Your identity is one of the most valuable things you own. It’s important to keep your identity from being stolen by someone who can potentially harm your good name and financial well-being. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your name, address, Social Security Number, credit card or financial account numbers, passwords, and other personal information without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. While the words may sound like a foreign language — Phishing, Pharming, Vishing, Spyware, Dumpster Diving — they are actually techniques used by thieves to put your identity and finances at risk. And their attacks grow more frequent and sophisticated every year.
Danger Zone: Email
Phishing is an email scam used to steal your personal information. Email similar to the one pictured may appear in your inbox, claiming to be from your financial institution, credit card company, or another source. It may appear authentic, but be careful – any email requesting personal information or to “verify” account information is usually a scam. Do not respond to this and do not click on any link from this email.
How to spot Phishing and other email scams
- Any email requesting personal information, or asking you to verify an account, is usually a scam… even if it looks authentic.
- The email may instruct you to click on a link, or call a phone number to update your account or even claim a prize.
- The message will often threaten a dire consequence if you don’t respond immediately, such as closing your account.
These are clear signs that someone is “Phishing” for your information.
Follow these steps to avoid email scams
- Never respond to any email asking for confidential information, even if it appears urgent. Chances are it is a fraudulent email.
- Never click on a link from an email. Instead, type the known Website address into your Internet browser.
- Do not call any phone number provided in a suspicious email. It could be a fake phone number.
- Always use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer, and keep them up-to-date.
Remember, email is not a secure form of communication. So feel free to use your email, but don’t use it to send or receive confidential information. And if you follow the four basic steps listed, you can protect yourself from most phishing and other email scams.
Danger Zone: The Internet
The Internet is a great place to browse and do business. But it can also be a Danger Zone for identity theft if you don’t know what to watch for or how to protect yourself.
There are several types of malware – which means malicious software – that can infect your computer as you surf the web including:
- Trojan Horses
- Keystroke Loggers
These programs are becoming more sophisticated and ingenious in their ability to infect your computer. Many are designed to steal your personal information.
Learn how to practice safe surfing
Follow these steps to protect your computer from the majority of Internet crime:
- Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed on your computer, keep them updated, and run a full system scan at least weekly.
- Keep your computer operating system up to date, and your firewall turned on.
- Use strong passwords for secure sites. These should include eight or more characters with random numbers, and change your passwords every six months.
- If you download anything from the Internet such as music, movies, or pictures, make sure you do so only from trusted websites. Downloads can be infected with spyware attached to the file.
- Watch for signs of spyware—frequent pop up ads, unexpected icons on your desktop, random error messages or sluggish computer performance are all signs of infection. Run a full system anti-virus and anti-spyware scan to safely remove.
- Be careful when using public computers to perform any type of personal transactions. Just logging into a Website may give away passwords and other private information if spyware has been installed on that computer.
Following these steps will help protect you from the most common forms of identity theft while surfing the Internet.
Danger Zone: Telephone
The telephone is one of the most often used sources for criminal activity. Here’s how it works. Your phone rings. The caller claims to be from your financial institution or any other source. They begin asking questions about you and your account. This could be a telephone scam called Vishing. Someone is attempting to steal your identity. And it happens to millions of Americans every year.
Protect yourself from telephone scams
Follow these steps to protect yourself from most types of identity theft telephone scams:
- Never offer personal or account information over the phone without verifying the caller’s identity.
- If you are uncertain of the identity of a caller, hang up and initiate the call yourself using a known phone number.
- Do not call any phone number received in a voice message or email asking for personal information. It could lead you to a phony answering system.
As a general guideline, be highly suspicious anytime you are requested to provide personal information over the phone.
Danger Zone: Payments
Payment fraud happens when someone uses information from your checks, credit and debit cards, or any other form of payment without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. But this, and other forms of identity theft, can be avoided if you know how to protect yourself.
Avoid being a victim of payment fraud
Don’t make it easy for criminals to steal your personal information. Here are some common sense tips to protect your identity:
- Balance your checkbook, and verify all account and credit card statements as soon as they arrive.
- Keep all checks, credit and debit cards in a safe place.
- Don’t leave outgoing checks or paid bills in your mailbox, and report lost or stolen items immediately.
- Don’t write PIN numbers on your credit or debit cards, or leave them in your wallet for a thief to find.
- Use a paper shredder to securely dispose of any documents containing personal information.
- Make online purchases only from trusted Web sites. If you have questions about a company, you can check them out with the Better Business Bureau.
- NOTE!!!!!!!! Consider paying all your bills electronically with online bill pay. This method is considered more secure than mailing paper checks.
Reducing your risk of identity theft starts with protecting your personal information. Keep it from getting into the wrong hands. Always be diligent about protecting your identity.
Danger Zone: Home
The simple act of sending and receiving mail, and putting your trash out at night can put your personal information at risk. Financial information, checks, bank account and credit card statements, and monthly bills can be stolen from your home, mailbox or even from your trash, and used to access your accounts and steal your identity.
Follow these steps to protect against identity theft in your home
- Invest in a personal shredder. This is your first line of defense. Shred checking and credit card statements, canceled checks, pre-approved credit card offers, or anything with your personal information on it before disposal.
- Place your garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before. This gives dumpster divers less opportunity to go through your trash.
- Install a mailbox with a locking mechanism, or pick up your mail immediately after it is delivered each day.
- Change that old habit of placing mail in your mailbox for the carrier to pick up. Always place out-going mail in an official, secure mailbox.
- It’s good practice to store your mail, bank statements, and other papers where they are out of sight and out of reach of anyone who might be in your home.
By following these steps you are on the right track to protecting your identity. Learning about all the identity theft danger zones and the simple steps you can take to avoid being a victim, is the best way to protect your good name.
I’m a Victim of Identity Theft—What Should I Do?
If your identity has been stolen, you need to take immediate action to limit the damage and protect your good name.
- Identity Theft Emergency Repair Kit provides step-by-step instructions and the necessary forms to help restore your identity. The Repair Kit is available on The State Bank website under the Learning section.
- Contact The State Bank and other related vendors immediately. Close any accounts that may have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit report with one of the three major credit bureaus. Also, request to review your credit report for suspicious activity. A copy of your credit report is available free each year from www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Equifax®: 1-888-766-0008
- Experian®: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion®: 1-800-680-7289
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov.
- File a report with local police.