It can happen to anyone – even the CEO of an investment firm. That’s what Craig Serio of Pompano Beach, Fla. discovered when he received a call from his credit card company’s fraud department.
Someone claiming to be him had canceled his credit card and ordered a new one sent to a different address. It only took two days for the company to discover the problem, but during that time “someone” had already racked up more than $9,000 in purchases. “I don’t know how my identity was stolen,” Serio says. “But I know how it was used against me.”
Identity fraud costs Americans $54 billion in 2009 alone. Here’s how to head off this pressing problem in four areas where you may be most vulnerable.
Think prevention to keep fraud from hitting home.
The most common types of identity theft are credit card fraud and criminal use of government records. The best defense? Take preventive action. Greg Widmer, senior research analyst with Liberty Mutual, advises shredding documents with identifying information – Social Security numbers, account numbers and birth dates.
Make photocopies of your credit cards, IDs, passport and licenses (front and back). Keep the copies in a home safe or safety deposit box, and update your records to keep them current. Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet.
If your wallet is stolen, report the theft to the police, then follow these steps for damage control:
• Cancel all your credit cards immediately. Ask for new cards with new numbers.
• Call one of the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax (888-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742) or TransUnion (800-680-7289). Ask to attach a fraud alert to your accounts.
• Check your photocopies for all other IDs and call the issuing agencies to report the theft.
Keep thieves off your paper trail of personal information.
Mail theft can provide identity thieves access to your bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit card offers, new checks and tax information.
Postal inspectors urge you to safeguard your identity by following this “must do” tip list:
• Deposit outgoing mail at a Post Office or a blue U.S. Postal Service collection box, or give it directly to your letter carrier.
• Shred or tear up unwanted documents that contain personal information.
• Review your consumer credit reports annually.
• Never give personal information on the phone or Internet unless you initiated the contact.
• Use a secure locking mailbox or a Post Office box for your incoming mail.
• Never leave mail (or other personal information) in your car.
• Keep track of the dates when statements and bills typically arrive, or go paperless.
• During tax season, be especially watchful for official documents. If they’re late, investigate.
Ward off digital pickpockets with these cyberspace tips.
Identity theft increased 12 percent last year, affecting an estimated 11 million adults in the United States. Computers played a large part due to phishing scams and theft from company-owned data banks. To protect yourself, heed this important advice:
• Beware of email solicitations requesting personal information, such as your Social Security number, bank or credit card numbers or personal identification numbers.
• Never click on a link or open a file attached to an unsolicited email, especially messages that purport to be from financial institutions, credit card companies or government agencies such as the IRS.
• Use antivirus software on your computer, and set the program to automatically update virus definitions daily.
• Never use public computers (like those in libraries) to access your bank accounts or check your personal email, especially if you need to type in a username and password.
Protect Your Identity on the job using hardworking hints.
Employment-related fraud has worsened with the downturn in the economy. As more people become desperate to find work, they may turn to the theft of personal information for the credentials they need to find a job. Even colleagues at work may yield to temptation.
Protect your Social Security number in every way possible. Be sure your employer does not display or print your Social Security number where others can see it. When you’re seeking employment, avoid revealing your SSN until absolutely necessary, and don’t post personal information online. In addition, heed these tips:
• Never leave your purse or wallet on your desk or in an unsecured drawer or locker.
• Don’t leave sensitive documents such as bank statements or pay stubs where coworkers or visitors could see, copy or steal them.
• If you work for a publicly traded company, find out if your personal information is included in the company’s SEC filing. If so, what steps have been taken to secure the information?
For extra protection, explore the benefits of Liberty Mutual’s Identity Fraud Expense Coverage. You’ll be covered for up to $15,000 of expenses incurred as a direct result of identity fraud and receive personal assistance through the Fraud Crisis Resolution Center.