You’re spending a quiet Saturday at home when you get a call from your credit card company. Have you been buying computer equipment and liquor in Las Vegas? Or have you been on a shopping spree at Chanel and dining out in Paris, France? Well, wouldn’t that be nice – if it had been you. What’s really happened is that someone has stolen your financial identity and is using your credit card accounts.
Financial identity theft is the most common form of identity fraud—so much so that when people hear the words “identity theft,” they immediately think of credit card fraud. (In fact, there are many kinds of identity theft, and some, such as medical identity theft, can even be life-threatening.) There are laws to protect you against fraudulent credit card charges, but there are other, potentially more serious forms of financial identity theft. With stolen bank account numbers or debit card numbers, thieves can wipe out your accounts. They can also steal your financial and personal information, take out credit cards or loans in your name, and ruin your credit rating, making it nearly impossible for you to buy a car, get a mortgage or student loan, rent an apartment, or even get a job.
There are a number of things you can do to can help protect yourself from financial identity theft:
- Watch for skimmers (devices that steal credit card information from ATMs and point-of-sale systems).
- Pay with cash or a credit card rather than your debit card.
- Shred financial statements when you dispose of them
- Don’t fall for email or phone scammers asking for your account numbers or other personal information. When in doubt, don’t give it out.
- And as we always say, be sure to safeguard your Social Security number. Don’t pass it out unless it’s absolutely necessary.
All these precautions will help lower your chances of financial identity theft, but unfortunately there are factors you can’t control. Your bank, a store where you shopped, or a hotel where you stayed might have a data breach, financial statements might be stolen from your mailbox, or your plumber’s bookkeeper might not dispose of credit card receipts properly. Stuff happens, so your ultimate defense is to check your financial statements and credit reports regularly and carefully, and call the MyIDCare team at the first sign of trouble. If your financial identity is in trouble, your Recovery Advocate will work with financial institutions and credit bureaus to make sure you’re not liable for fraudulent loans and charges made in your name. So someday, you can take yourself on that dream vacation in Paris.