible. Many will overnight mail them at no cost.
- Place a free fraud alert and get your credit reports. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureau which will alert the the other two. Start with a phone call then follow up in writing. Ask them to block the fraudulent information. They can be reached at:
Experian.com/fraudalert 1-888-397-3742 Experian P.O. Box 9554 Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion.com/fraud 1-800-680-7289 TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19022-2000
Equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance 1-888-766-0008 Equifax P.O. Box 105069 Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
- Report identity theft to your local police department and then also the FTC at identitytheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338. Include as many details as possible. The FTC will provide you with an identity theft report to share with potential creditors. You must write to any debt collector and provide this report within 30 days of them contacting you to protect your rights.
- Report an identity theft to the IRS by filing Form 14309 located at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf. They will flag your account for unusual activity and provide you with a 6 digit pin to be used on future filings. A new pin will be sent each year. Keep that pin to provide to your tax return preparer or you will not be able to e-file.
- If you had other identity cards stolen, report to those agencies as well. Take a mental inventory of all potentially affected items: driver’s license, social security card, library card, gym card, passport, work ids, anything that has personal information on it that could be used against you. You may also wish to contact service providers for utilities, internet, student loans, government benefits and phone to let them know of the fraud.
- The Social Security Administration can help with a change in your Social Security number if your situation is dire. Contact them at ssa.gov or at 1-800-772-1213 if you have no internet access.
If you cannot mitigate the problems yourself, especially if there has been criminal activity committed in your name, there are services and attorneys that specialize in this area. Act quickly to limit damages.