According to BBB’s Glossary of Scam Type Definitions, “Identity thieves use a victim’s personal information (e.g., Social Security number, bank account information, and credit card numbers) to pose as that individual for their own gain. Using the target’s identity, the thief may open a credit account, drain an existing account, file tax returns, or obtain medical coverage”.
Unfortunately, identity theft can happen to anyone and in 2018, BBB Scam Tracker received nearly 800 reports on this matter. The FTC also reported over 444,600 identity theft reports in 2018, up from 370,000 reports in 2017. Furthermore, the FTC’s report notes that credit card fraud topped the list of identity theft reports from last year with consumers losing an average of $630.
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk. According to the FTC, it’s important to “shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.”
Worried that your identity has been compromised? Be on the lookout for these clues that someone has stolen your information, from the FTC: unexplained bank account withdrawals; missing bills or other mail; calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours; unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report; medical bills for services you didn’t use; health plan inaccuracies; notices from the IRS that don’t apply to you; and notices that your information was compromised by a data breach.
If any of these warning signs apply to you, don’t panic. Visit identitytheft.gov, the U.S. federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. You just have to answer a few questions about your situation, and you’ll receive a personalized recovery plan. It includes streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.
Check out the following BBB tips to help protect yourself against identity theft and keep your information online secure:
- Limit what you carry. When out and about, only take what you need – leave your Social Security card behind. Lock up financial documents, records, and anything containing sensitive personal information in a safe in your home. Lock up your purse or wallet while at work as well.
- Keep an eye on your mail.Use a secure, locked mailbox if possible. If you don’t have a locked mailbox, take sensitive outgoing mail to the post office or to a post office box and pick up incoming mail as soon as possible. Only order new checks to your home if you have a secure mailbox.
- Don’t overshare. The FTCrecommends that “before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.” This is especially true for your Social Security Number (SSN). Ask if you can use a different kind of identification, although sometimes you will have to share your SSN. Sometimes an individual can use a taxpayer identification number, or an ITIN. Be careful sharing health plan information, and destroy the labels on prescriptions bottles before throwing them out.
- Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only free crediting reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know fairly quickly if something is wrong. In Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides information on requesting a free credit report.
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You can reach your BBB at firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting bbb.org