How to Guard Against Identity Theft
Three Types of Identity Theft
Identity thieves will use your personal information to find your medical insurance information. Once they have it, they will go have procedures done under your name and insurance. When this happens your medical record will reflect procedures and conditions that are not yours. The next time you go in for treatment you could get medications you don’t need or treatments that could be harmful to you. You will also be responsible for the bills that the insurance did not cover and it may increase your insurance rates. And those treatments and conditions will be included in your medical history.
Identity thieves will commit a crime using your name. You can then be arrested and charged for a crime you didn’t commit and it can be very difficult to prove it was not you.
Once identity thieves have your information they can gain access to your credit cards, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts. They will open new credit card accounts and take money from your accounts. They will steal your money and will ruin your credit history making it difficult to buy a house, get new insurance, or get a job.
How They Get Your Information
Hacking into your PC:
Hackers will put a virus on your computer called Key Stroke more widely known as a Trojan Horse. What this does is allow them to see what you are typing giving them access to your accounts and passwords without finding out your address or SSN first. Once they have access to your accounts they can find your SSN and from there any other information they want.
Small Electronic devices known as Skimmers are used to copy information from a credit card or ATM card. Thieves will hide one over an ATM machine and when you put your card in to access your account it copies and stores all your information giving them access to your accounts. This is also used in restaurants; waiters will swipe your card through a skimmer before charging you for your meal. If possible watch where your card goes once you give it to the waiter.
This is where you receive an email that looks like it is from your bank or any other company that you may do business with asking for your personal information. When you fill it out it connects to a hacker who gets your information and who may install a spyware program on your PC. Don’t be fooled by a business logo in an email. Always go to a business website independently of any link in an email you receive.
The easiest way for someone to get personal information is to go through your trash. Your trash is their treasure. Go paperless and shred any documents you throw away.
Public records such as mortgages and death certificates contain your SSN and other personal information.
If you want more information consider Steve Weisman’s book titled “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity and Your Credit.”
How to Protect Yourself
- Monitor your credit report. Everyone has a right to a free credit report annually, which can be obtained at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. If you forget the web address you can also go to www.ftc.gov, which is the site for the agency charged with dealing with free credit reports.
- Be careful to whom you give your personal information. The more places that have your information the easier it is to get. Opt out of information sharing. Get off the pre-approved credit card lists at www.optoutprescreen.com or 1-888-567-8688. Enroll in the do-not-call registry at www.donotcall.gov.
- Be careful when shopping online.
- It’s a good practice to be familiar with the name or reputation of any company you’re dealing with. You can often find helpful information about online companies from Internet news sources, directories, and rating services. The Federal Trade Commission maintains a web site (www.consumer.gov) that provides many buyer’s guides, lists of tips, and links to helpful resources.
- Only provide personal and credit card information when the merchant is using SSL (Secure Socket Layer). You can tell when you are on a site using SSL because the website address will start with https:// (vs. http:/) or will have the tiny SSL lock symbol located at the bottom of the web browser. SSL means that your information is encrypted when it is sent over the internet. It does not mean that the information is safe once it gets to the merchant, however. So other safeguards are needed.
- Check for expected delivery dates, shipping and handling fees, warranties, return policies, and other important information. Look for an email address to write to (or a phone number to call) if you have a question, a problem, or if you need help.
- It’s a good practice to pay with credit cards, because under federal law (and your credit card agreement) your liability for an unauthorized charge is limited to $50. While the same may be true of ATM-VISA cards, if your ATM information is stolen and cash is withdrawn from your account, that money could be gone, at least until the matter is resolved. So it is recommended never to us an ATM card on the internet.
- Keep your passwords safe, and don’t share them with other people. Change them regularly (at least every 6 months).
- Make sure to print or save electronically any records related to your online transactions. This will help you keep track of shipping dates, shipping and handling fees, and other details of your transactions.
- To file a complaint about a fraudulent business practice or to get free information on how to spot, stop, and avoid one, call the Federal Trade Commission, toll-free, at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) or visit www.ftc.gov and click on “Consumer Protection.”
- Remove information from old computers by taking out the hard drive and destroying it. There are companies, such as Data Killers (www.datakillers.com), that securely and completely purge or destroy hard drives, back-up tapes, CD’s, memory devices, etc.
- Be careful when downloading. There can be hidden files containing spyware and Trojan Horses. Deal with known and reputable businesses.
- Install anti-spyware, anti-virus and firewall programs on your computer and keep them current. Norton and MacAfee are well known anti-virus and firewall programs. You can download free anti-spyware programs at www.comparitech.com. Beware of free virus and anti-spyware programs offered on the internet. They are often viruses and spyware … and sometimes they aren’t even free! We believe the information at pctools to be safe, but always make sure any offer passes the “smell” test.
- Use precautions when using WIFI (wireless internet access found at various places such as hotels and Starbucks).
- Choose good passwords and pins and do not write them down. If that seems impossible to you (who has that sort of memory?), at least store your passwords in a password-protected document (and don’t write that password down, that on you’ll have to remember)
- Check your medical insurance payments regularly to make sure they are all payments for actual treatments you have received.
- Freeze your credit, making it harder for people to access your credit report.
- We recommend IdentityForce to monitor your credit activity and have negotiated a discount for Yeske Buie clients.
- Cross shred all mail and documents containing personal information.
- Don’t carry your Social Security Administration card with you. Keep it in a safe place.
- Go Paperless on bills and bank statements. If your computer is secure it is safer than the bills/statements going through the mail. A primary source of information for identity theft is credit card bills and bank statements stolen from mailboxes.
© Yeske Buie 2008. This information has been gathered from various sources believed to be credible and reliable. Yeske Buie® has not tested or researched all of these businesses. Please do your due diligence and be careful who you do business with and what information you give them.