Protect Your Identity and Fight Off Phishers
Playing it safe pays off
November 5, 2013 by Mark Dye
Identity theft is one of the most difficult crimes to recover from, and it takes countless hours to track and resolve the problem. As more and more information about us circulates on the Internet—from online shopping to social media—we are more likely to fall prey to those who will use our information to ruin our credit. But most ID theft takes places offline, with “phishing” and even dumpster diving being key ways thieves can steal your information.
Thankfully, there are things we can all do to protect ourselves whether online or off.
- Order your credit report at least once a year—Knowing what is on your credit report can help you catch a problem early and stop the crime from spiraling out of control. The earlier you catch the problem, the easier it will be to correct it. So head to AnnualCreditReport.com to get yours.
- Watch unused accounts—Experts used to suggest closing unused credit accounts, but because credit scores are partially determined by the amount of credit you have available versus how much you are using, keeping some old (but paid off) accounts open can help your credit. But check on them once or twice a year to make sure they aren’t being used by an ID thief.
- Beware of phishers—Phishing goes hand in hand with ID theft, as it’s the main way thieves get people to share vital information, such as Social Security and account numbers. They either do so online (via email or fake websites, both of which look like they come from legit companies) or via phone (acting as representatives from known companies). Some simple steps can keep you from falling prey to phishers:
- If you’ve never bought anything from a company, chances are you won’t be getting an email or phone call from them.
- If you’re not sure about an e-mail, never click on a link it contains.
- If you have done business with a company, but aren’t sure of the e-mail, go to their website or call them directly—do NOT go there via links in the questionable email.
- No company will ever ask you for your social security number, account number, or password via e-mail or phone; they will only ask for a simple identifier (e.g. just the last four digits of your social security number, not the whole thing).
- Be sure to mark email messages as spam whenever you can, as it helps build a database and can stop future spammers. You can also send the message on to the Anti-Phishing Working Group.
- If you’re not sure what to do, just contact the company in question yourself. Odds are they’ll help if it is a real problem, and you can notify them of the phishing scam if not.
- Understand the protections that exist—The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA) was written to offer protections against identity theft. Detailed information on this legislation and specific consumer protections it contains can be viewed on the FDIC’s website.
- What to do if you’re a victim—If you ever find yourself a victim (or have already been one), contact your local police. Be prepared to provide as much information and documentation as possible, and get a copy of the police report, as creditors and credit reporting agencies may require you to show that a crime was committed.
You’ll also want to report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which collects complaints about identity theft from consumers and stores them in a secure online database called the Consumer Sentinel that is available to law enforcement agencies worldwide. The FTC can also provide additional information on what you need to do as a victim of identify theft. You can contact the FTC’s Consumer Response Center at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/.
Finally, you’ll want to contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian and Trans Union—and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report to help prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened. In addition, as a victim of identify theft, these agencies are required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report every three months, allowing you to further monitor for illegal activity.
Additional resources and helpful information on identity theft can be found at www.identitytheft911.com and www.idtheftcenter.org.