You’ve probably heard a lot about identity theft, but it could never happen to you, right? Unfortunately, it’s more common than you think. Every 22 seconds, someone has his/her identity stolen in the U.S.
You could be the next victim. Learn the signs of identity theft and the strategies to help protect your identity.
Types of Identity Theft
Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information to steal from you. They can take over your personal accounts. They can ruin your credit. They can take out loans in your name, leaving you on the hook for thousands of dollars or more.
There are many types of identity theft. Here are some of the most common:
• Bank fraud
• Credit card fraud
• Employment fraud
• Tax-related fraud
• Government benefits fraud
• Insurance fraud
• Loan or lease fraud
• Medical services fraud
• Online shopping fraud
Watch for These Warning Signs
Identity theft can easily happen without you knowing it. Be on the lookout for signs that show someone is fraudulently using your information.
1. You do not recognize charges on your credit card or bank account. Check your credit card statement each month, or online more frequently if you feel you may be a victim of identity theft. If you see charges that you didn’t make, contact your credit card company. You can dispute those charges, and change your account number. Similarly, if you see withdrawals on your bank statement that you didn’t make, notify your bank immediately. While they may not be able to refund that money, they can put a hold on your account and open a new one for you.
2. You are getting calls from debt collectors. If you’re getting calls from debt collectors for a purchase you did not make, that’s a huge red flag. It’s possible someone made a purchase in your name. Get the information from the debt collector. Contact the fraud department of the creditor who says that you owe the debt. Request copies of the transaction. Dispute the charge. Close or change the account where the debt was originally charged, whether it’s a bank account or credit card.
3. You receive notifications of password changes you didn’t make. If you get a notification that you changed your password, and you didn’t make the change, take action right away. That means someone was able to access your account. Notify the institution. Change the initial password to something new. If you use that same password elsewhere, change it there, too.
4. You get texts with verification codes. If you get a verification code from PayPal or other services, that’s a sign that someone is using one of your personal accounts. Change your password immediately and contact the account provider.
5. Your credit score suddenly drops. Perhaps you’re denied a loan because your credit report shows unexpected problems. Or maybe you checked your credit score and it’s much lower than it was. Order a credit report to get detailed information. You can get a free report from the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Then you can correct any inaccuracies for future reporting.
6. You’re missing mail and bills. Identity thieves sometimes use a change of address form to reroute your mail. That’s one way they can get personal information mailed right to them. If you notice that mail is missing, especially bills, contact those companies and make sure the address on file is the correct one.
7. You’re getting unfamiliar bills. If you’re receiving medical bills for services that you didn’t receive or bills for items you didn’t purchase, someone is pretending to be you. Contact the provider and let them know.
8. The IRS has more than one tax return in your name. This happens when someone files a tax return to get your refund. You will need to contact the IRS to resolve the situation. You can get a copy of the fraudulent return and take steps to protect your social security number in the future.
How to Protect Your Identity
Follow these steps to help prevent identity theft.
• Guard your social security number. Most places will ask for the last four digits only. Do not share the full number unless you are certain it is secure and safe.
• Watch out for phishing scams. Don’t respond to unsolicited calls or emails. Don’t click on links in those emails either. Never enter your personal information in response to an email.
• Keep close tabs on your billing cycles. If bills do not appear, you will know what is missing.
• Read your credit card statements and look for small charges, too. Scammers often start with a small test before making a big purchase.
• Create complex passwords for your accounts. Avoid using complete words and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts. Initiate 2-step verification for an extra layer of protection. Avoid storing passwords on your devices.
• If you bank online, install virus protection on your computer and mobile devices.
• Don’t use public WiFi. Use a secure VPN for your devices. Keep devices updated with the latest security fixes.
• Freeze your credit. This prevents anyone, including you, from opening a loan or credit card in your name. When you’re ready to do so, you can unfreeze your credit temporarily.
• Sign up for a credit card alert for purchases more than a certain amount. That will give you an instant notification if someone happens to use your card and spend over that amount.
• Use an ID theft protection service like Cyber Scout, offered at no additional cost to you with every California Casualty policy.
This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.