TIPS TO AVOID IDENTITY THEFT
Sources: Office of the Iowa Attorney General and Federal Trade Commission
www.iowaattorneygeneral.org and consurmer.ftc.gov
Identity theft can happen to anyone. Identity theft can disrupt your finances, credit history and reputation and take time, money and patience to resolve. You can take positive action to reduce your risk and avoid becoming a victim.
Identity theft can happen if someone has access to important personal information about you and uses this information to commit fraud or theft. Identity thieves will do things like watch over your shoulder at the ATM or any other time you are putting in a PIN number. They will also sort through trash looking for credit card or ATM receipts you have thrown away.
There are clues you can watch for if you suspect someone has stolen your information. Be aware and watch for anything suspicious or unfamiliar.
You see withdrawals from your accounts that you can't explain.
- You don't get your bills or other mail.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- Charges appear on your credit card bills that aren't yours.
- You see accounts on your credit report that you didn't open.
Here are some helpful tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately. Keep photocopies of your credit cards, account numbers and telephone numbers of the fraud departments.
- Match your credit card receipts against your monthly bills and check your monthly bank or other financial account statements for accuracy.
- If you applied for a credit card and didn't receive it when expected or if your card is nearing its expiration date and the replacement is not received, call the financial institution. Be sure to sign new credit cards immediately -- before someone else does.
- Shield your hand when using your PIN at an ATM or point of sale transaction -- "should surfers" could be watching you, even if you can't seem them. Take care never to leave transaction receipts at ATMs, on counters at financial institutions, at gasoline pumps or in retail stores.
- Beware of mail or telephone solicitations that offer prizes or awards -- especially if the offer asks for personal information or financial account numbers. It is a good practice to never give credit card numbers or account information over the phone unless you have a trusted relationship with the caller and you have initiated the call.
- Keep your information secure online. Don't disclose credit card or other financial account numbers on a website unless the site offers a secure transaction. There are two ways you can check whether a Web page provides a secure data transaction:
* An icon of a lock will appear in the bottom strip of the Web browser page.
* The URL for the Web page will change from "http" to "https" for the page at which you input the personal data.
- Watch for monthly bank or other financial account statements and bills. If you don't get them when expected, contact the sender.
- Protect your Social Security number and release it only when required by law or if it is in your best interest. (Iowa does not require your social security number on your Iowa driver's license - you may request an "assigned" number. You may also remove your social security number from your voter registration card.)
- Properly dispose of documents or mail containing personal information including solicitations for free credit cards, pre-approved credit or convenience checks. Shred it or tear into very small pieces. Avoid making personal information available to "dumpster divers".
- Use strong passwords and keep them private. Avoid simple passwords that are easily guessed.
- Always be aware of your surroundings. Be cautious with purses an bags in crowded places that can be an easy target for someone to grab and run.
- Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home. Take care if storing sensitive information on laptops or computers. Encrypt data when sharing.
- Before disposing of a computer, printer or mobile device, get rid of all the information it stores. Use a wipe utility program or smash hard drives and remove the memory or SIM cards from mobile devices.
- Avoid oversharing or posting your personal information on social networking sites. Consider limiting access to a small number of people.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT
Source: Federal Trade Commission
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a website dedicated to fighting back against identity theft. The website provides detailed information to help consumers avoid identity theft and learn what to do if their identity is stolen. If you think you have been a victim go to www.ftc.gov.
WHAT DO I NEED TO DO FIRST?
If your information has been stolen, follow these steps described in detail at IdentityTheft.gov/Steps.
Call the company where the fraud occurred.
- Place a fraud alert through one of the credit bureaus and get your credit report. An initial fraud alert will protect your credit from unverified access for 90 days. The fraud alert is free and one bureau will notify the other two. You may also request a "credit freeze" that restricts access to your credit report.
- Use the online form to report identity theft to the FTC at ftcsomplaintassistant.gov and they will help you set a recovery plan, walk you through the steps and help track your progress. The completed complaint is an "FTC Affidavit".
- Take the "FTC Affidavit" and file a report with your local police department.
- Begin to repair the damage by closing accounts opened in your name, removing bogus charges and correcting fraudulent information on your credit report.
HOW DO I ORDER A CREDIT REPORT?
Each of the nationwide credit reporting companies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The reports are ordered through annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. This is the only source for your free annual reports and is authorized by Federal law - be careful not to go to an "imposter" website. Read the report carefully and if you see a mistake or a sign of fraud, contact the credit reporting company. For additional information go to https://www.ftc.gov/.
IS THERE IOWA-SPECIFIC INFORMATION?
The Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General's Office is a source of information about how to avoid becoming a victim of consumer fraud or identity theft. The Division enforces law to protect the public from false or misleading advertising or sales practices. They also help consumers get information to help them make important decisions. The Division has a system that allows individuals who believe they have been a victim of consumer fraud to file a complaint. They also provide a guide of steps to follow if you are victim of identity theft as well as a variety of publications and newsletters.