How to Prevent Identity Theft

identity-theftFrom making a purchase online to using an ATM while on vacation, worries about identity theft are at the back of everyone’s minds. However, the best weapon against identity theft is knowledge. The more you know about what it is and how it works, the better you will be to protect yourself and prevent identity theft from happening to you in the first place.

What is Identity Theft?
Simply defined, identity theft is when one person fraudulently uses another person’s identifying information, such as a Social Security number, date of birth, account number or basic information, such as their mother’s maiden name or place of birth, to open a new credit card, open a credit union share account, apply for a loan or charge existing credit cards. Needless to say it can at the very least be damaging to your credit history, but at worst can be immediately damaging financially if the person gains access to your banking or credit accounts.

A person can get your identifying information in a number of ways. Theft is perhaps the most direct and obvious way. If you have a wallet or a purse stolen, you need to contact your credit card companies and New Bedford credit union right away to alert them that someone may try to use them so they can be cancelled. Another method that is quite common is for the identity thief to steal your credit union statements right out of your mailbox or to create a change of address form at the post office and have your mail diverted to another location.

Some thieves simply go through your trash bin or trash bags at the local landfill to retrieve personal identifying information, while others will steal personal data from records held at your workplace, such as Social Security number, date of birth, full name and address. Most people are aware that identity theft can also happen online. Information that is sent over an unsecure connection on the Internet can be intercepted of taken electronically, in many cases without the victim ever knowing it happened.

Pretext Calling
In addition to the methods of identity theft mentioned above, pretext calling is another method that individuals are using to gain access to credit card accounts, credit union share accounts and other financial records. A pretext caller is someone who contacts people via phone to engage in a data-seeking conversation to get account numbers, Social Security numbers and even PIN numbers. Do not ever give any personal information or confirm any personal information over the phone with any person claiming to be a representative of a credit card company or your New Bedford credit union unless you initiated the contact.

Tips to Help You Prevent Identity Theft
There are things that you can actively do to help prevent identity theft from happening to you. Some of these tips involve developing good habits, staying aware of potential scams and methods used by identity thieves to steal your personal information and knowing what to do when you see the warning signs.

#1 – Safe Storage
If you have personal identifying information that you must keep, such as receipts, credit card statements, statements from your credit union share account, Social Security numbers, birth certificates and registration information, store they in a safe place, such as a lock box, locked filing cabinet or other secure location.

#2 – Destroy Data
Any bills, statements, receipts or other papers that contain personal identifying information, such as your mailing address, Social Security number, account number, date of birth or anything else that can be used by identity thieves, should be torn up or – better yet – shredded before being thrown away.

#3 – Protect PINs & Passwords
Do not choose PIN numbers and passwords that contain easily available information, such as your date of birth, year of birth, last four digits of your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name or pet’s name. Do not share your PINs and passwords with anyone else and never give out that information via email, phone or text message request – no matter who it is that is asking.

#4 – Carry Carefully
Only bring with you the minimum amount of personal identifying information and credit cards that you will need when you travel or go about your business each day. You don’t want to have all of your important information in your purse or wallet if it gets stolen.

#5 – Statement Security
Know the typical billing cycle and statement cycle of your credit card companies and your New Bedford credit union accounts. If you do not receive your statements or bills when you should, contact your credit union representative right away. Consider switching to e-billing or paper-less online billing if available.

#6 – Check Charges
Inspect all of your statements and bills to make sure that all charges, drafts and withdrawals on your credit union share account and credit cards are accurate and were made by you. Always reconcile your accounts to ensure accuracy.

#7 – Protect the Post
If you have an “open” mailbox with a flag on top to signal the postman to pick up outgoing mail, do not put bill payment envelopes in your mailbox. Thieves regularly check this type of mailbox and steal credit union and credit card information and even checks from unsuspecting citizens. Drop bills off at the local post office or in an official secure post office collection box and remove incoming mail right away when it is delivered.

#8 – Regular Reports
In the United States, consumers are entitled to request a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies each year. Spread out your requests and check your credit report regularly to ensure that no one is using your personal identifying information to create new accounts in your name.

Be Smart, Be Safe
Contact your New Bedford credit union to find out if there are any additional options or programs available to help prevent identity theft and protect your accounts. Serving members in Southeastern Massachusetts since 1911, St Anne Credit Union in New Bedford has a wide variety of credit union share account, checking, savings, loan and investment opportunities available. Contact a representative today: if you live or work in Plymouth or Bristol counties in Massachusetts, you may be eligible for membership.