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Identity Theft

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone finds and uses your personal information, such as your name, social security number, or credit card number, to commit fraud or theft using your name. Victims can spend months, even years, recovering from identity theft. There can be high out-of-pocket expenses related to clearing your name. You could be denied loans and jobs. Though unlikely, you could even be mistakenly arrested as a result of crimes committed in your name.

How does it happen?

Identity thieves use a variety of methods to gain access to data including:

  • They steal your mail (or rummage through your trash), and use your financial statements, preapproved credit card offers, telephone calling cards, and tax information to open accounts in your name. "Dumpster Diving" is the most prevalent form of identity theft.
  • They access places that keep records for a large number of people, such as retail stores, fitness centers, car dealers, schools, hospitals, and even credit bureaus.
  • They steal your purse or wallet containing your personal identification, credit and bank cards, and checks.
  • They "shoulder surf" (look over your shoulder) at ATM machines and phone booths in order to capture your PIN numbers.
  • They change your address with the post office or credit card company to divert your mail or specific statements to another location.
  • They "hack" information you share on the Internet from non-secure Internet sites. (Read about Star One's Internet security.) More importantly, they infect your home computer with viruses that transmits your data.
  • They buy your information from other sources, or pose as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your information. This is called "pretexting".
  • They find your family information (mother's maiden name) in public genealogy records.
  • They mail you fictitious IRS Forms and fraudulent bank correspondence in an attempt to obtain your personal information.

This information is used to open new accounts (credit cards, cellular phone service, checking accounts) or take out loans in your name. Quite often you don't know what is going on for a period of time - normally about 14 months - because you aren't receiving any statements or you haven't checked your credit report.

Prevention is Key

There are a variety of things you can do to reduce the risk of identity theft. Think about taking care of your identity on a regular basis, just like you take care of your health. The collection of ideas below should help raise your awareness.

  1. Purchase Identity Fraud protection from Identity Fraud, Inc.
  2. Try our ID Theft Coach, an interactive learning tool provided by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).
  3. Ask questions. Don't reveal any personally identifying information until you understand how it will be used. Don't give out any information unless you initiate the contact.
  4. Pay attention to security measures when making purchases on the Internet. Does the site encrypt your transaction information? Those that do will clearly state their security measures on their site. Look for "https" rather than "http" in the first part of the URL. The "s" stands for "secure".
  5. Be vigilant about your mail. Promptly remove your mail after it has been delivered. Deposit outgoing mail in collection boxes or at the post office, or consider installing a locked mailbox at your residence. If you're going on vacation, place your mail on hold.
  6. Pay attention to your charges and billing cycles. Is there a charge on your statement that you don't recognize? Do your statements arrive on time? If not, contact your creditors. A missing statement could indicate that a thief has taken over your account and has changed your billing address. Use Star One's Online Banking to check your accounts daily. Do not print your telephone number or social security number on your checks. Balance your checkbook every month.
  7. Keep the number of cards you carry to a minimum. Put passwords on them and avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number.  Close inactive accounts.
  8. Be cautious about where you keep personal information. Store your social security card, birth certificate, passport, unused bank cards, and canceled and used checks in a safe place, especially if you have roommates, hired help, or are having service work done in your home. File away a list of all your account card numbers, expiration dates, and phone numbers. DO NOT carry your social security card, birth certificate or passport with you.
  9. Tear up or shred receipts, credit card offers you get in the mail, expired cards, insurance information, physician statements, bank checks and statements that you are discarding, and anything else that may have your personal information on it. Pay special attention to credit card, check card, and ATM receipts. They often have your account number printed right on them! A shredder is highly recommended.
  10. Order a copy of your credit report on a regular basis. Request changes to inaccuracies in writing and follow up with each credit bureau. See the following list of credit reporting agencies.
  11. Remove yourself from marketing lists. Even though many marketing organizations allow you to "opt out" of having your information shared with others, you may want to contact the following organizations.

    Credit Bureaus:
    To stop prescreened credit card offers from coming to you in the mail.

    • Prescreened credit offer Opt-Out line: (888) 567-8688
    • Experian's consumer Opt-Out line: (800) 407-1088

    Department of Motor Vehicles: Will often sell your personal information for direct marketing purposes. Not all DMVs do this, and you may not be able to opt out if they do so.

    Direct Marketers: The Direct Marketing Association Preference Services allow consumers to opt out of direct mail, e-mail and/or telemarketing solicitations from many national companies. Removing your name from their list will prevent them from selling or renting your personal information to other companies as well.  Visit the DMA's consumer site

    U.S. Government Do Not Call List: National Do Not Call Registry.

  12. Consider purchasing a credit watch program that will notify you whenever an account is set up in your name, or when a change has been made to any of your existing accounts. See Identity Fraud, Inc. for information on ID Theft plans and credit watch options.
  13. Identity theft insurance is also available through various insurance companies and Star One Credit Union (see above). It can also be sold as a rider to your homeowner's policy. The fees vary, and coverage normally includes legal expenses, loan re-application fees, telephone and certified mailing charges, notary expenses and lost wages for the time taken from work to deal with the fraud. 

Are YOU at risk?

Click here to take your Identity Theft IQ Test!

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