How to Spot Identity Theft and Respond

March 2-8 is National Consumer Protection Week.

By: Christy Wild | Category: Financial Services | Issue: March 2015

Luke Owens, owner of THE HUB in Broken Arrow, with member Brittany Taylor. Fraudsters try to avoid detection by making small purchases with your account information at local merchants.

Luke Owens, owner of THE HUB in Broken Arrow, with member Brittany Taylor. Fraudsters try to avoid detection by making small purchases with your account information at local merchants.

Americans fall victim to identity theft every two seconds, according to the 2014 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research.

People of all ages, race and socio-economic status are vulnerable. Not only is it essential to protect your personal information, it’s important to know how to tell if someone has your personal information and how to respond quickly to identity theft.

How do thieves get information? They steal wallets and phones and rummage through trash. They trick people into revealing personal information over the phone or email by pretending to work for trusted institutions. Thieves use social media and public Wi-Fi networks to hack into personal profiles, email and bank accounts. They make fake websites and use malicious malware like card skimmers at ATMs or the gas pump.

Once thieves have your personal information, they may run up charges on credit cards, open new accounts or get medical treatments using your health insurance. According to the Financial Trade Commission, thieves may file a tax return in your name to get a refund or give your name to the police during an arrest.

To spot identity theft, look for:
•  Unexplained withdrawals from your bank accounts
•  Merchants refusing your checks
•  Debt collectors calling about debts that aren’t yours
•  Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
•  Bills for services you didn’t use
•  Rejected medical claims because health insurance records indicate you’ve reached your benefits limit
•  Bills no longer arriving in your mailbox

If your personal information is hijacked, or you see suspicious transactions:
Place a fraud alert on your credit file. If you think someone has misused your personal financial information, call the credit reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, TransUnion – and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit file. Another consideration may be signing up for identity theft protection from services like LifeLock or Identity Guard*.
Monitor bank and other account statements regularly for unusual activity. Alert your bank immediately, so they can help watch for fraudulent charges.

Order a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The Fair Credit Reporting act requires each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies to provide you, upon request, a free copy of your credit report annually. You do not have to get all three reports at the same time. Contact the credit reporting agency if you notice any discrepancies.

Create an identity theft report to help you deal with debt collectors and agencies that have open accounts in your name. Start by filing a complaint with the FTC, www.ftc.gov/complaint. Then file a police report and include a copy of the FTC complaint. Ask for a copy of the police report for your files.

Always safeguard against identity theft with these tips: Shred all documents with personal, financial and medical information. Don’t respond to email, text or phone messages asking for personal information.  Legitimate companies will never ask for information this way. Create passwords mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use the same password for more than one account. If you shop or bank online, use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site has “https” at the beginning of the web address; “s” is for secure. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall on your computer. Set your computer’s operating system, web browser and security system to update automatically.
*Opinions expressed above are meant for generic illustration purposes only, not financial advice. RCB Bank does not endorse the services mentioned above.

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