Keep your money safe in 6 easy steps
Identity theft can take many forms and happen multiple ways. Your personal information can be used by thieves to illegally obtain credit, buy merchandise, utilize services, or claim money. Identity theft can negatively impact your credit score, drain your accounts, and make it difficult to qualify for new credit or services if you are unaware of the fraud.
Be cautious when using the web. Unsuspecting internet users can be directed to a fraudulent website through fake emails, links, attachments, as well as typing in the wrong URL. Some imposter sites look identical to the one you were trying to reach, but the name looks slightly different. These sites hope you will enter login information that will allow them to see your personal information. These sites can also be hidden in an email sent to “phish” information from the recipient through unsolicited emails with unfamiliar link. Always err on the side of caution when sent a link or file that you were not expecting. As a rule of thumb, don’t send personal or financial information via email, be careful when opening links, and refrain from typing private or financial information using public Wi-Fi or shared computers.
To minimize your risk, review your financial statements often. By signing up for online or mobile banking, you can see fraud faster and review your accounts sooner than waiting for paper statements. Along with your accounts, check on your credit history. The number isn’t important when watching for fraud, only the information on the report. To do this, request your free copies on annualcreditreport.com or utilize a credit monitoring service. These sites typically do “soft pulls” meaning that the inquiries will not count against you or show up on your report. When looking for fraud in your credit history, keep an eye out for incorrect personal information, unfamiliar accounts, and credit inquiries you did not authorize. If you find information you feel is incorrect, you have the right to dispute the information. Contact all three credit bureaus when reporting discrepancies.
Know the checks you’re cashing.
Thieves attempt to commit fraud by contacting a seller or buyer regarding an item for sale. This can happen if you are selling or buying an item or service. A more common scam involves the “buyer” purchasing an item by sending a check for an amount larger than the sale price. The draft is usually a fraudulent certified check that looks real. Once you receive the check, the thief states that it was a clerical mistake and asks you to send back a check or wire funds for the difference. When the check is returned as fraudulent, the seller is now responsible for the full check amount, overdraft fees, and possibly already shipped merchandise that was “purchased” by scammer. Anytime you endorse the back of a check, you are stating that you KNOW the funds are there… keep that in mind if you are cashing checks from a less than reputable source.
Always verify requests for payment.
Scammers will typically pose as government officials, loan officers, lottery officials, etc. Victims are usually led to believe that they owe money or are entitled to a large sum of cash and need to pay processing fees. An example would be the Jamaican Lottery Scam, when a “winner” receives a call that they won the Jamaican Lottery. This is not possible as only citizens can participate in each country’s lottery system.
Don’t carry confidential information in your wallet.
Always try your best to remember sensitive information such as your social security number and PIN rather than writing it on a piece of paper. A lost wallet or peak over your shoulder can go from bad to worse if you accidentally leak private information that can be used to create new accounts or drain out your checking account. As far as credit cards are concerned, never leave the signature portion blank. If your card gets lost, someone could sign your name to the back, creating a new signature for you that won’t be questioned by stores or businesses.
Buy a shredder.
One piece of office equipment can save you a huge headache. Shred all documents with confidential or private information. This would include mail, old loan or financial documents, statements, etc. By shredding papers and cutting up old cards, you are preventing dumpster divers from finding your info and wreaking havoc.