December is Identity Theft Awareness & Prevention Month
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Theft is both frustrating and costly. Sadly, during the Christmas season, gifts and other valuables become additional targets. Would you believe that even the Baby Jesus is a target? Yes, there is indeed an ongoing “tradition” of stealing Baby Jesus from nativity scenes across the US. While many owners attempt to secure the Baby Jesus, prankster thieves find a way to get past it. Nothing is sacred to a thief.
It’s no surprise, then, that thieves will also go to any lengths to steal your identity. Identity thieves stay up to date on the latest trends. Here are some current identity theft challenges and ways you can avoid them:
Challenge: Thieves will open credit-monitoring accounts in your name
Thieves will open credit-monitoring accounts with services like Experian, Equifax in victims’ names. They are then able to scan your credit report for forgotten credit cards or accounts and make charges to them.
Solution: Cancel any unused credit cards or accounts. Request a free credit report annually to make sure there has been no fraud. If you find fraudulent activity, report it. You are allowed one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. Also consider a credit freeze that restricts access to your credit reports and helps safeguard against fraudsters opening accounts. You will need to do this with all three credit bureaus.
Challenge: Thieves will scour the internet for physical mail from upscale neighborhoods
Yes, thieves will actually use websites like Google Maps, Zillow, or Redfin to locate upscale neighborhoods and physically search out mail that contains personal information that they can illegally use.
Solution: No matter where you live, never discard information that has any of your personally identifiable information (PII) on it. Have all bank and credit card statements, tax records, ATM receipts, canceled checks, insurance documents, legal papers, travel itineraries, utility bills, and anything else with even a shred of your PII on it securely shredded. Destroy anything with numbers or words that are associated with your identity, including junk mail. When in doubt, shred it. If your personal mail is delivered to an unsecure mailbox, consider having it sent to a post office box instead.
Challenge: Thieves will hack into electronic devices to steal personal information.
It’s sadly common for identity thieves—sometimes even state-sponsored hackers from overseas—to break into cellphones, computers, tablets, and other “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices using malware and spyware designed to help them steal your personal information.
Solution: Ensure your WiFi router is secure, and firewalls are enabled. Use a strong WiFi password containing letters, numbers, and symbols. Use strong passwords on electronic devices and change them frequently. Use up-to-date antivirus software on all of your devices and avoid unsecure websites and apps. Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), especially when using shared WiFi connections that are particularly vulnerable to hacking.
Here’s What to Do If You Become a Victim
- File a government Identity Theft Report to help you with your recovery.
- Contact one of the three credit bureaus and place an extended fraud alert on your credit file which requires a business to verify your identity before issuing new credit. This is only available to those who have filed an Identity Theft Report, and the credit bureau you choose to contact is required to notify the other two on your behalf, so you don’t have to.
- Forward a list of all fraudulent activity to the three credit bureaus.
- Obtain letters from your creditors to ensure they have expunged the negative reporting on your accounts with all three credit bureaus.
- Phone your creditors and let them know of the situation.
- File a police report and fraud affidavit, which is available from the Federal Trade Commission.
A reputable shredding company is a wonderful ally when it comes to avoiding identity theft. They can shred all of your discarded paper documents and electronic devices and drives to ensure that no one can steal your personal information.
Wiggins Shredding is available to help Philadelphia and tri-state area New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware residents and businesses prevent identity theft. We offer one-time or routine shredding as well as convenient drop-off shredding locations for smaller jobs. We are in your corner, so give us a call at 610-692-TEAR(8327) or complete the form on this page.