Tips to Avoid identity Theft
Chief Executive Officer
First Federal Savings Bank
May 23, 2011
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - More than 8 million people had their identities stolen in the U.S. last year, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research. The report also found that the average out-of-pocket expense for victims was $631 per incident, a 63 percent increase from 2009. In most cases the victim is not liable for the debt caused by fraud but may still have some expenses to clean it up, including legal fees. Criminals use stolen information to access funds from bank and credit accounts, make purchases and even open new accounts to run up bills in someone else's name. Getting everything back in order can be a long and difficult process for victims, even when it doesn't actually cost them any money. Consumers are the best police against identity theft. We can reduce our risk of becoming victims by closely guarding our personal and financial information. Here are a few tips:
- Monitor your bank accounts. Look at your checking, savings and credit accounts regularly and contact your financial institution immediately if you notice any suspicious activity. Most banks and credit card issuers offer online banking services that make it easy and convenient to check accounts from anywhere at any time. It is also a good idea to routinely monitor other investments, like retirement and children's education accounts.
- Keep an eye on your credit report. It is possible for a victim to be unaware that someone has opened a credit card account using his or her stolen identity until long after the damage is done. Thanks to federal laws that were designed at least in part to mitigate identity theft, you can access your credit report for free once a year by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. Use caution online. Before you make any online purchases or establish accounts, be sure the website URL begins with https:// and there is a gold padlock icon displayed to the right of the browser address bar. Never provide your credit or debit card number, social security number or other sensitive information unless you are confident a website is secure. You can always visit a store in person or order by phone if you are uncomfortable buying online.
- Don't get careless with social media and email. Most of us are used to communicating with friends, family and co-workers through various electronic outlets, but thieves are constantly getting more sophisticated with their technology and techniques. Never send or post account numbers, passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers or other sensitive information that could be used for fraudulent purposes if it were intercepted by the wrong person(s).
- Beware of scams. If you get a phone call or email asking for sensitive information, it is probably a scam. Watch for "phishing" emails that appear to be legitimate but ask you to click a link and share information. Thieves use these tactics to trick consumers into voluntarily providing information that can be used to commit fraud. Your bank, for example, should never contact you asking for personal information. If you are unsure whether a request is legitimate, end the call or delete the email and immediately place your own call to the institution in question. If your suspicions turn out to be wrong, then they shouldn't mind your being cautious. If you were right, then you can notify them of the attempted fraud and help others avoid the same scam. Also watch for door-to-door scams, especially con artists posing as workers in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
- Mix up your passwords. Don't use the exact same login and password for every account so you contain damages if one account is compromised. Periodically change passwords to your most important accounts.
- Shred sensitive documents. Don't leave bank statements, bills and other paper containing personal data lying around your workplace or even loose in the trash at home. Some thieves are not above dumpster diving. First Federal Savings Bank holds a Shred Day every year to help people protect their identities by getting rid of sensitive documents. This year's event will be held on Saturday, June 4 at the St. Bethlehem branch at 2070 Wilma Rudolph Blvd. Join us for this free event and let us help you put some of these tips into practice.