What you need to know to protect against identity theft

Investigations

Identity theft is an unfortunate fact of modern life. A recent national crime survey by the US Bureau of Justice shows that nearly 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft.

The private information you have never gets old because someone new has their identity stolen every day. Your chance of becoming an ID theft victim is greater than you think. Consider this the next time you look at a credit card statement.

For the first time since the Great Recession of 2008, Americans’ revolving debt, most of it credit card balances, hit over $1.027 trillion last year, according to the Federal Reserve. Crooks are taking advantage.

Credit card thieves everywhere

As a result, credit cards thieves are everywhere.

Kim Radford, financial services officer for ORNL Federal Credit Union, is familiar with the repercussions of identity theft. 

“Money can be taken. Loans and credit cards can be taken in your name. Your credit report can be ruined,” said Radford. “If [your identity is] stolen, they can deplete your accounts. They can take loans out in your name which can ruin your credit.”

It’s no longer enough to wait for your monthly account statement to look for suspicious activity. 

“Some of the key points in safeguarding your identity is check your credit reports regularly all three bureaus,” Radford said.

The three major credit reporting bureaus are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. They capture, update and store your credit histories. You’re eligible for a report from each agency free once a year. There are other safeguards.

Check bank, credit union accounts regularly

“Check your online bank or credit union accounts regularly. You also want to change any kind of online password that you have on a regular basis. Try not to use the same password for every account again and again,” said Radford.

Illegal card readers are a growing problem. Over the last two years, the government reports a 70 percent increase in the number of debit cards being compromised, mainly at gas stations and convenience stores.

Shred documents

If you have a shredder at home, it’s one of the safest ways to protect your identity from being swiped by a crook.

“You need to shred anything and everything that you own that you do not need that has any kind of sensitive information on it. That includes your signatures, Social Security cards, account numbers,” Radford said.

Manually ripping documents can take a long time and if you have a lot to shred, that too can be tedious. One way to handle the accumulation of personal documents is to have it shredded by professionals.

This might include documents you don’t initially think about: ATM and credit card receipts, medical bills. Shredding documents with professional shredding services is a quick and easy way to dispose of documents no longer needed. 

WATE 6 On Your Side is hosting a Free Shred Day this Saturday, March 30. All you have to do is drive through our parking lot. ShredPro Secure will have trucks set up ready to take up to three small boxes or trash bags of personal documents.

More information is available here.

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