How to Spot and Avoid Identity Theft

The Better Business Bureau serving the Canton area and greater West Virginia offers tips and advice for consumers to avoid fraudulent practices.

Scams are designed to steal your money or steal your identity to steal your money later. Scammers have all kinds of techniques to collect personally identifiable information (PII). Once they have it, they can effectively become you, using your identity to open accounts, file taxes, or obtain medical coverage.

How identity theft scams work:

How do people steal your identity? With enough personal information, a scammer can impersonate you and commit a wide range of crimes. They can fake loan and credit card applications, withdraw money from your bank account, or obtain services on your behalf. They may also sell your information to others on the Internet.

Identity theft can take a long time to detect. Scammers usually ensure that bills and statements for new accounts are not sent to your address. You may not notice what is happening until the scammer has already inflicted significant damage to your assets, credit and reputation.

If you think you have been the victim of identity theft, it is very important to act quickly. You can do this by visiting identitytheft.gov for information on how to stop and recover from identity theft.

Tips for spotting this type of scam:

Look for unexplained withdrawals, charges, and accounts. Check your bank and credit card statements regularly. Look for unknown charges, accounts or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; a clue for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Collection agents may call you about debts that do not belong to you. You can also configure automatic alerts on your accounts, in order to be notified each time a transaction is carried out.

Regularly check your credit reports for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the United States, you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com. It is the only free credit report service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out throughout the year and you’ll know pretty quickly if something is wrong. The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides information on requesting a free credit report in Canada.

Protect yourself against this scam

Be careful with your personal information. Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity that it is. Be sure to shred any documents containing your bank account information, social security/social insurance number, or other personal information. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, and utility and telephone billing statements. Cut up expired credit and debit cards, making sure to cut out the numbers, before disposing of them.

Secure your personal documents at home. If you have roommates, hire outside help, or have contractors in your home, make sure personal documents are in a safe place – preferably locked up – and out of sight. Minimize personal information on checks. You don’t need to include your social security number, driver’s license, or phone number.

Be alert to phishing attempts. The scammers are sophisticated, and their phishing attempts can come from emails, text messages, social media posts, or even phone calls. Beware of any unsolicited communication asking for personal information. Whether it’s a supposed call for tech support, a free cruise offer, or a charitable plea, they may be looking for your personal information.

Protect yourself against hackers

Use strong passwords or passphrases. Avoid using your date of birth, your child’s name or date of birth, your mother’s maiden name, the last four digits of your social security number, or really obvious numbers like “123456” or ” password”.

Change your passwords frequently.

Use different passwords for each online account or website.

Be careful about the types of information you share onlineespecially if it’s information that could be used to bypass security questions on your accounts (e.g. your first car, the name of your first pet, your city of birth).

Shred outdated documents containing personal information. Although you must keep your tax returns forever, you must shred the supporting documents for your tax returns after seven years. After a year, destroy bank statements, payslips, and medical bills (unless you have an unresolved insurance dispute). Shred utility bills one month after payment.

FOR MORE INFORMATION – Visit bbb.org/Canton or call 330.454.9401 to find a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, read tips, find our events, follow us on social media, and more. If you’ve been scammed, please report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others stay alert and avoid similar scams.

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