If you saw our Technical Tuesdays cybersecurity video, you know FSA takes online and offline security seriously. In addition to the areas of concern mentioned in the video, another dangerous breach in security is identity theft. Here are some tips to prevent the occurrence and first steps to take if it ever happens to you.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information with the intent to commit some type of fraudulent activity. There are many ways thieves can acquire your sensitive information, either directly or indirectly. If the wrong person picks up the wallet or purse you dropped, you could become a victim of identity theft. Other identity thieves will steal mail to find statements with personal information on them. To take this a step further, some crafty criminals will even dumpster dive to find personal information. Lately, there has been a rise in online identity theft through phone or email phishing schemes.
What can a criminal do with your personal information?
Once a scammer has your information, they can act on your behalf to open credit cards, lines of credit, auto loans, etc. A brother of one of our employees was a victim of identity theft when a thief opened an AT&T cellular data service under his name. Since the thief never paid the bill, the brother’s credit score suffered. We will cover what to do if this happens to you in a later section.
If a thief has your online passwords, they can change any information they want to in your account settings, including your mailing address and password!
What can you do to protect yourself from identity theft?
Luckily, there are multiple methods to protect yourself from identity theft.
- First and foremost, use unique and long passwords for all online accounts. To make this less painful, we recommend using an online password manager to help create and save each password.
- Never give your personal information on a suspicious phone call. If a company calls you asking for your information, more times than not, it is a scam. End the phone call with the potential scammer and call the company back on the phone number you regularly use to communicate. Then you can verify if the previous phone call and information requests were valid.
- Never send personal information via email (even if it’s to a trusted party) unless you utilize some type of data encryption. FSA uses data encryption software to safely send and receive documents that have personal information.
- Before responding to emails or clicking links, it is best practice to double-check the email address and embedded link by hovering your mouse over them. If they look different than what they should be or are extremely long and not familiar, these would be red flags that you may not want to click the link.
- To avoid someone taking a loan out in your name, you could freeze your credit reports with the three big credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). What happens if you need to apply for a mortgage or credit card? You can always unfreeze and refreeze your credit reports; just be sure to change all three accounts.
- Be sure to shred documents with personal information on them before throwing them in the trash.
- When traveling, limit the number of credit and debit cards you bring. In the event you lose your wallet, there will be fewer credit card companies to notify.
What to do if you are a victim of identity theft?
You could follow all the suggestions above and still be a victim of identity theft. If it happens, take a deep breath. Here are the first steps:
- Contact the fraud departments of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion to place fraud alerts. Additionally, you can file a report with your local police department. With persistence and a little luck, the effects on your credit score may be reversed. The brother we mentioned earlier in the AT&T case was able to remove the late payments on his credit score.
- Place fraud alerts with the credit card companies and any other accounts that may be affected
- You will need to freeze your accounts, debit cards, and credit cards. If there is already a fraudulent charge on the card or account, dispute it. The Federal Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) limits your liability to no more than $50 for unauthorized charges on credit cards. Debit cards are tricky, but the charges may be reversed too.
- For additional measures, click here to see the FTC’s steps to recover from identity theft.
We hope this blog post provides awareness of the dangers of identity theft. Let us know if you have any additional techniques to secure your identity. If you have any questions about how FSA keeps your information safe, do not hesitate to ask at questions@FSAinvest.com.