In our last blog we looked at the data theft at the mega-retailer Target as well as how easily thieves can steal your identity from a simple ATM receipt. We also looked at the horrific repercussions that can occur when this happens.
Do, just how are you supposed to keep your identity safe? As reported in www.ydr.com.
First, if you suspect your identity has been stolen you should place an initial fraud alert with one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Bear in mind that you only have to notify one because the agency you notified is obligated to notify the other two.
Then, you'll be entitled to a free credit report. This is in addition to the one free report per agency you're entitled to annually. It is always a good idea to get your free annual credit report. You will be surprised to find things on there that do not belong.
If you do find something on your report, in addition to issuing a fraud alert with the credit bureau, I also recommend you file a report with the local police department.
If they won't take a statement, he added, report the incident to the state police, county sheriff or attorney general's office.
The next step involves creating and submitting a full blown theft report, which includes the police report, to the Federal Trade Commission.
We will continue to look at how you can protect yourself in the next stoptheftclass.com blog.
"The consumer can put a freeze on their credit or their credit report," Bair said. "This blocks the ability from anybody trying to access that information from being able to obtain it."
One can also file an extended alert, which lasts seven years, Bair said.
In the meantime, reach out to the businesses where you believe your information was falsely used.
And, despite collection agency calls, always follow the cardinal rule:
Do not pay anything that you are disputing, Bair said.
"It's easier said than done to prove," Flickinger added. "It's very involved. A lot of companies just don't roll over on this. When they do, they're going to give up income in many cases. They've been taken advantage of also."
When members are scammed, it's usually the financial institutions that pay the major price.
At First Capital, more than 1,000 debit cards and 30 credit cards were compromised by the Target breach. None of them, Flickinger said, were involved with fraudulent purchases.
The credit union spent $5,000 to mitigate the issue — a cost that includes the reissuing and sending of new cards.
To recoup those costs, Flickinger said, the credit union will likely join a class action lawsuit against Target — a measure typical in cases of large scale information theft.
Similar instances, he added, happen with smaller, regional retailers on a more regular basis than people realize.
"We suck up fraud," he added. "But they've allowed that exposure. We can't charge our members for that, because it was fraudulent. We have to pay that. It comes out of all of our members pockets as a financial co-op."
And that's frustrating, Flickinger said.
He sees blatant instances everyday, he said, where people don't protect their identity.
Maybe they leave bank statements sitting in the mailbox too long.
Maybe they don't shred important documents.
They provide information over the phone to unverified sources.
"There are so many scams out there. We have to be very careful," Flickinger said. "A lot of people have gone through — excuse my French — hell trying to get their lives together again."
How to check your credit report
Reviewing your credit report can help detect early signs of identity theft.
Federal law allows you to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
To request a report,visit www.annualcreditreport.com, the only official site endorsed by the U.S. government, or call Call 1-877-322-8228.
Check that the information and scan for the following signs of identity theft:
• Credit card charges that you don't recognize
• Calls or letters about things you didn't buy
• Bills that arrive on unusual days
• New credit cards or statements for accounts that you didn't open
• Denials of credit for no apparent reason
• Information on your credit reports you don't recognize, such as accounts or addresses
Tips to prevent identity theft
• Check your credit reports regularly for fraudulent transactions.
• Use e-statements for bank accounts.
• If you still get paper statements, don't let them sit around in your mailbox for days. Thieves can get a hold of those documents, which contain enough information to masquerade as you. Or, install a locked mailbox.
• Don't throw your ATM receipts in the trash or on the ground. They, too, contain enough information that a thief an use to piece together your identity.
• Make sure no one is hovering over you as you use the ATM.
• Opt out of any pre-approved offers for credit cards.
• Do not give any personal information over the phone. Put your phone number on the "do not call" list.
• Commit all passwords to memory. Never write them down or carry them with you.
• Shred documents before discarding them in the trash.