Protect yourself: don’t become a victim of identity theft

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It’s easy to think you’re not susceptible to identity theft, until you see charges on your credit card statement that you didn’t make. Fortunately, those charges are usually reversed quickly with a simple call to the credit card company. However, the implications of that theft may stick with you. Depending on the severity, it may even damage your credit.

It’s a nightmare for nearly 330,000 people whose identities are stolen each year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft can take years to recover from, but fortunately, there are some simple steps that could lessen the likelihood that you become a victim.

Shopping

Whether you’re whipping out your card to pay for a latte or pay for auto repairs, you want to be mindful. Always verify the amount before you sign. Don’t forget to examine the charges on your credit card statement each month and call your credit card company immediately if something doesn’t look right. Likewise, it’s equally important to be aware of what’s happening with your checking or debit account.  It’s easy to check your accounts from anywhere, using Internet Banking or the MyOCCU Mobile Banking app.    

If you’re shopping online, use a firewall program to prevent your computer from being accessible to hackers. Enter personal and financial information on a website only when there is a “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar and look for the URL to read “https” instead of “http.”

For sites you frequent to shop or pay bills, use a strong password with a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers. Don’t use the automatic log in feature and always log off when you’re finished.

Mail

Keeping tabs on your mail is a good way to limit your risk for identity theft. Deposit outgoing mail, particularly bills, at a collection box and remove incoming mail promptly. If going out of town, request a vacation hold.

Once credit card statements have come in and have been paid, shred those, as well as any pre-approved credit card offers, with a crosscut shredder. Also, take note if a bill doesn’t arrive on time and call the company immediately.

Email

Email also requires the same vigilance. Phishing scams are a common way that criminals seek to obtain your personal information. Recently, phishing scams have included an email posing as a financial institution, containing the organizations logo and personally addressed to you. The emails tell you that your account has been hacked and they need to verify personal information and direct you to click on a link to provide that information. Or that the financial institution has activated new security protocol and ask you to login and update personal information. Do not follow the links provided in these emails as they will allow the phishers to capture your login information.

These scams are relatively easy to avoid if you remember one thing: A legitimate organization should never contact you to ask you to reveal personal information, by phone or by email. The only time an organization should ask for information such as your social security number or account number, is when you have contacted them. If you’re unsure if an email is legitimate, call your financial institution and verify.

Keeping Tabs

Remember the things above, plus keep your purse or wallet, as well as your identification and financial documents, in a safe place. For instance, memorize your social security number so you don’t need to carry the card around with you. Don’t have your social security number printed on your checks and provide it only when necessary. There is no harm in verifying how your number will be used and what happens if you refuse. Photocopy both sides of your credit cards so you have all the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers, and keep them in a safe place with the rest of your documents.

It’s a good idea to check your credit rating periodically to make sure it hasn’t dropped significantly.  Finally, before disposing of a computer, be sure to delete all personal information using a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

How do you know someone has stolen your identity? Obviously, if you see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain or if debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours, those are some big clues. Some identifiers that might initially be overlooked as mistakes could indicate big problems. If your bills stop coming as usual, medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use, or the IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, uh-oh.

If these or other clues tip you off that you have become a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has an on-line resource, identitytheft.gov, that will walk you through the steps to begin the recovery process. As always, OCCU wants to partner with you to keep your identity and money secure.