Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it to take your money, use your credit cards or open new ones, file tax returns, make health insurance claims, and more. According to the National Council on Identity Theft Protection, identity theft is shockingly prevalent and on the rise, with losses to Americans totaling $5.8 billion so far. There are so many ways personal information can be stolen – from online data breaches to someone stealing your mail – and experts believe that there is a new victim of identity theft every 22 seconds.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect your personal information and reduce your risk.
Monitor your accounts and report unauthorized activity
- Open and read your bank account and credit billing statements as soon as you receive them to check for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. If you find any, report them immediately to your bank or credit card company.
- Order a free copy of your credit report by phone, toll-free at 1-877-322-8228, or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Keep track of when you receive monthly bills and financial statements. If they don’t arrive on time, call the company to see if they have been mailed. Statements may be missing because someone has changed your mailing addresses to hide fraudulent charges. Consider online bill pay and opt for paperless to avoid mail scams.
- Review your IRS and Social Security accounts for accuracy.
Protect your sensitive information
- Store documents that display your personal information, such as financial documents, bank statements, letters from Social Security or Medicare, and credit card statements in a secure place.
- If you have multiple credit cards, just bring the one you need when you go out and leave your Social Security card and Medicare card at home (unless you are going to need them for a specific reason).
- Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you called the organization yourself and are 100% certain they are who they say they are. For example, the IRS will never call you and ask for your SSN or credit card numbers over the phone – that is a common scam.
- Inspect your credit card receipts – they should only show the last four numbers of your credit card. If they show the full number, you should stop shopping at that location, shred any receipts, and report them to local authorities.
- Consider opting out of most prescreened offers of credit by calling 1-888-567-8688 or go to optoutprescreen.com. Those offers could be used by identity thieves who steal mail and open accounts in your name.
- Pick up your mail promptly and use a secure mailbox.
- Using a cross-cut shredder, shred receipts, credit offers, loan and credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements, and other sensitive documents when you are done with them.
Be smart online
- Avoid sending private information such as passwords, account numbers, or other personal information in email, on social media, or in text messages.
- Before you buy something online or donate to a charity, make sure the webpage you are on is legitimate. The web address should begin with https (“s” stands for secure) and should show a closed padlock. Also be aware of signs that the website is a fake, made to look like a trusted brand. There may be a misspelling in the URL, for example, or other errors on the site that indicate a counterfeit.
- Use different and strong passwords for each of your online accounts, using a mix of letters (uppercase and lower case), numbers and symbols, and don’t share your passwords with anyone. Consider using a password manager if you have a hard time keeping track.
- Use only one credit card for your online purchases. Do not use a debit card.
- Boost your computer’s security by installing automatic updates to your software, using legitimate antivirus software, and a firewall.
- Understand that using a public computer or your own computer over a public wireless connection can add to the risk of identity theft.
- Finally, before you sell, give away or dispose of a laptop, computer, or mobile device, be sure you have wiped clean all the personal information you have stored on it. Learn more from the Federal Trade Commission on disposing of old computers.
Valley can help protect you from identity theft
At Valley, we are committed to protecting our customers against cybercrime, identity theft, fraud, and any kind of financial exploitation. We take our customers’ security very seriously and take significant measures to protect the security of your bank accounts and your personal information.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud or you’re unsure, please contact your Banking Team, reach out to Valley Customer Care at 800-522-4100, or connect with us at valley.com/security.