- What is Identity Theft?
- How do I protect myself?
- Southern Security & You
- If your identity has been stolen...
Identity Theft: How you can guard against it.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other identifying information, without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes. A thief may make purchases or establish new credit cards using your good name and credit while using his own address. The widespread use of the SSN as an identifier and authenticator has led to an increase in identity theft. Once a Social Security number is obtained fraudulently, it can be used as "breeder" information to obtain a loan, access bank accounts or create false identification documents, such as a driver's license. With an estimated 10 million individuals being victimized by identity theft each year, preventing identity thieves from obtaining Social Security numbers is increasingly essential.1
One of the most frustrating aspects of identity theft is that, unlike other crimes in the United States, victims are guilty until proven innocent. Victims are responsible for clearing their names and protesting fraudulent debts. According to the Consumers Union, it takes consumers an average of 300 to 500 hours to fix their credit once their identity has been compromised. That’s the equivalent of working non-stop, 40-hour weeks for 7.5 – 12.5 weeks!
Here are some simple steps you can take to guard against identity theft.
- Shred all documents – those offers of credit that come in the mail should not just be tossed. Someone can easily take that from your trash, mail it in and wait for a new credit card to come to your mailbox where they take it before you get home. You may not even know it’s happened until the bills arrive.
- Eliminate extra credit cards from wallets/purses. It can’t be stolen if you don’t have it with you.
- Do not provide personal information over the phone or internet from someone who contacted you first. Your financial institutions will not contact you and ask for your account numbers, access numbers/passwords or PINs (personal identification numbers). They already have that information!
- Use strong passwords – those with at least eight characters including small and large letters, numbers and characters such as an asterisk * or pound sign #.
- Do not use the same passwords for your financial accounts as you do your web-based email, favorite store sites or gaming accounts.
- Remove mail from your mailbox or PO Box promptly/daily.
- Remove your name from mailing lists. By calling (888) 5OPT-OUT, you can get your name off the marketing lists of the three primary credit bureaus. (This will, in turn, decrease the number of pre-approved credit offers you receive.)
- Keep your ATM/debit receipts. Many times your account number and/or name is on the receipt. Don’t simply toss it aside. Keep it or shred it.
- Memorize all PINs and passwords. Don’t keep these in your wallet. And don’t write your PINs on your cards! That’s giving two pieces of the puzzle to a thief.
- Do not keep your social security card or number in your wallet. Unfortunately, over half of all Americans do. But if your wallet is stolen, your name, SSN, address – everything can be used against you by thieves.
- If your driver’s license still contains your social security number, request that it be removed. Also, be sure any work or student ID does not include your SSN. The idea is to separate your social security number from your name and address whenever possible.
- Match receipts to your monthly statements – whether credit or ATM/debit card. If there are more purchases than receipts, make sure they are indeed your purchases. If not, report them immediately.
- If you have a change in your address, tell your financial institutions in advance.
- Southern Security used multi-factor authentication for online account information. This puts extra lines of defense in place to better secure your online access. By asking questions that generally only you can answer, this stops hackers from gaining access to your accounts.
- Secured vs. unsecured email. Southern Security provides two types of email through which you can contact us. If you are simply requesting applications or have a general question, you may contact us at MyCU@SouthernSecurity.org. However, if you have a specific question about your account we have a secured email. This is the only email through which you should provide account numbers or details regarding your personal information. To access this, log in to CU Online. Once inside CU Online go to the Message Center to Contact Us. This information is completely secure from you to us. However, when we respond back, this will be unsecured. So we will intentionally NOT use your account number in our response. If you have a complex question or issue, you may prefer to contact us during normal business hours via phone or in person.
If you think your identity has been stolen,
- Contact your financial institutions immediately so that alerts may be placed on your accounts or new account numbers can be assigned.
- Check your credit reports as these will show any inquiries made under your social security number. You can also place a “fraud alert” with each bureau.
- Contact your local police to file a report.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Fill out the ID Theft Affidavit, make copies and send them to creditors. While federal investigators only tend to pursue larger, more sophisticated fraud cases, they do monitor identity theft crimes of all levels in the hopes of discovering patterns and breaking up larger rings. The agency also has an online complaint form.
- Check your credit reports again in regular intervals to watch for new activities that are not your own. Some thieves are very patient and may wait at least 90 days (after fraud alerts expire) before attempting to use your personal information to steal your identity. Experts suggest checking your credit reports with all three credit bureaus every six months.
For more information read Taking Charge, a booklet produced by the Federal Trade Commission. It has even more tips and steps you can take to protect your identity from being stolen in the first place, as well as steps to take if it happens to you.