December 1, 2016. By Matthew Okaty:
Being the victim of identity theft can be an overwhelming experience. In addition to the possible financial loss, there is also the loss of time spent tending to the crisis and performing damage control. Familiarizing yourself in advance with what steps should be taken can help lessen the stress and make things go a little easier should you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.
* * * * *
One of the best resources available for information on recovering from identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website (www.identitytheft.gov). I will not attempt to detail its numerous recommendations as it does an excellent job of that already in an easy to follow manner. However, one thing I would like to bring attention to, and which many people are not aware of, is the importance of completing an official Identity Theft Report.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), people are entitled to specific rights when they believe they are the victim of identity theft. For example, you have the right to ask the three major consumer reporting agencies to place “fraud alerts” in your file. Some of these rights, however, are dependent upon the victim completing an Identity Theft Report. Without such a report, it will be more difficult to prevent damage to your credit when a fraudster runs up debt in your name. This is because consumer reporting agencies and businesses usually require such documentation before they will honor your request to block the reporting of the fraudulent information on your credit report. Other benefits to completing an Identity Theft Report include extended fraud alerts and additional free credit reports.
So how do you complete an Identity Theft Report?
- First, complete an Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) either online (identitytheft.gov), by phone (1-877-438-4338), or you can print out here: http://bit.ly/1mdDpxy
- Second, take your Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit to your local police department, along with any proof you have of the identity theft, and file a police report. Together, these documents – the Identity Theft Complaint, Affidavit, and police report – constitute your Identity Theft Report. It does not need to be filed anywhere, but rather is something that you keep on hand in case you ever need to show proof of the identity theft.
Taking the time to complete an Identity Theft Report is worth the effort and is essential to protecting yourself from the consequences of identity theft, particularly since you may not become aware of the full extent of any damages until much later.
* * * * *
Identity theft and fraud usually spike during the holiday season, not just because of the increase in consumer activity, but also because people tend to be easily distracted from all the hustle and bustle that characterizes this time of year. Therefore, be on heightened alert this season and consider using these tips to decrease your chances of becoming a victim:
- Limit what you keep in your wallet. Do not store your social security card in there, and limit the number of credit cards that you carry around at any given time.
- Use credit cards rather than debit cards for purchases if possible since they aren’t linked to your bank account. Use best practices to pay off credit card balances as soon as possible.
- Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Scrutinize even the smallest charges; some thieves will steal just small amounts at a time knowing that it is less likely to be noticed.
- Review your free consumer credit reports (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) to make sure that no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name.
- Consider setting up activity alerts via email or text for credit/debit card purchases if your institution or bank offers this feature.
- Avoid applying for new credit cards at mall kiosks or retail stores if the application involves writing down your personal information on a sheet of paper.
- Practice online safety
- Make sure the websites you visit are legitimate (some fraudsters clone websites) and check that that there is a “lock” symbol on the left side of the URL for sites that require you to enter personal information, such as credit card information.
- Be careful of clicking on links in emails and avoid pop-up ads, especially if they look unfamiliar. If in doubt, call the company who sent the email to confirm authenticity or visit their website directly by typing in the URL (some fraudsters will send out fake shipping alerts via email which contain malware designed to look like they’re from FedEx or UPS. If you are expecting a package and wish to track it, go directly to the site).
- Be careful of digital greeting cards/gift cards – they could contain viruses or malware.
- Don’t conduct transactions (including from smartphones) from public Wi-Fi networks – they typically aren’t secure networks.
- Use strong passwords for your online accounts and limit what you share on social media, as this information can sometimes overlap (pet names, maiden names, anniversary dates, etc.)
- Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date and perform regular scans.
Please notify us immediately if you ever become the victim of identity theft or have your personal information compromised in any way. The sooner you alert us to the circumstances of this breach of personal information, the more effectively we can assess the potential for further fraud and recognize ‘red flags’ when they appear. As a reminder and for your protection, we always require clients to speak with us by telephone or in-person before we will act on any requests to transfer money to outside accounts.
Wishing you a safe and fun holiday season!