Identity theft: Member preparedness & prevention
Identity theft involves the misappropriation of an individual's personal information in order to commit fraud or theft. Identity thieves "take over" an individual's identity by stealing the person's name, social security number, credit and debit card numbers or other personal information.
Identity theft includes "taking over" an existing account, opening new accounts or loans or purchasing merchandise in another person's name. Listed below are several important guidelines from two Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports (Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft; ID Theft-What's It All About?), and the CBM Credit Education Foundation, Inc. Identity Theft-Your Good Name Gone Bad.
How skilled identity thieves obtain your personal information
- From businesses or other institutions by:
- Stealing records or information while they're on the job
- Bribing an employee who has access to confidential records
- Hacking these records
- Conning information from employees
- Stealing your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information
- Rummaging through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving"
- Obtaining your credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your credit report
- Stealing your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device known as "skimming." Your card may be used to make a purchase or the physical storage device is attached to an ATM machine where you use your ATM card
- Your wallet or purse is stolen
- A change of address form diverts your mail to another location
- Personal information is stolen from your home
- Personal information is obtained from you through email or phone when identity thieves pose as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as "phishing" online, or pretexting by phone
For more information on phishing, visit AntiPhishing.org.
How identity thieves use your personal information
- Identity thieves may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter proceeds to make charges to your account. Since your monthly bill is sent to a different address, it may delay your ability to recognize the problem
- New credit card accounts are opened in your name. When the new credit cards bills are not paid, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report
- Phone or wireless service is established in your name
- A new bank account is opened in your name and bad checks are written against it
- Counterfeit checks, credit or debit transactions, or electronic transfers are fraudulently authorized in your name to withdraw funds from your bank account
- The identity thief files for bankruptcy under your name to avoid eviction or paying debts incurred in your name
- An auto loan is approved in your name to purchase a vehicle
- Identification such as a driver's license is issued with the picture of the identity thief, in your name
- Employment or fraudulent tax returns are filed in your name
- Identity thieves may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don't appear on their court date, an arrest warrant is issued in your name
How to protect yourself
Protect your personal information
- Never carry your Social Security card, Social Security number, birth certificate or passport, unless necessary
- Do not include your address, telephone number or driver's license number on a credit card receipt
- Do not print your Social Security, driver's license or phone number on your personal checks
- Do not provide identifying information over the phone or the Internet to someone you do not know
- Shred all personal documents before placing them in the trash.
Protect your financial information
- Obtain a copy of your credit report every year
- Secure your financial records. Burglars may be just as interested in credit cards, bank accounts, and investment statements as they are in your television, jewelry and other valuables
- Check monthly credit card statements for charges you did not initiate. If monthly statements do not arrive in the mail, call your card issuer immediately
- Keep a list of all credit cards and financial accounts including account numbers, phone numbers and expiration dates in a safe place. Only use your credit card on the Internet if the transaction will be encrypted
- Shred financial and confidential information such as credit card pre-approvals, credit card receipts, etc.
- Store credit cards you do not use in a secure location. Cancel accounts if you will not use them again; destroy old credit cards before discarding
- Carry only the credit cards you plan to use
- When you apply for a new credit card, watch for your card in the mail. If the card does not arrive promptly, call the credit card company
- Do not use your mother's maiden name as a password for accounts. Create your own password
- Unless your home mailbox is secure, mail payments at the post office and pick up your personal check orders/reorders for new checks at your financial institution
- If you are not interested in pre-approved credit offers, opt-out by phoning 1-888-567-8688.
Protecting your computer information
- Update your virus protection software regularly
- Don't download files from strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know
- Use a firewall, especially if you have a high-speed connection to the Internet. Without a firewall, hackers can take over your computer and access sensitive information
- Use a secure browser (software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet) to guard the safety of your online transactions. When you're submitting information, look for the "security lock" icon on the status bar that confirms transmitted information is secure (https://www...).
- Do not store financial information on your laptop unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must store information, use a "secure" password, containing a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols
- Avoid using an automatic login feature that saves your password and log off when you are finished. If your laptop is stolen, the thief will have a hard time accessing sensitive information
- Delete all personal information stored on your computer before you dispose of it. Use a "wipe" utility program that overwrites the entire hard drive and makes files unrecoverable
- Read Web site privacy policies to answer questions about the access, security and how personal information collected at the site will be stored and whether it can be provided to third parties in the future.
Publications available from Aurora Credit Union:
- Federal Trade Commission Publications: Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft ID Theft: What's It All About?
- CBM Credit Education Foundation, Inc. Publication: Identity Theft: Your Good Name Gone Bad
For additional information on identity theft, click here for the Identity Theft Coach.