I can’t believe this happened to me! I know that it happens, but I never thought that would happen to me! How did they steal my identity? What do I do now that I see these items on my credit report?
Those are all statements or thoughts and questions that may run through identity theft victims’ minds. You know identity theft happens, but you figure… I’m just me, who would want my identity? They even steal identities of people with bad credit, so everyone is fair game to them.
Let’s talk about some ways they steal identities and how to prevent yours from being one of them.
- Phishing: The identity thief will call/email pretending to be your financial institution or a company and send spam/pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information. If you get some “urgent updates” or something from your banks, hang up and call them back to verify it was indeed them. They can’t get mad at you for being sure. Do NOT give any information about your account with that company unless you have called them. If they are indeed XYZ company then they should already know the personal info they are asking if they are calling you.Any emails you are not sure of, (check the sending address) make sure to just call your bank or whoever the company is and ask if they emailed you about XYZ subject and should you click the link or trust it. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a whole world of stuff when your identity is stolen.
- Out-Right Stealing: They may look through your garbage for any papers with your personal information on it. Nasty, but they do it. They could also steal your wallet/purse with your credit cards. Some of the advanced can bribe their way into your personnel files, or steal your computer and look into that. Any papers that have your identifying information on it, if you have a shredder then shred them. If not, just tear them up into as many pieces as you can.
- Pretexting/Out-Right Lying: The identity thief will call you pretending to take a survey for a company which requires you to answer questions that could possibly give away your passwords,etc. They may also offer you something (a cruise, money, a book, etc.) and then your personal information is needed of course to claim the items. *Use your best judgement for this because not all calls that present these opportunities or surveys are out to get you; some are just annoying but mean no harm.Ask questions and make sure you understand the offer, or survey fully before giving out your information. Look them up if need be.*
- Mail-Tampering: If you are not enrolled in paperless statements for your billing statements, please consider doing so. If you must have paper, be sure to call and inquire with that company if your paper bill never shows. An identity thief can change your billing statements’ address and have it sent to them instead. This allows them access to your banking information, balances, etc. If you miss a bill, it’s best to call and make sure nothing is wrong before just shrugging it off.
- Skimming: We have all heard of this one. When you go into the store and their computers are down and they must use that machine to take an image of your credit card. You know the one where they slide it back and forth and your credit card information is printed onto that little piece of paper. Yes, I could go look up the name but not everyone knows it, but they know what it looks like. Your information can all be skimmed when the stores must write your information down as well because systems are down, or they are able to process credit only items at the time. You can choose to use cash or come back when their system is up. You could also let them do this but just be mindful of the person who helped you and if you see any suspicious charges from the company, dispute them with your bank and have the store investigate by reporting it to them as well.
Those are some ways that an identity thief can steal your identity, and how you can combat it. If you are a victim of identity theft or think you could be a victim you are able to minimize the effect on your credit immediately by contacting the credit bureaus and placing a credit freeze on your report at each one. More steps and information is listed here.