volume 8 ••• Summer 2011
Simple Steps to Prevent Identity Theft
Identity theft can happen to anyone, and it is on the rise, affecting 11.1 million victims in 2009, a 12.5% increase to $54 billion from 2008, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, which conducts the nation’s longest-running study of identity fraud. There are simple precautions you can take to help protect your good name and credit rating from identity theft and Amalgamated Bank can assist as well.
What is identity theft?
Identity fraud or theft is defined as the unauthorized use of another person’s personal information to achieve illicit financial gain, and it comes in a range of guises. It can start with a lost or stolen wallet, pilfered mail, a data breach, a computer virus, phishing, an email scam, or paper documents discarded carelessly by a consumer and recovered by so-called dumpster divers. The outcomes can include check fraud, credit card fraud, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, medical identity theft, and governmental identity theft.
Low-tech methods for stealing personal information, however, are still the most common means of initiating identity fraud. Stolen wallets and physical documents accounted for 43% of all identity theft, while online methods accounted for only 11%, according to the 2009 Javelin Strategy & Research study.
How can you protect yourself?
Here are 10 steps you can begin taking right now to protect yourself and your family and reduce your risk of identity theft.
- Shred all financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
- Protect your Social Security number. Keep your Social Security card in a safe, secure location at home and avoid writing it on a personal check. In fact, only give out your Social Security number if it is absolutely necessary, and, when possible, ask to use another means of identification.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know with whom you are dealing.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer, and keep them up-to-date.
- Be careful when choosing passwords for on-line accounts. Avoid using obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Keep personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home.
- Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges that are questionable.
- Be on the alert for denials of credit for no apparent reason. Check your credit reports from the three major credit reporting services on a regular basis. Get Alerts when certain negative information has been added to your credit records and challenge any suspicious entries.
- Pay attention to billing cycles. Bills that are delayed or arrive late may have been misdirected by identity thieves.
- Carry only the credit cards and identification on you that you absolutely need.
These measures are simple, but timely action is important. In about seven out of ten cases, fraud takes place within a week of personal data theft, and younger consumers aged 18 to 24 years old are especially at risk because they take nearly twice as long to detect fraud compared to other age groups.
We can help.
Amalgamated Bank has developed a comprehensive fraud protection program—Hard Working Fraud Protector Plus—that can put you on the right track by providing prevention, detection, and resolution services. It enables you to: review your credit report and scores from the three major credit reporting agencies, receive alerts about negative information that has been added to your credit records, protects all your payment cards from fraudulent use if they are lost or stolen, keeps you informed about identity theft-related news that could affect you, and provides support if you should become a victim of fraud, helping you through the resolution process.
So, begin taking steps today to avoid becoming the next fraud victim, and protect yourself by enrolling in Hard Working Fraud Protector Plus the next time you visit your neighborhood Amalgamated branch.