We recently held an Identity Theft seminar where attendees were taught what identity theft is, how it happens, and how to deter, detect, and defend themselves against it.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information such as your credit card or social security number, and uses it fraudulently. Once the thieves have your information, they can charge large amounts with your credit card, open new accounts using your social security number, or even give your name to the police if they get arrested. All of this will likely cost you time and money, as well as it can potentially ruin your credit and good name. Identity thieves can obtain this information in many different ways, such as computer hacking, “dumpster diving” into your trash, or simply stealing your wallet or purse.
Although there is no guarantee you’ll never fall victim to identity theft, you can minimize your risk by following the “3 D’s” of identity protection: Deter, Detect, and Defend. By safeguarding your information, you can deter identity thieves from stealing your identity:
- Shred financial documents
- Protect your social security number
- Don’t use obvious passwords
- Avoid giving out personal information unless you’re sure who you are dealing with.
The importance of being proactive in protecting your identity was stressed, as knowing your identity makes it a lot more difficult for thieves to steal it. The next step in avoiding identity theft is to detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements. Always be alert for mail or bills that don’t arrive and denials of credit for no reason. Also, contrary to the myth, you are not punished for inspecting your credit report. In fact, the law entitles you to a free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. These three companies urge you to review your annual free credit report at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/, which is the only authorized site to view your credit report for free each year.
The final step of the “3 D’s” is to defend against identity theft as soon as you suspect a problem. You will want to close faulty accounts, file a police report, contact the Federal Trade Commission, and even place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports by calling one of the three credit reporting bureaus.
If you’d like more tips or advice on identity theft, be sure to check the Federal Trade Commission’s website at http://www.ftc.gov/idtheft for helpful tips, documents, and videos. First Financial also posts important articles in protecting yourself from online fraud on our website.