Identity theft is the unauthorized use of another’s identity for financial gain to commit crimes or for other unlawful purposes. These identity thieves use your personal information to empty your bank account, max out your credit cards, ruin your credit, open utilities and much more. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 10,268 identity theft reports in Ohio in 2019.
In today’s world, personal information is easily accessible both online and off. Identity thieves know this, so they prey on individuals who aren’t careful with their private information. They try to get their hands-on credit cards, Social Security numbers, bank statements, unsecured documents, passwords and medical records.
They are known to use a variety of tactics to steal identities, including going through your trash, hacking your computer, stealing your mail, etc. Phishing is also a tactic often used. Phishing involves scammers posing as a reputable business – your bank, travel company, government agency, etc. – to trick you into providing your personal information.
BBB offers these tips to help keep your identity safe:
• Don’t routinely carry your Social Security card.
• Be careful of what you toss in the trash. Shred documents before tossing them.
• Do not give out your personal information unless you understand completely who will be using it and why and how it will be used.
• Keep personal information in a safe place. If you employ outside help or are having service work done in your home, keep your personal information out of sight.
• Secure your mail. Place outgoing mail in a secure mailbox and pick up incoming mail as soon as possible. Stop mail if you’re traveling.
• Protect your information online. Create complex passwords and change passwords frequently. Be careful sharing information online, especially information that could be used to get past your account security (things like your first car, first pet’s name, city where you were born). When making purchases, be sure websites are secure. Look for a locked padlock and https in the URL address.
• Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. You have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
• Review credit card and bank statements regularly. Ensure there are no unauthorized transfers or charges.
• Plan a security freeze. If you’re not planning on opening new accounts in the near future, putting a freeze on your account can prevent anyone from opening accounts in your name.
• Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize and avoid opening or clicking on links from unknown emails.
If you discover you’ve been a victim of identity theft, file a police report and close accounts you think may have been affected. You also can report it to BBB Scam Tracker (www.bbb.org/scamtracker) and to the FTC (1-877-IDTHEFT or www.consumer.gov/idtheft).
If you have any questions regarding identity theft, visit www.bbb.org or call 937-222-5825 or 800-776-5301.
The writer is the president and CEO of Better Business Bureau serving Dayton and Miami Valley.