For scammers, one of the oldest tricks in the books is identity theft. With enough information, often not even that much, they can impersonate you to the point where access is granted to all sorts of accounts.
Be it through phishing expeditions, credit card skimmers or some other method, these days there are plenty of avenues for criminals to take when it comes to collecting enough data to make our lives very difficult.
None of this is new, of course, as we’ve long known what kind of damage can be done when our information gets into the wrong hands.
The idea being around for so long has led to plenty of security measures being put in place to stop it from happening, yet we clearly don’t do enough. Then again, all the technology in the world cannot help us if we don’t help ourselves.
Don’t become a victim
Like many scams, being mindful of our business really helps. It’s not always easy — especially in the age of automatic bill paying and direct deposit, for with them it is easy to just assume everything is good while rarely looking at statements.
But that mindset is one of the very things scammers prey upon.
Take a look at your bank and credit card accounts
With everything available online these days, it’s very easy to lose track of our accounts. Sure, maybe we check in every now and then to get a rough idea of how much money we have, but do you take a look on a day-to-day basis?
If not, it’s possible something bad could slip past you. Many scammers will use your information not for large purchases, but for many smaller ones over a longer period of time.
Doing so helps keep their scheme under the radar, and by the time you notice what’s happening plenty of damage could already be done. You likely won’t be held responsible for the charges if your card was lost or stolen, but there could be trouble if you failed to report it to your bank.
Furthermore, depending on how long it has been going on, the debt racked up or the draining of an account could ultimately hurt your credit score.
Keep an eye on your credit reports
Never mind the accounts we are aware of, scammers also like to open accounts of their own under stolen identities. Studies show new account fraud is one of the fastest growing types of identity theft, in part because many probably don’t even realize it’s happening.
The new account could be set up at an unfamiliar bank, which makes it even more difficult to detect. Unfortunately, you might not learn of it until the bills start coming or the account goes to collections.
This is why credit reports are important, as they show all lines of credit that are opened in your name. Keeping an eye on them will ensure any fraudulent accounts that are opened can be quickly closed.
Fortunately, the federal government requires that the credit bureaus provide one free credit report to everyone per year. They can be accessed at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are three reports to choose from (one from each credit bureau) and they can be viewed all at one time or spaced out through the year.
Limit what you openly share online
Have you ever stopped to think about just how much you willingly put online? The truth is, scammers do not need all that much in order to impersonate us, so sharing our birthday, home address or other data could lead to issues.
With most of the work being done online, identity thieves can trick services into thinking they are you. This is a big issue if you use public computers or are often accessing public Wi-Fi networks, and one that also impacts teens and young adults since they are generally more avid sharers.
More open accounts means more chances for trouble
This one is simply a numbers game. The more accounts you have open, the greater the chance of something being taken.
Statistics show that those with an annual income of at least $100,000 are nearly twice as likely to have their identity stolen than someone who makes less than $50,000. However, that has less to do with them being targets because of their wealth than it does with the fact that people with more money tend to have more accounts.
What to do if your identity is stolen?
Hopefully you never need to know the answer to this question, but it’s best to be prepared just in case. If your identity does get stolen, there are some steps you will want to take immediately.
- Contact the affected financial institution to freeze or cancel the account. If the issue is widespread, consider canceling other accounts that have not yet been impacted.
- Comb through your statements to find every instance of fraud.
- Check your credit reports to see if any other new accounts have been opened in your name.
- Get in touch with the Federal Trade Commission and file a report. They should be able to advise you on what to do next, all depending on what information the scammer has.
- If your Social Security number has been compromised, contact the IRS and Social Security Administration to make sure your tax return and Social Security benefits are not affected and also possibly receive a new Social Security number.
- File a police report, as that will be helpful when working with credit reporting agencies in trying to restore your identity.
- Keep an eye out for missing mail. Some thieves will file a change of address with the Postal Service so that bills that would expose their scheme do not make it to you.
Of course, all of these are the steps you want to take after something has already happened. Even with all this, the act of getting life back to normal after an identity has been stolen will not be easy.