Don't Be an Online Victim: How to Guard Against Internet Thieves and Electronic Scams
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) released an on-line multimedia education tool that consumers can use to learn how to better protect their computers and themselves from identity thieves. The presentation features actions consumers can take if their personal information has been compromised. Identity theft continues to be one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, and has ranked as one of the top consumer concerns for the past several years. Identity theft is evolving in more complicated ways that make it harder for consumers to protect themselves, and easier for criminals to set up virtual storefronts on the Internet to sell confidential personal information.
Some of the steps outlined that consumers can take to help safeguard their computers and their personal information from identity theft are: never provide personal information in response to an unsolicited telephone or Internet request; never provide a password over the phone or in response to an unsolicited Internet request; review account statements regularly to ensure all charges and transactions are correct; and use a firewall and anti-virus and spyware protection software.
One of the more frustrating aspects if identity theft occurs is restoring your good name and credit. If consumers either suspect that their personal information has been compromised, or have been victimized by identity thieves, they should: contact the fraud department at one of the three major credit bureaus and ask that a fraud alert be placed in their file at all three companies; review their credit reports periodically and carefully and look for inconsistencies or red flags such as accounts they didn't open; debts they can't explain or inquiries from companies they haven't contacted, contact the companies where the fraudulent activity occurred, and follow up any telephone calls in writing; file a police report with local police or the police department in the community where the crime took place and keep a copy of the report; and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
To view the entire FDIC presentation, please visit the FDIC's website at http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/guard/index.html.
Each year, up to 10,000,000 individuals are victims of identity theft, a fast growing form of fraud. Fortunately, there are simple preventive measures that you can take to ensure that you do not become one of these statistics. “Identity theft” or “account takeover fraud” involves criminals stealing a person's personal information. The criminal will assume a person's identity, apply for credit in his or her name, run up huge bills, refuse to pay creditors and generally destroy the victim's credit record. At Bank of New Hampshire, we put a combination of safeguards in place to protect customers, including employee training, rigorous security standards, data encryption and fraud detection. Still, there are steps everyone should take to ensure that their identity remains their own. If you do suspect you are the victim of identity fraud, report it to your bank, local police and credit card issuers immediately so they can start to close accounts and clear your name right away. If stolen, restoring your identity can be a tremendous inconvenience. It's worth your while to make every effort to prevent this from happening to you. Some of the steps you can take are highlighted below. Additional information can also be found at the Federal Trade Commission's web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
Manage Your Mailbox
- Do not leave bill payments in your mailbox for carrier pickup; ID thieves may steal your mail and change your billing address.
- Know your account billing cycles and watch for any missing mail. Follow up with creditors if bills or new cards do not arrive when expected. An ID thief may have filed a change of address with either the creditor or the post office.
- Carefully review all account statements and bills from utilities and financial institutions for any unauthorized charges. If you suspect unauthorized use contact the provider's customer service and fraud departments immediately.
- When ordering new checks, ask when delivery can be expected. If your delivery mailbox is not secure, ask to pick them up instead of having them delivered to your home.
- To “opt out” of receiving general direct solicitations, call 1-888-5OPTOUT, a service sponsored by the major credit bureaus (see also www.creditsourceonline.com/opt-out.html).
Check Your Purse or Wallet
- Never leave your purse or wallet unattended — even for a minute.
- Carry only personal identification and credit cards that you actually need. If this information is lost or stolen, notify creditors immediately and have a fraud alert placed on your credit files. If theft is involved, immediately file a report with the police and record the case number.
- Keep a list of critical information in a secure location. This should include all financial account information, expiration dates, credit limits and phone numbers for customer service and fraud departments.
Keep Your Personal Numbers Safe and Secure
- As you create account passwords and PINs (personal ID numbers) do not use any part of your Social Security number (SSN), or the dates / names of family members, pets, or close friends. Your password/PIN should appear to be a random sequence of letters and numbers.
- Memorize your passwords and PINs - never write them down or store them in your wallet, purse or electronic organizer.
- Ask businesses to substitute a secret alpha-numeric code for authentication purposes instead of your mother's maiden name.
- Get your SSN out of circulation and release it only when legally necessary. Do not have it printed on your checks. Do not give it to retail merchants. If a business requests your SSN, ask to use an alternate number (driver's license number, for example).
- Never provide your SSN, account numbers, or any other personal information to anyone unless you have initiated the call or transaction.
- If you receive e-mail from an apparently trusted provider, do not respond to the e-mail. Call the customer service number printed on your statement or bill and verify any information communicated via e-mail. ID thieves can use bogus e-mails (a practice called “phishing”) to lure consumers to fake websites that solicit personal information.
- Install, maintain, and use anti-virus and anti-spam software to reduce the risk of infecting your personal computer with malicious software (which could record keystrokes or confidential information and send it to ID thieves).
- Do not open e-mail that is from a source you do not recognize. Do not open e-mail attachments, even from a recognized sender, unless you are already expecting it.
Bank, Shop and Spend Wisely
- Store all personal information in a secure place.
- Any personal or confidential document should be shredded before being discarded (receipts, credit applications, insurance forms, checks, statements, expired cards, unused credit offers, etc.).
- Cancel unused credit accounts so that they will not appear on your current credit report.
- Choose to do business with organizations you know to be reputable (especially online). Ask organizations about and read their privacy policies to understand how they will use the information you give them. Can you choose to protect the information from being shared? Do they restrict access to data? How and when do they dispose of the information?
- Sign your credit cards immediately upon receipt.
- When possible, watch your credit card while the merchant is completing the transaction.
- When conducting business online, use a secure browser that encrypts sensitive information.
- Verify that you are actually conducting the transaction with the known web site of an organization. Be particularly cautious of following embedded links in e-mail messages which can be disguised by ID thieves to connect you to alternate sites.