Preventing Identity Theft
ITS and Tennessee Tech want to help you be vigilant in securing your identity and reducing your risk of being a victim.
What is Identity Theft?
If someone is using your identifying information to obtain goods, services, credit, and/or open fraudulent accounts, you are the victim of identity theft. Victims are left with poor credit and the complicated task of restoring their good names. Usually, thieves target components of your personal identifying information, such as your:
- Date of Birth
- Social Security Number
- Driver's License Number
Identity Theft Can Happen to Anyone
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States. Someone's identity is stolen every 4 seconds in the United States, and there are over 10 million identity theft victims in the US each year. The average costs for recovering from an attack on your identity is $8,000, plus an average of 600 hours in paperwork and other activities to clear your name. The majority of victims don't discovery the theft until months after it occurs.
How Can My Identify Be Stolen?
Your best protection against identity theft is knowing where the thieves can get your information. Amazingly, most of us don't realize the most common ways our identity can be compromised by thieves:
- Stealing or finding a lost wallet or purse containing a social security card, credit cards, drivers license, etc.
- Stealing mail that is being delivered to your home or that is left out for pick-up.
- Diverting mail to another mailbox using a false "change-of-address" request.
- Digging through dumpsters or trash looking for discarded checks, bank statements, credit card statements, or other account bills, medical records, pre-approved credit applications, etc.
- Watching over your shoulder as you enter your PIN into an ATM.
- Calling to "verify" account information or to "confirm" an enrollment or subscription by having you repeat bank or credit card account numbers.
- Using false or misleading Internet sites to collect personal and financial information.
- “Phishing” by sending phony e-mail or pop-up messages that appear to be from the University, your bank, your credit card company, your Internet Service Provider or some other entity you do business with. These phony messages usually claim some issue with your account and direct you to another website where you will be asked to supply log-in credentials, credit card information, or other personal information.
These are the most common methods, and the ones we hear the least about. Other ways thieves can target information include:
- Burglarizing homes looking for purses, wallets, files containing personal and financial information.
- Burglarizing businesses looking for computers or files containing personal and financial information on clients.
- “Hacking” (breaking) into business or personal computers to steal private client files and personal financial information.
Reducing Your Risk
By being cautious, suspicious, and vigilant, you can reduce the chances of someone stealing your information:
- Be very hesitant to give your personal or financial information to anyone.
- Never provide personal identifying or financial information over the phone when someone calls you. This includes callers selling goods and services as well as charitable solicitors, banks, credit card companies, telephone companies, people purporting to be from the police department, sweepstakes promotions and others. Legitimate companies and organizations do not call to verify account numbers or to ask for your social security number or other personal information.
- Never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet. In addition, never have your social security number printed on your checks, driver's license, or other financial documents.
- Never respond to e-mail or pop-up messages on your computer claiming some problem with a credit card, Internet or other account. Remember, Tennessee Tech will never ask you for any username or password information. Additional information on passwords and phishing can be found on the ITS website.
- Update your computer virus and security software protection regularly.
- Select passwords and PINs that will be tough for someone else to figure out. For example, don't use your birthday, home address, common numbers or personal information (like part of your social security number), or your pet's name. Don't keep Password and PIN information on or near your checkbook, debit card or leave them near your computer.
- Practice home security. Safely store extra checks, credit cards, or other financial documents. Don't advertise to burglars that you're away from home. Don't post on social networking sites, such as Facebook, when you're going to be gone from home.
- Use a "cross-cut" shredder (the kind that creates confetti, not the long strips) and shred all personal or financial documents you intend to discard before placing them in the trash.
- Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. Ask the Post Office to hold your mail if you will be away from home for several days. Take outgoing mail to the post office, place mail in a post office blue collection box or hand it directly to a mail carrier.
- Pay attention to your bank account statements and credit card bills. Watch for any suspicious activity. Also, contact your institution if a bank statement or credit card bill doesn't arrive on time; that could mean someone has stolen your account information and changed your mailing address in order to use your credit. Don't leave credit card receipts behind or throw them away in the nearest trashcan. Shred them when you get home.
- Never e-mail personal or financial information. E-mail is not a secure method of transmitting personal information.
- Practice Internet safety. Be suspicious of a web offer that seems too good to be true -- it probably is. Ensure the web site you are using is legitimate. Use your credit card and social security number only when absolutely necessary.
- Create a throwaway email address (such as a second address at gmail.com or another free hosting site) to use with social networking, Internet forums or chat rooms, or entering online contests, and omit your real name in the account name. Use a different email for legitimate banking, credit card information, or your university information.
You should also check your credit report at least once a year. If you are a victim of identity theft, checking your credit report may help you catch the theft earlier. Call immediately if you discover any irregularities. A recent amendment to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires that each of the three consumer credit reporting companies (Experian, Trans Union and Equifax) provide you with a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months.
If You Think It Has Happened to You
- File a report with the local police department. For incidents originating on campus, call University Police at 931-372-3234.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the problem. The FTC is the Federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. The FTC helps by providing information to help resolve the financial and other problems that could result from identity theft. The FTC's toll free hotline number is 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). At the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft Web site (http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/) you'll find information about contacting credit bureaus, closing accounts, filing complaints with the FTC, and more.
- ITS provides information on the latest virus updates and news about potential technology attacks. Visit http://www.tntech.edu/its.
- Contact the Social Security Administration Fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
- Notify the US Postal Inspector if your mail has been tampered with or stolen. Local numbers are listed under Federal Government in the telephone book or visit them online at http://www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.
- Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to see if another license has been issued in your name. If so, ask them to put a fraud alert on your driver's license.
- Contact all creditors and financial institutions by telephone and in writing to advise them of the problem. Ask businesses to provide you with information about transactions made in your name. Set up a file to keep a detailed history of the crime including locations and dates if known. Keep a log of all contacts and make copies of all related documents.
- Call each of the three major credit bureaus' fraud units to report identity theft. Ask to have a Fraud Alert / Victim Impact statement placed in your credit file asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts. Call to request a copy of your credit report (free for fraud victims) from all three major credit reporting agencies.
Some information obtained from Northwestern University, Willamette University, and Oklahoma University.