Identity Theft 101

If any crime were to be known for its tendency to “lurk”, it would be identity theft…and nobody likes a lurker.

For much of the not-so-distant past, the fear of identity theft was often subdued by an internal voice saying, “that will never happen to me”. But times…they are a changing. Passively assuming that your personal information is safe from ID thieves and hackers, is a devil-may-care approach to life in 2017.

According to a 2016 Identity Fraud Study, released by Javelin Strategy & Research, 13.1 million American consumers were victims of identity theft in 2015. In total, the victims had 15 billion dollars stolen from them. This makes a grand total of $112 billion stolen by identity thieves over the past six years.

We suggest getting to know the enemy first. This will help with proactively defending yourself from identity theft. It’s hard to ever entirely remove the chance of becoming a victim of ID theft. Thus, it is also wise to prepare yourself for a smooth recovery should your personal information be stolen.

First, Get to know the enemy.

We categorize identity theft into two groups:

  • True name identity theft means that the thief uses personal information to open new accounts.
  • Account takeover identity theft means the imposter uses personal information to gain access to the person’s existing accounts.

This video (a resource provided by BestIDTheftCompanys.com) discusses the common forms of identity fraud, and the modus operandi used by these criminals.

Now, it's time to take some preventative measures.

Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:

  • If a business contacts you for personal information, look up the official number for the company online, and call to verify the request.
  • As a general rule of thumb, don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
  • Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home for several days.
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
  • Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. A random string of letters and numbers is ideal.
  • Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn’t include accounts that you have not opened.

Keep an eye out for signs that could aid in the early detection of identity theft.

Identitytheft.gov provides this list of events to watch out for. They could indicate that someone has stolen your information:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

Last but not least...

Initiate damage control

Experiencing any of the list items above, or noticing that your wallet or other personal information is lost or stolen, should trigger you to act.

  1. Contact the key companies on this list for clarification on suspicious activity, or to report a concerning incident: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Top-Company-Contacts
  2. IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. If you are a victim of identity theft, get help with the recovery process here: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Assistant
  3. This free download is the easiest way to get insight on the best course of action, from the experts. It walks you through the appropriate actions to take based upon the information that was lost or stolen: Identity Theft Recovery

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your personal information is secure, these days. These are different times. Fortunately, identity theft protection is available as an endorsement on most homeowners’ policies at a small cost. If you’re interested in learning more about this coverage, call Davis & Towle Insurance Group at 603-225-6611 or e-mail info@davistowle.com

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