Identity theft is the most reported complaint to the FTC every year by consumers, and according to the FTC it’s frequently perpetrated through methods like purse snatching, dumpster diving, phishing emails, and spyware.
“Identity theft can happen to anyone, and the effects can be costly”, said Lori Wilson, President and CEO of BBB serving the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern Coastal California. “Shredding sensitive documents is a vital part of protecting yourself from this type of crime.”
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, Social Security number, credit card number or some other piece of your personal information to apply for a credit card, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or obtain loans under your name. During the course of a busy day, you share this information when making transactions in person, over the telephone and online.
If this sensitive information falls into the hands of a criminal, it may be used to steal your financial identity. To help you secure your ID, your BBB is hosting free on-site document shredding on October 15 in South San Francisco. For more details about this event, click here.
Besides shredding your documents at BBB’s Secure Your ID Day, follow these tips to help safeguard your identity:
How to protect yourself:
- Stay up to date. Read your credit card and bank statements carefully and often. Know your payment due dates. If a bill doesn’t show up when you expect it, look into it. Read the statements from your health insurance plan. Make sure the claims paid match the care you received. Review each of your three credit reports at com at least once a year.
- Keep your personal information secure offline. Keep your financial documents and records in a safe place, and limit what you carry. Don’t leave ingoing or outgoing mail lying around in your mailbox, and don’t order new checks to your home. Never give personal or financial information to unsolicited callers. Keep a close hold on your Social Security number and ask questions before deciding to share it. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification.
- Safeguard your personal information online. Be alert to impersonators, and don’t overshare on social networking sites. Encrypt your data, and safely dispose of devices and personal information. Protect your passwords by keeping them in a safe place and ensuring they’re at least eight characters and contain numbers, symbols and letters. Install a firewall and anti-virus program to protect your computer and personal information. Update these programs, as well as your operating system and web browser, frequently.
Warning signs to look out for:
- You receive bills for a credit card account you never opened, or you may notice unfamiliar and unauthorized charges on your bills. Collection agencies contact you regarding the payment of such debts. You get turned down for a credit card, mortgage or other loan because your credit report includes debts you never knew you had.
- A billing cycle passes without receiving your credit card statement — or other expected mail — because it has been sent to a different address or you’ve been switched to paperless billing. Bank statements include transfers or withdrawals you do not remember, checks are missing from your checkbook, or new checks do not arrive in the mail.
- You’re billed for medical services you didn’t use, or your health plan won’t cover you because you’ve reached your benefit limit. You may be denied medical insurance because of a condition you don’t have.
- You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
If you’ve been a victim:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and get copies of your report.
- Report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This will allow the FTC to identify patterns associated with the unauthorized transactions and investigate the source of the data breach. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Keep a copy of the police report and make note of the date of your report. Report it to BBB Scam Tracker as well.
- Begin to repair the damage. Depending on your situation, your next step might be closing accounts opened in your name, or reporting fraudulent charges to your credit card company and requesting a new card. Call all companies where you know fraud occurred. Visit gov for more information.