Identity theft is the most common complaint reported to the Federal Trade Commission. October is Identity Theft Prevention Month, so this is a good time to talk about ID theft – what it is, and how to prevent it.
Identity theft occurs when another person uses your personal information, such as name, Social Security number or credit or debit card without your permission.
The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their IDs stolen each year. When this happens, ID thieves may get a credit card, rent an apartment, buy an automobile or establish a phone account in your name. You may not realize your identity has been stolen until you obtain your credit report, attempt to get credit or are contacted by a collection agency.
How do thieves steal your identity?
• Dumpster diving: Rummaging through your trash looking for bills or other papers with your information on them.
• Skimming: Obtaining your credit card information by using an electronic device while processing your card.
• Phishing: Pretending to be a financial institution or company or sending spam or pop-ups asking for your information.
• Stealing: Lifting your purse or wallet or mail, which contains your bank or credit card statements, pre-approved credit card offers, or by stealing personnel records.
• Pretexting: Using false pretexts to obtain personal information from banks, phone companies or other sources, sometimes through bribery or theft.
• Smartphone theft: Stealing your phone physically or hacking into your device the same ways that computers are violated.
What do thieves do with your personal information?
• Use your credit card for purchases. When they don’t pay, the delinquency shows on your credit report. If they have changed your address, you may not even see the bills until it is too late.
• Phone and utility fraud. Thieves may open phone, utility or cable accounts in your name or add charges to your existing account.
• Banks and finance fraud. Thieves may create counterfeit checks with your name and account number, open a bank account, write bad checks causing overdraft fees, clone your ATM or debit card, make electronic withdrawals or take out a loan in your name.
• Government documents. Thieves may get a driver’s license or other official ID with your number and their picture, use your name and Social Security number to get benefits or file a fraudulent tax return using your ID.
How do you know your ID has been stolen? Monitor your bank and credit card statement monthly and look for false transactions. Check your credit report regularly. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Bill collectors may call checking on unpaid items that you have not purchased. You find your credit has been damaged when you attempt to get a mortgage, buy a car or get credit and are turned down. You may get rent due notices about an apartment you never rented, default notices on a mortgage on a home you never purchased or information about a job you never had.
Of course, if your purse or smartphone is stolen, your ID has probably been stolen, too.
One of the best ways to prevent ID theft is to shred all your documents and mail that contains your Social Security number and/or financial information, such as your credit card or bank account numbers. To help do this, CCCS of McHenry County is holding a free shredding event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m,. Oct. 27. If you have large amounts to shred, please bring them as early as possible, so you can be accommodated. Donations will be accepted. If you have questions, please call CCCS at: 815-338-5757.
Smartphones should be password protected the same as computers. In case of theft, regularly back-up your personal information and wipe the phone. Install an ant-virus program and always make sure that links are safe. Before downloading apps, carefully read the fine print.
For further information, check out these two sites for good information on ID theft:
www.ProtectYourIDNow.org and www.CONSUMER-ACTION.ORG.
• Virginia Peschke is executive director of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of McHenry County based in Woodstock. Questions on any aspect of credit, debt or mortgages are welcome at 815-338-5757.