Identity Theft: Tips for prevention & recovery

Identity Theft Basics | Prevention | Recovery | Our Role

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ID Theft Basics

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America. So what is it? According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft "occurs whe someone appropriates your personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft." Here are some of the ways identity thieves work:

  • They use your name, date of birth and Social Security number to open a new credit card account. When they use the credit card and don't pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • They call your credit card issuer and change the mailing address on your credit card account. Once your statements are diverted to the new address, they run up charges on your account. Because the bills are being sent to the new address, you may not realize there is a problem until hundreds or even thousands of dollars in unauthorized purchases have been charged to your account.
  • They establish cellular phone service in your name
  • They open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on the account.

So, what do you have to lose if you're a victim of identity theft? A lot, unfortunately. Identity theft can cost you access to credit and employment opportunities as a result of a damaged credit report. It can cost you work time as it may take a significant amount of time to file the appropriate police reports, contact creditors, clear up your credit report and so on. And it can cost you money, especially if you need to retain legal counsel.

Prevention

The FTC estimates that approximately 10 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year. But you don't have to be one of them. There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself, including:

  • Don't put outgoing mail in your home mailbox with the flag up. Instead, drop your mail off at the post office or deposit it in a secure US Postal Service drop box.
  • Know when your monthly credit card and bank statements arrive, and be sure to review them each month. If they don't arrive on time, call the company. If you have Internet access, consider signing up for e-statements.
  • Reduce the amount of junk mail and the number of telemarketing calls you receive.
    • When you open a new account, inform the company that you do not want them to share your information with other businesses.
    • Call 888.5OPTOUT (888.567.8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com and ask that the three credit bureaus not sell or share your information.
    • Write to the Direct Marketing Association and opt out of most junk mail at Mail Preference Service, Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.
    • Register your home and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry at 888.382.1222 or www.donotcall.gov.
  • Don't give out personal information over the phone if you didn't initiate the call. The same goes for emails requesting personal information, including those that appear to be from legitimate businesses. This is known as phishing (pronounced "fishing").
  • Don't carry your Social Security card with you, and question anyone who says they need your SSN.
  • Use passwords that can't be easily guessed. This goes for ATM, debit and credit card PINs, computer passwords, etc.
  • Don't write the PIN for an ATM, debit or credit card on the card itself.
  • Don't shop online without confirming that the site is secure. Look for the padlock icon at the bottom of the page, and check for an 'S' in the URL on the address bar (i.e. HTTPS://).
  • Use anti-spyware and anti-virus protection on your computer, and be sure to update it regularly. If you have a broadband connection (DSL or cable), use a personal firewall. Update your operating system (Windows, for example) regularly.
  • Monitor your credit reports. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year. (A good way to monitor your credit is to order one free credit report every four months. In other words, order your free report from TransUnion in January. In May, order your free report from Experian. Then in September, order your free report from Equifax. The following January, start the cycle over again.) To order your free reports:
    • Call 877.322.8228
    • Visit www.annualcreditreport.com
    • Write the Annual Credit Report Service, PO Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Recovery

How would you know if you've been a victim of identity theft? Signs of identity theft include failing to receive bills or other mail; receiving credit cards you didn't apply for; being denied credit or being offered less favorable terms (such as a higher rate) than in the past; and getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not purchase.

What should you do if you've been a victim?

  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 877.438.4338 or www.consumer.gov/idtheft and request the booklet, When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name.
  • Contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies and ask that a fraud alert be placed on all of your accounts. The three agencies (with the phone numbers for their fraud departments) are Experian (888.397.3742), TransUnion (800.680.7289) and Equifax (888.766.0008).
  • Contact credit card issuers and your credit union or bank. If your accounts have been compromised, close the affected accounts and open new ones.
  • File a report with your local police or sheriff's department.
  • Register with the Ohio Identity Theft Verification Passport Program by contacting the Ohio Attorney General's Office at 888.MYIDFORME (888.694.3463) or www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/IdentityTheft.

Our Role

Our goal at Columbus Metro is to protect your privacy and keep your personal information safe. To that end, we use the best available technology and we train all of our employees to practice sound data protection procedures. Some of the protections we have in place include:

  • Firewall Protection. Our computer systems are protected by a firewall that prevents online attacks, break-ins and snoopers. The firewall is subject to regular intrusion testing and its software is updated frequently.
  • Encryption Technology. When you bank online with us, our encryption technology scrambles your information so that it cannot be intercepted as it passes across the Internet.
  • Privacy Policy. Our employees and our third-party vendors are bound by our Privacy Statement. We do not sell your personal financial information to third parties, nor do we allow our vendors to do so.
  • Privacy-Protecting Services. We offer a number of electronic services -- MetroWeb, MetroWeb Bill Pay and e-statements, for example, that reduce the likelihood that your account information can be compromised.

Resources

Links

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