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IDENTITY THEFT: WHERE TO START

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA

Identity theft is one of the most frequent complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission. If you haven’t been a victim, you likely know someone who has.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was created in 1914 to protect the public against unfair commerce practices, and was later charged with much broader consumer protection duties. Side note: It is important for the public to file consumer complaints with the FTC. Not only do they publish an annual report of consumer issues, the more complaint data the FTC has, the more resources Congress allocates for them to address problems.

Here’s how you can protect yourself from identity theft.

IDENTITY THEFT PREVENTION

Preventing identity theft is, of course, Step #1. Some tips:

  • Don’t carry every credit card or medical card with you. (Medical ID theft is a real thing.)
  • Leave your social security card at home in a secure location.
  • Do you use the same password for everything? Well, stop.
  • Long passwords that include capital letters, special characters, and numbers are best.
  • Set up alerts for transactions with your financial institution and credit cards.
  • If available, use two-step verification with your online accounts. (You get a text, phone call, or email with a code you must enter after your password to get into the account.)
  • Be hyper leary of unsolicited emails with attachments – scrutinize email addresses for misspellings or other oddities (.com when it should be a .org, for example).
  • Shop online only at known businesses.
  • File your taxes early, especially if you expect a refund.
  • Know that the government or your bank will never call you asking for personal information or threaten you.
  • Switch to online banking – mailboxes are easy targets for thieves.
  • Review financial statements regularly for unknown activity. You have limited time to report unauthorized transactions to minimize your losses.
  • Review medical bills and insurance Explanation of Benefits. (See April 2022 issue of the alley to learn about EOBs.)
  • Review credit reports regularly. Consider putting a freeze on your credit report to prevent credit accounts from being opened in your name. Learn more about freezing your credit reports from our friends at the FTC: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/what-know-about-credit-freezes-fraud-alerts.

CONCERNED YOU ARE A VICTIM OF ID THEFT?

The Federal Trade Commission is your go-to online resource for dealing with identity theft. They have created a comprehensive and user-friendly website for reporting ID theft and steps to take to recover: www.identitytheft.gov. Easy to remember!

Identity Theft Resource Center is another trusted organization dedicated to helping identity theft victims navigate the complicated process of recovery. And you can call them! Call 888-400-5530 or live chat at their website for free assistance: https://www.idtheftcenter.org/recover.

Identity theft can have devastating consequences. Prevention is your best defense.

Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial, Housing, and Reverse Mortgage Counselor.

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