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5 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Identity Theft

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When someone commits identity theft, they are fraudulently using a person’s personal identifying information such as Social Security numbers, date of birth, bank account numbers, and credit cards.  Identity theft is an everyday occurrence and becoming very difficult to guard against as thieves can obtain your information in a variety of different ways: 

  • Stealing wallets, bank statements from the mail, and workplace records
  • Rummaging through trash for personal data that has not been disposed of properly
  • Changing mailing addresses and diverting personal mail to the wrong location
  • Intercepting information that has been transmitted electronically

So what can you do to protect yourself?  We have compiled a list of steps you can take to help ensure your personal information does not get placed in the wrong hands.

1. Do not share personal information over the telephone, through the mail, or over the internet. 

There are several types of scams that target people in hopes of stealing their personal identification information.  Beware of unsolicited phone calls that say something is wrong with your credit card or bank account and ask you for account information to “help” you get the issue solved.  Hang up the phone and if you are concerned about the potential of something being wrong, call your financial institution or credit card company to confirm with them.

Also be cautious of emails from unknown senders that contain links, as these are known as “phishing scams”.  You might receive a message saying:

  • "We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity."
  • “Our records indicate that your account was overcharged. You must call us within 7 days to receive your refund.” 

It is important to realize that legitimate companies will not ask for this information via email.  While the email might look real or like it is coming from your financial institution, do not reply and delete the message.  Again, if you think there is a true concern with your account, call your financial institution and verify it with them.

2. Store personal information in a safe place. 

It is important to always know where your important documents are located.  However, it is not only knowing where they are but knowing they are in a safe place only you can access.  If someone were to break into your home, your personal information could be just as tempting for them to take as TVs or other electronics.  When deciding where to store your important documents keep in mind that the place should be easy for you to access and also be protected from theft, fire, and other emergencies.  Put your family’s Social Security cards, tax returns, passports, will, and birth certificates in a safety deposit box or a home safe.  A safety deposit box can be accessed through your financial institution.  Since you might not be able to access it at all times of the day, it is best to keep copies which you can then store in a home safe for easier access.  The home safe you choose should be fireproof and have a secure way to lock it. 

3. Dispose of information properly. 

Disposing of sensitive information is just as important in keeping your information safe.  Use a shredder at least once per month to shred things such as receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, expired credit cards, and payment statements you no longer need.  All of these contain information unique to you that someone can get access to and try to impersonate you.

4.  Shop carefully, especially online. 

Security breaches can happen anywhere and hackers can steal your identity and credit card information through the online purchases you make.  Make sure that your browser is up to date when making purchases as this will help ensure that you are purchasing through the securest version of your browser.  Also, do not make online purchases from public Wi-Fi networks as your payment information can be accessed much easier compared to a Wi-Fi network that requires a password to login.  It is important to note that popular websites can be cloned to look like the real deal when in fact they are a scam so make sure you are always on the correct site address to avoid making a purchase that you will never see.

When shopping at a retail location, look out for skimmers.  Skimmers are devices that attach to a card reader/terminal or at ATMs.  Skimmers copy your card information that thieves can access and make unauthorized purchases.

5. Review your account statements more frequently.

Consistently checking your account statements can help you catch fraud quicker if it is happening.  You can also use online banking to monitor the purchases made with your cards and if you begin to see purchases you did not make, call to cancel your cards immediately.  You can also set up limits on your card that control how much can be spent in a specific time frame such as 24 hours.  For example, if you set your card limit at $1,000 and a thief tried to make a $1,200 purchase, the card would be declined.  Or if throughout a day, anything that they try to spend over the $1,000 limit will not be processed.

If someone does get a hold of your personal identification information, the best thing you can do is catch it early so you can shut it down.  Putting these five practices in place will help protect you against someone getting this information and authorizing purchases or applying for loans you did not actually do.  At CES, we take fraudulent activity very seriously and are always looking out for our members and the safety of their information.

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