Identity Theft – Reducing the Risk and Addressing Victimization
An essential part of achieving financial security is securing personal identifying information against fraudulent use. Treasurer McCord is committed to helping Pennsylvanians fight identity theft and protect themselves.
ID theft can happen to anyone. In fact, the highest rate of victimization in Pennsylvanian is among people in their 20s. Armed with stolen personal identifying information, identity thieves can affect victims and their financial well being in a number of ways, including:
- Using a credit or debit card account belonging to the victim
- Opening a credit card in the victim’s name
- Obtaining a loan (e.g. auto or mortgage) in the victim’s name
- Working under the victim’s name
- Opening a telecommunications or utility account in the victim’s name
- Writing a check against the victim’s checking account
- Obtaining medical services using the victim’s name and insurance
- Transferring funds out of a victim’s bank or investment account
- Filing a fraudulent tax return in victim’s name
Simple steps to help secure your personal identifying information:
- Shred documents that contain personal identifiers prior to disposing them in the garbage.
Identity thieves have been known to “dumpster dive,” sifting through trash containers to look for discarded bills, statements, or documents containing identifying data. Shredding your documents will render them useless to identity thieves.
- Secure your snail mail to prevent theft of bills and letters with account identifiers on them.
People living in multi-unit buildings should make sure their mailbox is locked to prevent unauthorized access to their mail. Do not let mail pile up in your mailbox. Make arrangements to stop mail delivery or have mail collected by a trusted party if you are going to be away from home for an extended period of time. Secure your mail, bills, and statements in your home to prevent access by petsitters, babysitters, and contractors working in your house.
- Secure your computing environment by keeping your software, including your anti-virus and spyware software, up-to-date.
A secure computing environment reduces the risk of your identifiers being stolen when traversing the web, using email, or by just having your computer connected to the Internet. Make sure your computer is protected with anti-virus and spyware software and that these software tools are updated regularly. Be sure to activate the anti-phishing filter in your web browser so that you are warned when visiting fraudulent websites. Update your operating system and any other software on your computer regularly to reduce vulnerabilities caused by flaws in the software code. When possible, set your computer to receive updates automatically so that software patches are downloaded and installed as soon as they are released to the public.
- When interacting online with merchants and utility, financial service, and insurance companies make sure their websites are using encryption before sending any personal identifiers.
There are two simple ways to tell whether the website you are interacting with is using encryption to secure the data being transmitted between your computer and the web server hosting the site. Look for the “HTTPS” (Hypertext Transport Protocol Secure) prefix at the beginning of the web address instead of the more common “HTTP” (Hypertext Transport Protocol) prefix. Additionally, the presence of a “lock” in the margin of your web browser indicates that information entered on the website is encrypted during transmission.
Monitoring your credit report can help you identify unauthorized accounts opened in your name and credit inquiries made by companies you have not contacted. Proactively monitoring your credit report is especially important if a merchant or financial services company has notified you that your identifying information was compromised during a network breach/security incident.
Suggested steps to take for victims of identity theft:
- Contact the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) immediately after being victimized to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
A fraud alert requires that potential creditors contact you prior to authorizing credit in your name. Contact is generally made through a phone number you provide when placing the fraud alert on your credit report.
- Contact service providers to close financial, insurance, or utility accounts connected to the identity theft.
Contact the security department of service providers affected by the identity theft to close respective accounts. Follow up telephone calls with service providers with a written correspondence and include a copy of your police report and other supporting documentation. Send written correspondence by certified mail and request a return receipt so you can document when the company received your materials. When opening new accounts with these service providers use passwords, usernames, and PIN numbers that are different from the access credentials used with the compromised accounts.
The FTC maintains a repository of data on identity theft victimization across the United States. This repository helps the law enforcement community gauge the extent to which people fall victim to ID theft, identify methodologies used by identity thieves, and allocate resources to efficiently address the problem.
An ID Theft Complaint filed with the FTC can help you mitigate damage to your credit resulting from the identity theft incident, including the removal of fraudulent information and debt related to the incident from your credit report.
- File a police report with your local police department.
Provide the police with a copy of the ID Theft Complaint you filed with the FTC. Make sure you obtain a copy of the police report. The police report, along with the FTC ID Theft Complaint, will be useful when dealing with the merchants and financial service providers connected to the identity theft.
- Monitor account statements of affected accounts or services to look for additional losses in the months following the incident.
For further information on identity theft please explore the following: