Identity Theft Prevention
June 20, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Rock Island, Ill. (June 20, 2013) -- Protecting against identity theft in a modern society full of impersonal, financial transactions is an important issue to both civilians and military personnel. In particular, military personnel and retirees remain highly vulnerable to identity theft. The magnitude of preventing against stolen identities is more apparent when one examines the lost savings, time, and effort to repair a financial reputation following the theft. Preventing identity theft is preferable for obvious reasons, but it requires diligence. There are many government sites available to offer advice and guidance on how to protect against identity theft and what to do when identity theft occurs. The government website (www.usa.gov/topics/money/identity-theft/prevention.shtml) features advice on how to guard against identity theft for just about every type of identity thief. The IRS also has tips on its website (www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection) to prevent identity theft, and it has several links to other sources that are helpful in identity theft prevention and resolution. Some of those links are to the FTC (www.identitytheft.gov), the SSA (http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/329), and applicable law enforcement (www.ic3.gov/default.aspx). The following suggestions from those sources should help to guard against identity theft.
The most obvious protection against identity theft is to be a hard target for identity thieves. Safeguarding vulnerable information like SSN's, passwords, and account numbers in properly secured containers and by properly discarding documents that contain the sensitive information makes a prospective victim a hard target. It is a good rule to not routinely carry Social Security cards, or any other sensitive information, in wallets or to write it on checks. Also, sensitive information should never be given out unless it is given to the recipient and they have a valid need for it. There should never be a need to recite sensitive information over the phone or in an email with creditors. A creditor requesting any sensitive information over the phone or in an email is usually a sure sign of an attempt to steal an identity. Have the creditor verify the information instead. If the creditor does not already have that information, it is probably a scam. Sensitive data, like ATM and account pin numbers and passwords, should be memorized instead of written down. Along that same note, passwords that offer strong protections against identity theft (i.e. a compilation of various letters, numbers, and symbols) should be used as opposed to easily deciphered ones (i.e. anniversary dates or children's names) to guard against hackers. Finally, using paper shredders to destroy documents that contain sensitive information is an easy and inexpensive way to prevent identity theft. Paper shredders that "cross-cut" documents are particularly effective at guarding personal information from identity thieves and can be purchased for as little as $50.
Diligent monitoring of credit scores is also effective at thwarting identity theft. One simple practice is to keep receipts of purchases and check them against billing statements. Billing statements that do not match receipts for purchases is an indication of unauthorized account usage. It is also important to remain in contact with creditors and contact them if bills are not arriving as this could indicate an identity thief is intercepting mail. The most important practice to implement is to monitor credit using the free credit reports offered by the three major credit monitoring agencies Equifax at 1-800-525-6285, Trans Union at 1-800-680-7289, or Experian at 1-888-397-3742. All three agencies also offer their services online at www.annualcreditreport.com. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of these companies to provide consumers with one free, annual credit report. Requesting one report from a separate agency every four months ensures maximum monitoring of credit for free. However, already identified targets of identity thieves can pay those agencies a fee to provide credit monitoring even more frequently.
If identity theft does occur, initiating swift action is the best way to resolve the issues that will arise. The FTC offers this guidance at www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft to resolve identity theft issues:
First, contact the authorities and your creditors. It is important to contact authorities to aid in apprehending identity thieves and to also limit liability for unauthorized lines of credit. The government website www.usa.gov/topics/money/identity-theft/prevention.shtml recommends reporting any identity theft to the affected creditor, the local police, and the credit reporting bureaus. The affected creditor should be contacted as soon as identity theft is discovered or suspected. This will put the creditor on notice to look for additional unauthorized account access and allow the creditor to deny those unauthorized attempts. The local authorities should be contacted to get evidence of the identity theft on record to be used to validate claims to creditors and limit liability for the unauthorized use of credit. Also contact the FTC at 1-877-ID THEFT (or online) to file a complaint with that agency and fill out a streamlined ID Theft Affidavit. All three credit monitoring agencies, and most major creditors, accept this affidavit as proof of identity theft. The three credit monitoring agencies should be contacted to learn the extent of the damage the identity theft has caused and locate any other potential identity thefts.
Next, close the affected accounts or request the creditor to verify identity prior to extending any credit or authorizing a purchase. Closing the account will bar identity thieves from using compromised information to make unauthorized purchases. If closing the account altogether is not possible, victims should contact the creditor and request that it verify all future transactions by personally contacting the account holder whenever anybody attempts to use the account. Victims can also request that one of the three credit monitoring agencies flag your account with a fraud alert and the creditor will not extend any further credit without contacting the account holder directly.
Finally, diligent monitoring of credit for further signs of identity theft is essential. Identity thieves will continuously attempt to exploit sensitive information once it has been compromised. Closing accounts and requesting identity verification before extending new lines of credit will not guard against every identity theft attempt. Continuous monitoring of credit reports is imperative once identity theft has occurred, and it is the best way to identify and deal with repeated identity theft attempts.
Combating the threat of identity theft is no different that combating a physical threat to our security. Proactive measures work best to prevent a successful attack, but utilizing the resources at your disposal can effectively repair the damage that identity thieves inflict on financial reputations. For more advice on preventing identity theft, or repairing the damage already caused by identity theft, call your RIA legal assistance office at (309) 782-1443. This article was written by Joshua Hannink, Legal Intern, ASC Office of Counsel/OSJA.