Eva Casey-Velasquez is the CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, which provides victim assistance at no charge to consumers throughout the United States. They also educate consumers, corporations, government agencies, and other organizations on best practices for fraud and identity theft detection, reduction and mitigation.
How has identity theft evolved in the past few years?
Identity theft has been less of an evolution and more of migration. The principal action behind identity theft – the unauthorized use of another person’s information to obtain goods, services, or dollars remains the same. Where and how an identity is used has changed. The new ways thieves discover to monetize a victim’s information and data are amazing.
There are main identity theft prevention tips, what are some of the lesser known ones people don’t usually pay attention to?
Often, the very simple tips are the ones which go ignored. The news bombards the public with stories of hackers and identity thieves – which can make us feel powerless against identity theft. But the reality is there are many simple tips to stay identity safe:
Do not give out your Social Security number to every company that asks. It’s surprising how many people willingly hand over their Social Security numbers to organizations who don’t have a true need for it. There are often blanks on forms to be filled out that ask for the number, and too often, individuals fill out the form without giving it a second thought. Don’t provide your social security number to everyone who asks for it for identification purposes. You are free to tell the company that you do not give out your Social Security number, and that you’ll be happy to provide different information, such as your phone number or address.
Password protect your phone. This is the simplest step you can take to prevent information from being accessed, should your phone be lost or stolen.
Create a strong password and change it often. A strong password is a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and characters that are not connected to your personal information (such as your birthdate or address). Do not store these passwords in a file on your computer – instead, write them down in a notebook stored in a safe place.
File your taxes early to prevent tax identity theft. Tax identity thieves are able to carry out their plans because they get started early. File your return as quickly as possible in order to beat them to it. If a thief gets there first, your legitimate return will be rejected for having a return already filed under your Social Security number.
Don’t toss it in the mail. One of the often overlooked ways that people forget to protect their personal information is by sending outgoing mail from their curbside mailboxes. If you’re mailing anything that contains sensitive personal information like checks, health insurance statements, or tax documents, those are better off sent from a US post office.
After an identity theft has occurred, the victim should take the following steps:
1. Fila a police report with your local law enforcement agency. Request a copy of the report for your records as you might need it later. ITRC also recommends getting the business card or name of the officer who took the report, the report number and a phone number to call if you have additional questions.
2. Add a fraud alert or freeze to your credit report. Contact the three major credit reporting agencies and ask for a fraud alert and your free report as a potential victim of identity theft. These agencies are required to provide you with a complimentary credit report when you place a fraud alert. This report gives you the opportunity to check for any pending credit applications and to verify that all the current information is correct. It becomes an accurate baseline for the fraud alert and may alert you to suspicious activity.
3. Monitor your credit reports. If you see new activity that is not your own, report it to the credit reporting agencies.
How does the Identity Theft Resource Center help victims?
No matter what type of identity theft—credit card fraud, employment fraud, tax return theft, child identity theft, government benefits theft, or any of the other ways that criminals can use information for their own gain—the ITRC is standing by to help. We operate a 24/7 service through both our live call center (888-400-5530) and our website where victims can reach out for help, no matter the nature of the ID theft concern.
Our mission is to: provide best-in-class victim assistance at no charge to consumers throughout the United States; educate consumers, corporations, government agencies, and other organizations on best practices for fraud and identity theft detection, reduction and mitigation; and to serve as a relevant national resource on consumer issues related to cybersecurity, data breaches, social media, fraud, scams and other issues.