Did you know that financial identity theft is the fastest growing crime? Chances are someone you know has fallen prey to some sort of scheme – even if they aren’t talking about it.

Identity theft is when someone uses your personal information to commit financial fraud. The key pieces of data an identity thief is looking for are your name, address, social security number, birth date, mother’s maiden name, driver’s license number, and military ID number.

There’s no shortage of ways a thief can obtain your personal data: stealing wallets, stealing your mail, posing fraudulently as someone else, buying it from “inside sources,” taking personal records from your home or workplace, getting it from your phone or computer at public internet sites including airport waiting areas, and through email scams and social media.

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The New York State Office of the Attorney General advises that you follow these guidelines to protect your identity:

1. Shred all papers containing your personal information before placing them in the trash. Cut up credit cards when they’ve expired.

2. Protect your incoming and outgoing mail. Have checks direct deposited and use online banking when possible.

3. Do not conduct financial or other transactions on a public computer or in cafes, libraries, airports or other places where your internet connection is not secure.

4. Do not share your personal information online, over the phone or with anyone you don’t know. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home. And do not carry your social security card.

5. Review your credit card and bank statements carefully and promptly to make sure there are no unauthorized charges or fraudulent activity.

6. Check your credit report at least once a year for suspicious activity. TransUnion, Experian, Equifax and Innovis are the four national credit bureaus. For your free credit report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

7. Avoid unsolicited phone calls and mailings; register with the national Do Not Call Registry by signing up at www.donotcall.gov or call 800-382-1222.

8. In addition to the above, practice internet safety by ignoring email solicitations and people “phishing” for your data online. Know that banks and other financial institutions never ask for account information in an email. Ignore any requests supposedly from the IRS; the IRS does not call or send emails. Don’t click on links in any questionable email.

if you are a victim of identity theft, don’t be ashamed; you are not alone. Address the situation immediately by taking the following steps:

  1. Contact the fraud department of the three major credit bureaus and place a “fraud alert” on your account.
  2. Contact your bank, financial institutions and credit card companies regarding accounts that have been tampered with.
  3. File a police report.
  4. Fill out the FTC’s identity theft affidavit: www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/affidavit.pdf
  5. File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
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Content created by the staff and hard-working team at Westchester Senior Voice.