Identity Theft: 11 Ways to Safeguard Your Identity
Victims of identity theft often don't learn of the theft until after the fact. By that time, substantial damage may have been done and the work necessary to repair the damage done to your financial reputation and credit rating can take years and cost thousands of dollars.
While California Bank & Trust has systems and policies to protect your financial information from unauthorized access and disclosure, most identity thieves obtain information through other means, including mail theft scams and telephone and internet solicitations that ask for personal information.
While no one can ever be totally safe from identity theft, we want to make you aware of a few proactive, simple measures you can take that can help you from becoming a victim of identity theft.
- Many unauthorized transactions are committed by those close to you or those with access to your residence and are crimes of opportunity. Keep personal information, including PIN numbers, checks, bank statements, credit cards and statements, and brokerage and mortgage account information safe. Consider using a locking file cabinet at home to store such financial information. Never write your PIN number on your access card, and try to avoid using PINs that are easily guessed by those who know you such as addresses, birthdays and other important dates.
- Take care disposing of documentation containing personal or financial information. Shred all papers with confidential information before throwing them away, especially bank and credit card statements and anything with your preprinted name and address, like credit card and mortgage refinance solicitations.
- Mail is a target of identity thieves. They steal mail and alter the payee and amount of a check, or use the account information to generate counterfeit checks. Don't use your home mailbox to send payments or correspondence with confidential information. Hand your mail directly to your postal agent, use the Post Office, or drop them in an official Post Office box. Consider subscribing to an online banking service for bill paying for added security.
- Don't carry all your financial resources on your person. Limit the number of credit cards you carry in case your purse or wallet is lost or stolen. Report any loss immediately to your credit card provider. Never carry your social security card or number on you.
- Pay close attention to your billing and bank statements. Check your bank and credit card statements as soon as they arrive and immediately dispute any unauthorized charges or transactions. You are the only one who knows whether a charge or transaction is authorized. Most banks follow the industry standard of 'bulk filing' checks, which means that incoming items are not reviewed for authenticity or alteration, or to verify that the signature on the check is authorized. Your bank or creditor will disclaim liability for continuing unauthorized charges or transactions if they can show you were mailed a statement and failed to act promptly in giving notice of unauthorized activity and, as a result, additional charges could have been stopped.
- Question any request for your driver's license number or Social Security number. While you may be asked for additional identification, such as a driver's license, when writing a check or using a credit card, many states (including California) prohibit a merchant from recording such information. Never have your SSN or driver's license number printed on your checks.
- Know the policies of those with whom you do business. Ask for and review the privacy policies of the companies with whom you do business. Opt out of any information sharing that makes you uncomfortable.
- Online banking safety. When using DirectNETSM Online Banking or CB&T Connect to monitor your accounts, change your passwords often and try to avoid obvious guesses for a password. If you leave your computer while conducting online banking, log out of the program or insure that a password protected screen saver engages after a brief time of inactivity.
- Be suspicious of unsolicited offers.Be wary of mail, telephone or e-mail requests for you to verify personal information, particularly if you did not initiate the contact. Such unsolicited inquiries are called "Phishing." Identity thieves represent themselves as legitimate entities, such as the FDIC or VISA?, and rely on your assumption that requests for your information from these recognized names are legitimate. Moreover,
- Do not reply to e-mails requesting personal information. To be safe, do not even open e-mails from unknown senders.
- Respond to telephone requests for information by asking the caller to make their request in writing. If they don't already have your address, don't provide it.
- Call the companies who send requests to you for your personal information and confirm the request is legitimate.
- Other Scams.There are many ways individuals become victims, not only of identity theft but, of numerous other scams, as well. Some of the more well known include:
- Nigerian Fraud. Individuals are contacted by one promising a cut of a large fortune if the individual helps get money out of the foreign country. Such a scam often requires money from the victim, as well as disclosure of bank account information into which the "fortune" will be wired. Your funds will never be seen again.
- IRS Scam. Individuals are contacted by an IRS agent impersonator by phone explaining that an IRS audit resulted in the individual owing back taxes. The impersonator provides payment instructions and explains that the payment must be made immediately in order to avoid additional fines, assets seizure and arrest. The most common scenario is that the impersonator remains on the phone while the individual goes to the bank and has the money in their hand. They then instruct the individual to go to a store and purchase a money card to make the payment.
- E-bay and other online sales. Beware of selling merchandise over the Internet if your purchaser wants to pay you more than your asking price. The purchaser will offer to pay you substantially more and ask you to wire the overpayment elsewhere. When the purchasers check is returned as counterfeit, you've not only lost your property, but have a large overdraft to resolve with your bank.
- Canadian Lottery. They mail you a letter advising that you've won a lottery you haven't even entered. The catch is that you have to send them 'administrative fees' to process your winnings, usually in the $3,000-$5,000 range. To cover this, they will send you a check, which they ask that you deposit and wire back to them. The check is counterfeit, the money is gone, and you've got an overdraft to resolve with your bank.
The United States Postal Service carries regular alerts on consumer scams on its Website, USPS, as does the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, and the Better Business Bureaus, BBB. They are well worth your time to review. A good rule of thumb to remember is, "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
11. Be vigilant. Check your bank account activity frequently and check your credit report at least annually. This will allow you to discover unauthorized activity early, before substantial damage to your financial reputation can be done.
If you become a victim of identity theft:
- Contact the bank immediately.
- Have your credit cards canceled immediately. Investigate any unfamiliar charges.
- File a police report. Once you have it, contact the three credit reporting agencies and begin verifying and disputing any entries that were not authorized by you. The three credit reporting agencies are:
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
* Report all suspicious emails or calls to the Federal Trade Commission through the Internet at Consumer ID Theft, or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).
For more tips on how to prevent identity theft, as well as what else to do if your identity is stolen, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338), visit Consumer ID Theft or speak to a representative at your local California Bank & Trust branch.