By Ayesha Haider, BA, MBA, AFC Candidate
Identity theft is referred to as the “fastest growing white collar crime in America” by the Office of the Inspector General. Having your identity stolen can result in your hard earned funds being fraudulently withdrawn from your account and it can also have serious implications for your credit report and score, negatively impacting your eligibility for employment and favorable loan terms. The following methods outline some basic ways you can protect your personal information from falling into the wrong hands:
- Learn to identify phishing scams: Phishing requests are emails or other electronic correspondence you may receive asking for your personal information. Such requests are made to seem like they are being sent by a legitimate organization that you are affiliated with such as a bank, department store, or email-hosting service. Phishing requests are notoriously difficult to identify and often even the most Internet-savvy of us fall victim to these elaborate schemes. Learn how to tell if an email is a phishing scam by using CIO.com’s very useful guide or take the phishing IQ test to see if you can distinguish a phishing scam from a legitimate request.
- Secure your personal information: At home, make sure your personal information is stored in a secure location or is password-protected on a secure computer. Do not carry your social security card in your wallet and only provide your social security number when absolutely necessary. It’s also a good idea to shred any documents you don’t need–such as credit applications and offers or bank statements–that contain sensitive information. If you are required to provide an organization with your personal information, ask them what exactly they need it for and what measures they have in place to protect it.
- Check your Credit Report: Obtaining a free credit report once a year is an effective way to make sure that your identity has not been stolen. Identity thieves often open accounts or obtain loans using your personal information, and these activities will show up on your credit report. You may even consider implementing a credit freeze which restricts access to your report and makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open accounts under your name.
- Monitor your statements: A survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that in 2012, more than 70 percent of consumers in the U.S. had at least one credit card. Unfortunately, the ease and convenience of using a credit card comes with the additional risk of having credit card information stolen. It is important to routinely monitor your credit card statements to identify any unauthorized activity on your account. If you discover that your credit card information has been compromised, use this helpful guide to learn what to do next.
- Guard your mail: Identity thieves often obtain personal information by stealing your mail and/or responding to pre-approved credit offers you receive in the mail. Avoid falling victim to mail fraud by checking your mail frequently and shredding any financial offers/documents you receive in the mail. To learn more about identity theft through mail, visit the S. Postal Inspection Service website.
The best way of preventing identity theft is educating yourself on how you can best protect your personal information. Read up on what to do if your identity is stolen and monitor your credit card and bank account statements routinely to identify and unauthorized transactions soon after they occur.
To learn more ways to protect yourself and empower your clients against identity theft schemes, join our webinar on Tuesday, March 15 at 11 a.m. ET. Dr. Barbara O’Neill and Carol Kando-Pindea of the Federal Trade Commission will present a 90-minute webinar that identifies new ways thieves are stealing personal information and ways to prevent becoming a victim.