I remember my teachers always telling me there are no stupid questions. When it comes to identity theft, this is especially true. The more you know about identity theft, the better prepared you will be to prevent it from happening to you. Here are some commonly asked questions about identity theft.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is when a person pretends to be you to access money, credit, medical care, and other benefits. They acquire your identity by stealing and using your personal information like government ID number or bank account number. Once they have this information, identity thieves can really wreak havoc on your life; for example, they can clear out your bank account. They can also impersonate you in order to get a job or commit a crime. It can take a long time to clean up the mess.
Does identity theft only have to do with stealing money or credit?
No, financial identity theft, using your personal information to access your money or credit, is not the only type of identity theft, although it is the most common. There are other kinds of identity theft identity theft. Medical identity theft is when someone uses your information to receive medical care. Criminal identity theft is when someone takes over your identity and assumes it as his or her own. They can then give your name to law enforcement officers and voilà—you have a criminal record.
What are some things I can do to protect my identity online?
- Be choosy. Be careful when sharing personal information online. Just because a website is asking for your information doesn’t mean it’s necessary to provide it to them. Ask who wants the information and why. Also, limit the amount of information you share on social media. Does everyone need to know the year you were born?
- Think twice. Use caution when clicking on links and opening email attachments. If the link or attachment is from someone you don’t know, don’t open it.
- Use secure Wi-Fi. When shopping or banking online, make sure you are using a secure wireless connection.
- Permanently delete files from your PC. Putting your files in the recycle bin isn’t enough. Your device will still have the files and therefore, are accessible to identity thieves. Use security software, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service, that includes a digital shredder to make sure those files are truly wiped from your PC.
- Install security software. Make sure all your devices have comprehensive security software like McAfee LiveSafe that protects all your PCs, Macs, tablets and smartphones.
What are things I can do to protect my identity offline?
- Shred. Use a cross-cut shredding machine, or scissors to shred old credit card statements, offers, receipts, etc., to prevent dumpster divers from obtaining your information and creating accounts in your name.
- Have a locked mailbox. This will keep thieves from stealing your mail, especially bank statements and credit card offers.
- Secure your files. Get a fire-proof safe to store sensitive documents including credit cards you hardly use.
- Keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements. Look for questionable activity.
- Be careful when using ATMs. When you insert your ATM card into a compromised machine or run your credit card through a phony card reader, you could become a victim of skimming. Skimming is where a hacker illegally obtains information from the magnetic strip on the back of your credit or ATM card. This information can then be used to access your accounts or produce a fake credit card with your name and details on it.
How do I know if my identity has been stolen?
This list is not comprehensive but gives you a good idea on what to look out for.
- You receive a bill for a credit card account that, though in your name, is not yours. This probably means a thief opened the account in your name.
- You’re no longer receiving your usual snail mail or email statements. Contact the issuer to find out why.
- Unfamiliar purchases on your credit card, even tiny ones (crooks often start out with small purchases, and then escalate). Challenge even a $4 purchase.
- You receive a credit card or store card without having applied for one. If this happens, immediately contact the company.
- Your credit report has suspicious information, like inquiries for credit that you didn’t make.
- Collectors are calling you to collect payments you owe, but you owe nothing.
- Your credit score is high (last time you checked), but you were denied credit for a loan or new credit card. A thief can easily ruin a credit rating.
If my identity is stolen, what should I do?
Finding out that your identity has been stolen can be stressful. First, take a deep breath then follow these initial steps.
- Contact your local or national law enforcement agency. File a report that your identity has been stolen.
- Call your bank and credit card companies. Notify them of fraudulent activity. They may be able to reimburse you for any money lost or close any unauthorized accounts.
- Check with credit reference agencies. Ask them to set up a fraud alert. Also, check to see if anyone has tried to get credit using your name.
- Keep records. Keep track of all conversations and paperwork, the more detailed the better. Organize your data into one centralized place. This can be used as evidence for your case and can help you resolve the mess that identity theft can create.
Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.