Christmas about two years ago, I remember going up to purchase some Christmas presents only to find that my bank card was declined. I was really confused for I knew that there was plenty of money to cover the charges that I had made. After trying my bank card several times, I had to use a different method to pay for my purchases. Being completely frustrated, I called my bank to see what the problem was. I was told that my account was in the negative. There was absolutely no way that this was possible I told the teller. She listened to me sympathetically and said that there was a transaction for $1986.20 done yesterday. When she gave me the information regarding this transaction, it was for a business located in London, England. I was fortunate that I could prove that I was not in England anytime close to the time this transaction supposedly happened. My bank did put the money back into my account but it did take several days. This really could have ruined my Christmas but fortunately I had other funds that I could use.
Most of us have faith that our identities are safe but identity theft turned into a common serious crime. Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. In 2013, a movie was made called “Identity Theft” with Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. In this “comedy,” Jason Bateman’s character, Sandy had his identity stolen. His identity theft had disrupted his finances, his work, and his family life to such a point that he had to abandon everything to find the woman that had stolen his identity and was charging exorbitant amounts to his credit cards. In this case it was Hollywood that was imitating life.
There are plenty of red flags of identity theft. Some examples are:
- Mistakes on your bank, credit card, or other account statements such as withdrawals or purchases that you know you have not made.
- Mistakes on the explanation of your medical benefits from your health plan that do not coincide with when you were either in the hospital or at your doctors.
- Your regular bills and account statements don’t arrive on time or look like they have been tampered with.
- You receive bills or collection notices for products or services that you have never received or asked for.
- You start receiving calls from debt collectors about debts that certainly don’t belong to you.
- You receive a notice from the IRS that someone has used your Social Security number to either secure a job, a loan, or an apartment.
- You receive mail, emails, or calls about accounts or jobs in your minor child’s name.
- When you check into your credit reports you find that there are unwarranted collection notices on your credit report.
- You go into businesses and they turn down your credit cards or refuse to accept your checks.
- You are turned down unexpectedly for a loan or a job.
How to protect your information from being stolen:
- Read your credit reports often. You have the right to a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. You can order your credit reports from all 3 credit reporting companies four times a year at www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1– 877 – 322 – 8228.
- Read your bank, credit card, account statements, an explanation of any benefits from your health plan. If this statement has inaccurate information or doesn’t come in on time contact your supplier.
- Shred all documents that show any personal financial or medical information before you throw them away.
- Don’t respond to any text phone or email that requests personal information from you. Be sure to delete the messages, for legitimate companies do not ask for information in this manner.
- Create passwords that mix letters numbers and special characters. You should never use the same password for more than one account.
- If you do your banking or shopping online, be sure to use websites that protect your financial information with encryption. An encrypted site uses “https” at the beginning of their website address.
- If you use a public wireless network, don’t send information to any website that isn’t fully encrypted.
- Use antivirus and anti-spyware software and a firewall on all your computers.
- Set your computer’s operating system, web browser, and security system to update automatically.
If your identity is stolen you should:
- Flag your credit report –Be sure to call one of the nationwide credit reporting companies and ask for a fraud alert on your credit report. This company must contact the other two credit reporting companies to put fraud reports on your files. An initial fraud report is good for 90 days. The nationwide credit reporting companies are:
- Equifax 1– 800 – 525 – 6285
- Experian 1 – 888 – 397 – 3742
- TransUnion 1 – 800 – 680 – 7289
- Order your credit reports – Each company’s credit report about you is slightly different so be sure to order a report from each company. Be sure to read your reports carefully and verify all the information is correct. If you find the report to be inaccurate or show signs of fraud, be sure to contact the credit reporting company immediately.
- Create an identity theft report – An identity theft report can help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts caused by identity theft, and get information about accounts a theft opened in your name. To create an identity theft report you should file a complaint with the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint or call 1 – 877 – 438 – 4338. Your completed complaint is called an FTC Affidavit. You will need to take your FTC affidavit to your local police, or to the police where the theft occurred, and file a police report. Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report. You will need both of documents to comprise an Identity Theft Report.
I hope you found this information helpful. It is very important that we all work together to ensure that our identities remain protected. Most of the information for this blog was provided by the Federal Trade Commission. They can be contacted at FTC.gov/IDtheft or by telephone at 1 – 877 – ID – THEFT (438 – 4338). As a further note, be sure to call your insurance agent for most homeowners insurance policies can add identity theft as a rider to your existing policy.