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5 Things to Know about Identity Theft

The number of identity theft victims goes up every year. Maybe it hasn’t happened to you yet, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune. Being aware of the problem is the first step in protecting yourself.

Here are five things you need to know about identity theft and what you can do to avoid becoming a statistic:

1. The scope of the problem. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, about 12.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2012, an increase of more than 1 million from 2011. An increase in website data breaches—think LinkedIn, Sony and Zappos—may have contributed to the rise. Nearly one in four people who were notified that their data had been compromised in a breach became victims of identity theft last year, Javelin found.

What you can do: Create strong passwords and use different passwords for each site, particularly for your email and bank accounts. Using the first letters and digits of a pass phrase makes it memorable. For example, “I like three scoops of ice cream before bed” turns into the password “il3soicb4b.”

2. What to watch for. Look for unauthorized transactions on your bank and credit card statements, and review your credit report a few times a year. For example, bills from medical providers for services you didn’t receive could indicate that someone is posing as you to get treatment.

What you can do: When you’re done checking your reports and statements, shred them. Better yet, sign up for eStatements so you don’t leave a paper trail.

3. How to keep hackers out. Many times hackers use information that their victims willingly make public to get into their various accounts. Don’t share your phone number or birthday on social media sites. Hackers can also glean the answers to commonly asked security questions, such as “What is your pet’s name?” to bypass or reset passwords.

What else you can do:  Keep your computer’s security software updated. Don’t send personal information over unsecured websites and Wi-Fi networks. Lock your smartphone’s screen with a password, and get more tips for securing your mobile device here.

4. Children can become victims, too. Children are attractive identity theft targets, because it could take years before someone realizes that their information has been compromised. In addition to checking your credit report, it makes sense to monitor your kids’ identities.

What you can do: Watch for unauthorized bills addressed to your child or calls from debt collectors. Credit agencies can run a manual search of your child’s Social Security number to see whether it’s been used. Question whether it’s really necessary to put their SS number on every school form.

5. What to do if you become a victim. If you spot any of the warning signs listed above, contact the organization involved (bank or credit issuer) immediately and file a police report. Your bank should be able to help you through the steps of rectifying the situation.

What you can do: Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting one of the three major bureaus—they’ll alert the other two.  If the case is serious, a security freeze may be necessary. Lenders would have to get your permission to pull a credit report.

Now you have the basic knowledge you need to protect yourself from becoming a victim. More information is available in the Fraud and Security section of our website.

Heather McKinney can be reached at 865-602-3604 or by email at [email protected].

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