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Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity Theft

Imagine getting a $7,000 phone bill for a cell phone you don't own. Or receiving heat and electric bills for an apartment where you don't live. That's what happened to Emily Jensen (not her real name). In both instances the products and services were purchased under her name and Social Security number. Emily was a victim of identity theft.

It's not really difficult to steal another's identity. Thieves get information by stealing your wallet or purse, pilfering from your mail box, going through your trash, watching your transactions at automated teller machines, or posing as an employer or landlord to get your credit report.

The reality of identity theft

According to bankrate.com, 41 million U.S. adults have had their identities stolen in some manner. 38% of Americans have either been or know of someone who has been a victim of identity theft. Although it seems relatively easy for these thieves to rob your identity, it's equally simple to protect yourself.

Take these protective measures

Take care with your personal information; follow these simple steps to ensure your identity remains yours.

  • Don't carry your Social Security card, passport, or birth certificate in your wallet.
    Keep them in a safe place at home. Furthermore, don't give your credit card or Social Security information over the phone unless you initiate the call and know to whom you are talking. Also give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask if you may use other forms of identification.
  • Avoid doing banking or other sensitive business on unsecured Wi-Fi lines.
    Many public places now offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. But these Wi-Fi areas are not secure. Hackers can intercept personal data you send over these airways. Only do banking or other sensitive transactions on private, secure Wi-Fi networks that require a password.

    Starbucks, libraries, hotels, airports, and other public places are NOT secure Wi-Fi networks.

  • Keep your laptop in a locked secure place when not in your possession at school.
  • Don't overshare about yourself on social networks.
    Sharing more personal information such as your exact birthdate or your mother's maiden name is information that could be used to answer security questions to give one access to your account. Never share information such as bank account or credit account information online. Likewise, don't post your street address and telephone number to enable fraudsters to focus in on you.

    Make sure to adjust your privacy settings on social networks so that not everyone can view your profile information.

  • Don't save passwords on your computer or mobile device.
    Always choose to enter a password manually. Hackers who may gain access to your computer or smartphone can find the saved information and then use it illicitly to gain access to your account(s).
  • Don't download a program just to check it out unless you are already sure of its quality.
    Be careful downloading ".exe" (executable) files that install software. If it contains a malicious virus, the virus will then be on your computer.

    It is always safer to do an internet search first about the program to discover any warning from others.

  • Create strong passwords for all your accounts
    Thieves can now use computer programs to try thousands of passwords to gain access to your account. Incorporate numbers, special characters, and capital letters into your password. It should be unique, and never found in a dictionary.
  • Make sure your anti-virus and anti-malware software are up to date.
    If not, hackers could install malware that could give them useful information in your computer to steal your identity.
  • Keep documents with personal information safe, including credit card and debit card receipts.
    Shred them when you dispose of them. Also, before you reveal personal information, find out how it will be used and shared with others.
  • Open and read all financial statements and bills (by mail or eStatement) as soon as you get them.
    Look at transaction activity. If you see any you did not make, notify the financial institution or biller in writing. You can notify DCU through Online Banking. Log in with your Member Number and password and go to Contact Us. Email and forms sent to us behind the security of Online Banking carry the weight of a signed document.
  • Order your credit reports and check for fraudulent activity at least once a year.
    You are entitled to one free credit report from each credit reporting agency per year. You can order your report at www.annualcreditreport.com where you can request a free credit report from each credit reporting agency (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian). You can also order credit reports through our web site from Balance. DCU also offers a free FICO Credit Score within Online Banking.
  • Remove personal information from your mobile phone before discarding it for the next model
    Your mobile device could hold sensitive information such as passwords and account numbers. Make sure you clean your device. Do a "hard" or "factory" reset to wipe all information from your device and memory if your mobile device allows it. Make sure to remove any SIM and SD cards.

    See "Disposing of Your Mobile Device" from the FTC Consumer Information website.

  • Likewise, remove all personal information from a laptop/desktop before disposing of it
    Make sure all information is wiped clean from your hard disk before disposing of a laptop or desktop. Make sure you transfer all pertinent data to a USB drive, an external hard drive, or your new computer before wiping clean the hard drive.

    There are several utility programs that will wipe a hard disk clean. Or you can remove and hard disk entirely and destroy it. For more information, see the article on the FTC Consumer Information website on "Disposing of Old Computers."

If you are the victim of identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission at 877-ID-THEFT. Log on to the FTC identity theft web site to learn more about this crime and how to prevent it.

Make sure to follow the "Next" link below to take additional action.