Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Identity Theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identifty theft is simply the illegal use of someone’s personal information in order to obtain money or credit.
A few years back, I had a personal experience where my bank account information was stolen. I made an online payment on a bill, and a few weeks after, I received a non-sufficient funds notice from my bank. I knew that was incorrect. Of course, with it being the weekend, I called the 800 number for my bank, and basically they could do nothing for me. On Monday I went to my local bank branch and their research came up with a cancelled business check from another state – with MY banking information on it! (The amount of the check was close to $400, and it was over the amount I had in my account – thus the NSF notification.) I had to provide a few forms of identification to the banking employee and confirm emphatically that was not my business and that was not my check. Eventually they were able to get resolved and I had to file a report with the bank.
One co-worker’s bank account has been hacked a couple of times. The latest one was last year, where someone was trying to charge their college tuition. From my experience, I learned that hackers will attempt to charge a very small amount on your card, and if it goes through, they will then go forward with the larger amounts.
Another co-worker shared after a trip to Ohio a couple of years ago, her bank called her to ask if she bought groceries and gassed up her car in Cincinnati, to the tune of $300. This one really had me going!
A friend’s son got a call from their bank once…apparently “he” was in Tampa, Florida having a great time. Went out to eat, shopping and gassed up the car!
Another friend’s parents had a credit card opened up under their name. When her parents went to go purchase something and found some fraud items on their account. It took some time to clean up.
Another friend was using her Debit Card – and her PIN number got hijacked. Someone was using her Debit Card in another state – and charged up to $1000 on the account. The bank was able to resolve and restore her account. My friend started using her Debit Card as a credit card and has not run into this issue again.
My sister shared they have had multiple situations with their credit card numbers being stolen and used. One as recently as within the last two weeks. Fortunately, more banks seem to be aware of potential fraudulent activity and actually will put fraud holds on before you even know a fraud has happened!
Yet another friend went through a reputable dating site and “dated” a gentleman for a year and a half. They emailed, talked on the phone, talked with their daughter on the phone, and thought they were in a sound relationship. The gentleman called her and said he had been in a horrible accident. He didn’t have the money for his hospital bills and inquired if she could send him $500. Which she did and never heard from him again.
Another co-worker received a telephone call from the “attorney” of the claimant, they shared her son was involved in a bad car accident in Rhode Island and was in a coma. The accident was his fault and he was on his phone when it occurred. The “attorney” needed $5000 in cash overnighted to a personal address in Rhode Island to keep her son out of jail. It was an elaborate scheme with very convincing lingo. The scam would have worked had she not received a call from her son, who was not in Rhode Island or in a coma.
Another co-worker shared about 15 years ago, she had a big one. Apparently someone had her checking account information and kept using her check card in uneven increments around $100 each, until they drained her checking account in one night. I had a real estate commission check that was pretty nice and by morning I was getting low balance alerts. All of the charges were to different regional businesses like carpet cleaning, gutter repairs, and various other services. Absolutely blew my mind. The bank gave me my money back within two days.
How to protect your identity?
Here are a few suggestions to help reduce the potential of having your identity stolen:
- Use your debit card as a credit card.
- Be aware of phishing scams (receiving emails or texts from a bank or credit card company you do not do business with – Wells Fargo, American Express requesting a verification of fraudelent activity on your account. UPS or FedEx notifications of a package misdelivery, when you didn’t order anything.) *Most of these companies have fraud or scam departments. Look up the company and forward the email to their departments. NEVER use the contact informaton on the received email and NEVER click on any links within the email received.
- Monitor your bank accounts often.
- Only use websites with a hypertext transfer protocol secure or https:// when sharing your personal or financial information online.
- Receiving calls or mailings about purchases or memberships that you did not buy – such as time shares, car repairs, incomplete payment information. *Hang up or discard these notices.
- Shred personal and financial information.
- Use up-to-date security software on your smartphone and computer. Invest in virus scan on your computer and utilize weekly or as often as you need to, particularly if you have been searching on the Internet often.
- Do not trust people are who they say they are online. Do not send money to a person you may think you know on social media, chat rooms, messenger rooms, etc.
- Slow down and think. Most scams require an urgency and include extreme descriptions of an injured family member.
- On Facebook, change your settings to select which friends can view your personal information (birthday, marital status, hometown, education, telephone number, etc.) versus having Public.
- Report the fraud to the major credit bureaus: Experian: 1.888.387.3742; Equifax: 1.800.525.6285; TransUnion: 1.800.680.7289.
Many insurance companies offer protection through Identity Theft protection, and can include free credit monitoring. This insurance protection may provide coverage up to a set limit and provide reimbursement opportunities when you are faced with restoring your identity. Contact your insurance agent to learn more about what opportunites are available with Identity Theft protection.