Everyone vulnerable to identity theft

March 05, 2016

Anyone can fall victim to identity theft and it is important to be informed about how to protect yourself from consumer fraud and identity theft.

Identity theft occurs when an individual’s personal information has been obtained by someone with the intent to commit fraud, resulting in unauthorized charges, financial loses and, in some cases, the identities of individuals being completely taken over. There have been cases where identity theft criminals accumulated more than $100,000 in credit card charges and purchased homes and vehicles.

These criminals often obtain personal identifying information through the Internet, through mail theft of “pre-approved” credit card applications, or through home break-ins. However, you can make it more difficult for identity thieves to obtain your personal information by avoiding the most common risks.

Keep important documents, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports, in a safe and secure location, and do not carry these items with you on a daily basis.

Use strong passwords that have at least eight characters, mixing numbers, letters and symbols; change your password protected accounts on a regular basis; and keep passwords in a safe place, that you can access easily if you forget your new password. For additional protection for your electronics, use firewall and spyware protection software that is updated frequently. However, be wary of free downloaded software sites and never install software without knowing where it came from.

Check your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly, reporting any activity or charges that seem unfamiliar to your bank immediately. Also, routinely check your credit reports. In the unfortunate event your identity is stolen, call the companies where the fraud occurred and ask them to close or freeze your accounts immediately. Change all logins, passwords and PINS for your accounts immediately. Contact one of the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your credit report. The credit bureau you contact is required to notify the other two credit bureaus. Contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a formal complaint and then contact your local police department to obtain a police report.

For information about how to protect yourself and your family against identity theft, visit the California Attorney General’s Identity Theft Protection website at https://oag.ca.gov/idtheft.

 

*Published in the Monterey Herald on 3/5/16