Financial identity theft is a serious matter that can cost you countless hours trying to restore your good name. Fortunately, understanding financial identity theft may put you in a stronger position to defend yourself from criminals lurking both online and off.
What Is Financial Identity Theft?
Financial identity theft is criminal activity that involves accessing someone’s personal information for fraudulent financial gain. One common example of financial identity fraud is someone stealing your credit card information to make purchases without your knowledge.
However, credit card fraud is just the tip of the iceberg. With enough of your personal information, criminals could successfully apply for new credit cards and loans in your name, drain your checking account, and even get a job in your name to receive a bogus income tax refund — leaving you on the hook for their bills until you can prove that it wasn’t you.
What Information Do Criminals Need?
Criminals can use a variety of information types to steal your identity. This includes, but is not limited to, your:
- Social Security number
- Mailing address
- Bank account or credit card number
- Bank card PIN
- Email address
- Computer or email passwords
Additionally, criminals could use your user authentication information — like your first pet or mother’s maiden name — against you if they discover it on your social media profile.
The mail you discard can also be used against you. The Department of Justice recommends tearing up applications you receive for pre-approved credit cards — if someone got them from your trash, there could be enough information in the application for them to commit financial identity theft.
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How Can I Protect My Information?
There are a number of ways you can help deter potential identity theft criminals:
- Don’t give out financial information, including credit card numbers or your Social Security number, unless it’s really necessary.
- Shred any documents with financial information on them before throwing them away, especially documents with your SSN.
- Practice good cybersecurity habits. Use secure passwords on your computer and website accounts, change them often and don’t use the same password twice.
- Don’t click on links in emails you didn’t expect to receive.
- Regularly examine bank and credit card statements for purchases you didn’t make.
- Get your free annual credit reports and examine them for unusual activity like loans you didn’t apply for or credit queries from companies you don’t deal with.
- Consider locking your credit report. When a criminal tries to get a credit card or bank loan in your name, the creditor won’t be able to access your credit report. If you need to apply for a loan, you can unlock it and then lock it again when your loan is approved.
What if I’m a Target of Identity Theft?
If you suspect you have been targeted for identity theft, report it immediately to the Federal Trade Commission. You should also place a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus, and contact your local police to file a report with them. If you have not done so already, get a copy of your free annual credit reports and examine them. Contact any creditors who have opened accounts with you without your knowledge and inform them of what has happened.