Tips: Fight Back Against Identity Thieves

Consumers can play a key role in preventing, detecting and resolving identity fraud committed against them.

This year's Identity Fraud Report by Javelin Research found that more consumers are pursuing legal action following identity fraud, with nearly 50 percent of all victims filing police reports. Empowered consumers are leading to more arrests, prosecutions and convictions. Most consumers are actively monitoring accounts for suspicious activity and fraud and are acting faster when fraud is detected.

All consumers need to better secure their private information. Perpetrators who are known to victims committed more non-card and new accounts fraud in 2009. Reasons for this include theft of physical documents from places such as desks and mailboxes, sharing computers with friends and family, storing online account passwords and using auto-login, and using simple, guessable passwords.

1. Prevent Criminal Access by Protecting your Paper Documents

  • Keep sensitive information from prying eyes. Request electronic statements, use direct deposit, and don't put checks in an unlocked mailbox. When your Social Security number is requested as an identifier in paper documents, ask if you can provide alternate information. At home or work, secure your personal and financial records in a locked storage device -- last year, at least 13 percent of all identity crimes were committed by someone previously known to the victim. Shred any sensitive paper documents.

2. Prevent High-Tech Criminal Access

  • Install anti-virus software on your computer and keep it updated along with your applications and operating system.
  • Secure your electronic personal and financial records on your computer behind a password.
  • Never respond to requests for personal or account information online (or over the phone). Watch out for convincing imitations of banks, card companies, charities and government agencies in the mail, on the Web, over the phone, or on your mobile device. Use legitimate sources to contact financial institutions, such as an official website or the telephone number listed on statements and the back of bank or credit cards.
  • Don't publish your birth date, mother's maiden name, pet's name or other identifying and personal information on social media websites.
  • Use unique and hard-to-guess passwords, including for your wireless Internet connection, and don't access secure Web sites using public Wi-Fi.
  • Install security patches and software updates as soon as they are released by verified sources. For phones, turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi if they are not being used.

3. Detect Unauthorized Activity in Existing Accounts

  • Monitor current available bank and credit card account balances at least weekly, via online, mobile, ATM, or touch-tone banking. Sign up for alerts to be sent to your mobile phone or e-mail account. Javelin's study of 5,000 adults finds 43 percent of all reported identity fraud cases are spotted by consumers self-monitoring their accounts and those who use more timely electronic methods to detect fraud experience lower average out-of-pocket costs.

4. Detect Fraudulent Establishment of New Accounts

  • Monitor your credit reports and non credit account information to spot unauthorized activity. Free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus are available each year through annualcreditreport.com or 877-322-8228. Optional fee-based services, such as more extensive monitoring of credit information, personal identity records and Social Security numbers offer timely and thorough protection.
  • If you receive a letter notifying you that your private records were involved in a data breach, 1) confirm the letter is legitimate 2) take advantage of any free protection services that are offered and 3) place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires lenders to make sure it is actually you applying for credit. One in four letters are followed by actual fraud, yet many who are alerted fail to take action.

5. Resolve Identity Fraud Completely

  • Work through your bank, credit union or protection services provider to report problems immediately and take advantage of your financial provider's offers of loss protections (all large financial institutions offer zero-liability for debit and credit cards and many provide the same protection for online banking and bill-pay).

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