Identity Theft: Avoid it, Spot it, and Recover from it
Each year millions of Americans are affected by identity fraud. In 2021 alone, 15 million consumers were impacted by traditional identity fraud with losses totaling $24 billion dollars. The numbers are a reminder that we all need to exercise care with our personal information and be aware of the possibility of fraud and identity theft. Fortunately, there are steps we can take to prevent identity theft, catch fraud quickly, and, in the worst-case scenario, recover from identity theft.
Protect Your Sensitive Information
While it may not be possible to completely eliminate the risk of identity theft, there are steps you can take to make yourself less vulnerable to fraud.
If you’re online, keep the following tips in mind:
- Software: Keep your anti-malware, anti-spyware and operating system software current.
- Passwords: Create long, strong, unique passwords; periodically change them, and use a reputable password manager to more securely store them.
- Extra security: Use it when available, such as two-step verification or fingerprint access.
- Phishing: Be careful about clicking links or opening attachments, especially from strangers.
- Social media: Privatize your profiles and activities so only those you allow in can see them.
- WiFi: Be extra careful using public WiFi; assume the world can see what you’re doing.
When answering the phone, be on your guard if someone claiming to represent a tax agency, financial or legal firm (including ShankerValleau), police department or other authority contacts you out of the blue. If you’re ever in doubt, end the call and contact the alleged source directly to inquire further. And remember:
- Identify: Legitimate callers don’t call unannounced and entice or threaten you.
- End the call: Your best line of defense is to immediately hang up.
- Don’t cooperate: Never share your credit card number or any other sensitive information.
Be mindful of the information you’re sharing via email.
- Sharing electronic files is convenient, but it is important to keep sensitive attachments encrypted and not simply attached to an email. We recommend using password protected documents or a secure file sharing system to protect your information from bad actors. At ShankerValleau, we utilize file sharing software to help protect our clients’ sensitive information.
- The body of an email should never include full account numbers, social security numbers, or other personal identifying information.
Spot Identity Theft Quickly
When it comes to identity theft, the sooner you spot the crime, the less opportunity the criminal has to inflict damage on your credit and finances. If a criminal has your personal financial information, it may be years before they use it; therefore, we need to remain vigilant.
Keeping an eye on your credit reports has long been a best practice, and should continue to be. You may obtain a free credit report from each credit reporting bureau (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) annually at annualcreditreport.com. When reviewing your credit report, be certain that all items on the report (including known addresses and phone numbers) are accurate. If something seems “off,” immediately contact the service provider and appropriate federal authorities.
You may wish to consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service. Some services will alert you the moment a new item appears on your credit report or your credit score changes. Independent credit monitoring services can be costly – but if you have been the victim of a data breach, you may be eligible to receive free credit monitoring. It comes down to a cost/benefit analysis unique to you.
Recover From Identity Theft
What can you do if the worst has happened and your identity has been stolen? It’s important to act quickly, each day the thief is allowed to continue may lead to more fraud.
- Consider freezing your credit and placing a fraud alert with all three credit bureaus to stop the criminal in their tracks.
- Contact the impacted financial institutions. Tell them that you are a victim of identity theft and ask them to stop all activity in your name.
- Review your own credit card and bank statements for fraudulent activity. Let your own bank know that your identity has been compromised and seek their guidance on protecting your accounts.
- Consider filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department.
- Dispute fraudulent items on your credit reports.
- During tax season, file your tax returns as early as you’re able. Filing early minimizes the opportunity for an identity thief to file a fraudulent return on your behalf.
This list a great starting point, but it is not comprehensive if your identity is stolen. The extent and duration of identity theft varies widely, meaning that each case is different. The steps you need to take to recover from identity theft will be unique to your situation.
How Can We Help?
As with much of your financial life, it’s best to approach your security as an ongoing process, rather than a quick fix. If you’d like to consult with us as you think through some of the points we’ve touched on above, we welcome the conversation. Life is full of risks, but our approach remains upfront planning, well-reasoned action and continued best practices.