Protect Yourself with These Tips from Identity Theft Awareness Week
Identity theft can be a devastating crime that victims may not notice until it is already too late. Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, but luckily, anyone can take precautions to protect themselves.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and its partners hosted Identity Theft Awareness Week from January 30 through February 3, 2023. Their mission is to raise awareness that any person, of any age or background, can be a target for identity theft.
Continue reading to learn how to detect, prevent, and report identity theft.
Identifying Identity Theft
Part of the problem in recognizing identity theft is understanding how the many different forms present themselves. Identity theft can happen online, on paper, or even over your shoulder. Criminals may act on opportunities, so do your due diligence to ensure that you are not making yourself vulnerable.
Financial identity theft is one of the main types the average person is proactive in preventing. This type of identity theft includes debit or credit card fraud – your cards being used without your permission, or your card information and PIN being used without the plastic itself.
How to prevent it: Set up transaction notifications for your accounts to get a text or email alert every time your card is used to make a purchase. Use a secure PIN that you don’t use for anything else and never share your card details. When disposing of a card, make sure that it is shredded or cut with scissors, including the chip if your card has one. Contact your card provider if you suspect fraudulent charges.
Another commonly recognized type of identity theft, this type of criminal activity can arise from a variety of circumstances. If someone gains access to one or more of your online accounts without your knowledge, such as an online shopping account being hacked into or compromised, they may be able to make purchases or posts that appear to be legitimately coming from you.
How to prevent it: Protect yourself using the most highly recommended methods to stay safe online – use strong unique passwords, set up two-factor authentication, avoid public Wi-Fi, learn signs of phishing, enable log-in notifications, always update your operating system, and be careful who you allow to use biometric data. Verify that websites are secure by checking for “https” and a lock in your browser’s address bar. If you are ever unsure about a website, never enter or store your personal or financial information there.
If you suspect your account has been compromised, change your password immediately and double check the recent logins and user contact details.
In this type of identity theft, someone poses as another person to receive medical care. This can include services, prescriptions, or goods that are billed to you or filled under your name. This data can be compromised through a data breach or improper storage or disposal of paperwork. It can also occur in combination with another form of identity theft.
How to prevent it: The only way to protect against data breaches of external entities is to use unique usernames and passwords for every account. Get into the habit of checking your medical claims and act quickly if something is listed that you never requested or received. If a fraudulent claim appears, file a police report and contact your insurer and medical provider. You may also file a health privacy complaint with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services online or by phone at 800-368-1019.
If your wallet ever gets stolen, all the contents inside become compromised. Besides cash and cards, your driver’s license can be the target of theft. This crucial document includes your address, driver’s license number, photo, and other sensitive identifying information. Besides physical theft, your driver’s license may also be compromised in a data breach, as doctor’s offices and financial institutions commonly scan your license.
A criminal can use your driver’s license in traffic stops, meaning violations would go on your driving record. In serious cases, this can result in a mistaken warrant for your arrest.
How to prevent it: While you should never go without your driver’s license in your wallet, try to limit the amount of sensitive documents you carry on your person, such as your social security card. If your license is ever missing or stolen, report it to the police and state DMV. You may want to put a freeze on your credit as well to prevent the thief from opening additional accounts with your information.
Many important documents are sent through the mail, and can sit in the box for hours or even days before retrieval. Criminals can steal checks, intercept credit or debit cards, or even retrieve documents such as bank statements or medical paperwork if not properly discarded.
How to prevent it: The most simple solution for mail theft is to install a locking mailbox that only you or others with the key can access. Shredding mail you no longer need will help keep private information away from prying eyes. If given the choice, pick up important documents or cards in person rather than risking mail theft. If you've been the victim of mail theft or tampering, you can report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by calling 877-876-8455.
There are many types of identity theft that go beyond those listed here, as criminals find creative ways to take advantage of vulnerabilities in technology, systemic weaknesses, or regular human error. Make sure to stay up to date with the latest scams by being involved in your accounts’ security. Read emails sent out by your financial institution, credit bureaus, government agencies, and other trustworthy sources to remain current.
As a reminder, American Heritage will never ask you for your Online Teller account information or debit or credit card information. Scammers are able to appear legitimate by “spoofing” websites or posing as a representative via phone call, email, or text message. If you suspect a scam involving your account, please contact us immediately.
Next Steps for Identity Theft Victims
In addition to following the steps above, if you believe you’ve been a victim of fraud, identity theft, or another scam, contact one of the nationwide credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your credit report.
There is no need to contact all three major bureaus – contacting one is enough.
Equifax | Experian | Transunion
To report identity theft and get a recovery plan, visit IdentityTheft.gov. To file an identity theft report, you must either file a police report or a report with a government agency, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
After your report, remain vigilant for unexpected or unauthorized changes. Some changes may take longer than others to appear or may be discovered later. To learn more about how to protect your American Heritage account, visit our Privacy and Security page or read our other security blogs.