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What can you do to protect yourself from becoming a victim?
What information are the thieves looking to get?
Name, Address, and Phone Number
Date of Birth
Social Security Number
Driver's License Number
Credit or Debit Card Information (Account Number, Expiration Date, PIN, CVV2 number from the back of your card)
Bank or Credit Union Account Information
Mother's Maiden Name
Be very careful when sharing any of the above information with anyone. There are times when you will need to give someone this information, but it should only be when you are initiating the transaction (opening a new account, making a credit card purchase, etc...).
It's important to remember that no legitimate or reputable financial or government organization will every request any personal or financial information (including the above information) via email or telephone. If someone contacts you requesting this type of information, contact the credit union at (217) 872-4188. You may also need to contact the police.
How can you protect this information better?
Out and About
There are many ways that the above information can fall into the wrong hands. Do not carry anything with your Social Security Number (or the social security number of anyone else in your family) in your wallet or purse or on you PDA. Statistics have shown that the vast majority of identity thefts are the result of either stolen or lost wallets or simple carelessness.
When you are out shopping on the town, be sure to keep track of your credit card receipts. Even though merchants are required to truncate the account number on your receipt, they can still be used by a thief to try to make fraudulent transactions. More importantly, keep your credit or debit card in sight at all times while your transaction is being processed. Skimmers are a small electronic device that your card can be swiped through that will read and store the information from the card's magnetic stripe. Once a thief has this information they can make a duplicate card and make charges at will.
Many people use their home computers to manage and track their finances. This, unfortunately, can be a weak link in protecting your information. Computer viruses, trojans, and other unwanted programs may be able to view information that you have on your computer and send that information back to a website where it can be used by the thieves.
Always keep your anti-virus software, firewalls, and spyware software up to date. This will help protect any information on your computer that a thief might want. It is also recommended that if you do keep files with financial data on your computer you should move that data onto a disk, zip drive, or thumb drive and store it separately from your computer or laptop. That way, if the computer itself is stolen, the thief will not have access to your files.
Even if you don't use a computer for your finances, you may still be at risk. Thieves may attempt to gain access to your information by stealing mail from your mailbox or by digging through your garbage to find bills or other mailings with valuable information. Be sure to not leave mail in your mailbox for any length of time, and be sure to shred or destroy all bills, etc. before disposing of them. If you do not receive a copy of your monthly statement or credit card bill on the normal date, follow up with the company. It probably got delayed or lost in the mail, but it is also possible that someone else has your mail and the information that it contains.
Pre-approved credit card offers are particularly dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands. You can choose to be excluded from pre-approved credit offers by calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or by visiting http://www.optoutprescreen.com/.
Thieves will also try to contact people by telephone to get them to divulge information they can use. One scam is to tell you that you have won a prize, and in order to mail it to you or pay for the shipping or taxes they need to confirm some information. Others will call pretending to be your financial institution. They may call you about a fraudulent charge or security breach and ask you to verify that you still have possession of your credit or debit card. They then ask you for information as verification. Another scam involved telling people that they had failed to show up for jury duty; they were asked for personal information in order to clear their names. The bottom line is: Never give out information over the phone. If someone says that you face consequences for not divulging the information, hang up and contact the company or institution yourself.
On the Internet
If you use the internet and e-mail, you have likely received an e-mail attempting to "phish" important information from you. Phishing is the term used to describe attempts to get someone to divulge personal information via an email that appears to have come from a legitimate business. PayPal, eBay, and financial institutions are often imitated in this way. The email messages usually tell you that something is wrong with your account, and you need to update some information in order to keep using the service. They may also look like a confirmation of a purchase that you did not make, and the message may request that you respond regarding the purchase. Never respond to this sort of email. Notify the company by visiting their website directly. Do not click on ANY links contained in the email. It is very easy to redirect a user to a website which appears to be legitimate but really isn't. View a video on INTERNET FRAUD produced by the US Postal Inspection Service.
"Pharming" is another attempt to get you to divulge important information. In pharming, the thieves will attempt to redirect or hijack a legitimate website with a page that looks like the real thing. From this fraudulent website they will try to get you to enter account information or other personal information. Do not click on ANY links contained in the email. Notify the company by visiting their website directly.
Legitimate websites will use secured pages when collecting sensitive data. The address for these pages begin with "https://" instead of "http://". You should also see a secure icon on your browser (such as a padlock or key). Another way to verify that a website is secure it to click your right mouse button somewhere on the page and choose the "Properties" option. The window that opens will tell you what type of encryption the page uses. Encryption is measured in cypher strength or bits (usually 64bit or 128bit encryption). This lets you know that the website is scrambling any information you are entering so that it cannot be read if it is intercepted by a thief. Remember, just because a website is secure does not mean it is a legitimate site. Pharming attempts will also use encryption to make the site appear legitimate.
What should you do if you become a victim of identity theft?
Hopefully you will never become a victim of identity theft, but if your information is compromised, the first thing you should do is contact your financial institution(s). The Federal Trade Commission provides a helpful workbook to walk you through the steps of protecting and/or restoring you credit rating and identity. You may get a copy of the workbook by clicking here. It will take some time to get everything straightened out, and if you lose money in the fraud you might not be able to get it all back. Decatur Earthmover Credit Union will work with you to try and recover funds lost and to secure your account in the event you divulge sensitive information.