Prevent the preventable with these proactive identity theft tips.
Each year, nearly 10 million Americans have their personal information stolen, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Victims of identity theft spend approximately $5 million a year repairing their credit, and businesses are now dealing with nearly $50 million in fraudulent charges annually.
While there are no guarantees for avoiding identity theft, the more you know about what you can do to protect your identity, the harder it is for identity thieves to commit crimes. Here are some tips to help you lower your risk of becoming a victim:
- Don’t give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you know who you’re dealing with and preferably only if you’ve initiated the contact. As a general rule, never give out your Social Security Number (SSN) or driver’s license numbers.
- Don’t carry your Social Security card or other cards that show your SSN in your wallet. Only provide your SSN when absolutely necessary — for tax forms, employment, student records, stock and property transactions, etc.
- Remember that banks will not ask you to verify your personal account information over the phone or via e-mail, as they already have that on file. If you receive a phone call or e-mail asking you to verify such information, don’t respond. Instead, contact the bank directly.
- Don’t leave sensitive documents containing personal information where people can see them. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information, including pre-approved credit card offers and bank statements you no longer need.
- Retrieve your postal mail promptly, and discontinue delivery while you’re out of town. Whenever possible, mail bills from your post office, not your mail box. Stop or reduce junk mail or unsolicited credit card offers by visiting the National Credit Bureau’s opt-out website or call them at 888-567-8688.
- Open your credit card bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don’t arrive on time — it may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
- Review your credit report at least once a year to check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges. Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s authorized website for your free credit report.
- Protect personal information on your computer by following good security practices. Use passwords that are hard to guess. Install firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software that you update regularly. Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions. Don’t click on links in pop-up windows or in e-mails from unknown sources.
- Before you get rid of an old computer, destroy the information on the hard drive. Often that means destroying the drive itself because erasing data doesn’t completely eliminate it, or use software tools that will completely wipe data from the hard drive.
- Use caution when shopping online and only provide personal information and credit card numbers on websites that offer secure transactions and have strong privacy and security policies. You can often tell if a page is secure if “https” is in the URL or if there is a padlock icon on the browser window.
What to do if you are a victim of identity theft
At Bank Iowa, we understand that being a victim of identity theft can be a life-changing experience. That’s why we provide free identity theft protection services to our customers. Simply contact your local Bank Iowa, and we’ll put you in touch with an on-demand fraud specialist at Identity Theft 911®, the nation’s leader in identity management and fraud education.
If you are not a Bank Iowa customer and are a victim of identity theft, you should file a police report, check your credit reports, notify creditors and dispute any unauthorized transactions.
Free identity theft resource center
For more information on identity theft and prevention guidelines, visit our identity theft resource center.