Identity Theft

Overview

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through the Consumer Sentinel Network received over 3.2 million complaints in 2019, of which 20% were related to identity theft. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as a credit card number or your Social Security number to commit fraud by obtaining a credit card, establishing a telephone in your name, or committing a variety of other crimes. In order to protect yourself from potential identity theft, it is important that you routinely monitor your financial account statements and your credit report.

Preventing Identity Theft

The below referenced material is in part provided by the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information “How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure.”  The following list provides important steps you should take to avoid identity theft:

  • Shred all statements. One of the ways that identity thieves acquire information is through trash-picking. Instead of throwing out bills and credit card statements, ATM receipts, medical statements or junk-mail solicitations for credit cards and mortgages, you should shred all papers with personal information on them.
     
  • Destroy digital data. When you sell, trade or dispose of a computer system, you should take the extra steps to ensure the data is completely destroyed. Deleting the data or reformatting the hard drive may not be enough for tech-savvy thieves that can undelete files or recover data. Use a digital shredding product to make sure that data on the hard drive is completely destroyed.  Before you dispose of a mobile device, check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently and how to save or transfer information to a new device. Remove the memory or SIM card from the device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.
     
  • Be alert to impersonators. Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know who you are dealing with. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends an email asking for personal information, do not click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. You may also call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.
     
  • Use security software.  Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software and keep them up-to-date.
     
  • Use strong passwords; avoid using items such as your birth date, your mother's maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
     
  • Encrypt your data. Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it is transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
     
  • Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
     
  • Do not give your Social Security number. Unless it is legally required, avoid giving out your Social Security number. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Do not use your Social Security number as any part of a username or password that you establish.  Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you, unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.
     
  • Limit information on your checks. The next time you order checks, have only your initials rather than your first and last name printed on them. If someone takes your check book, they will not know if you sign your checks with just your initials or your first name, but your bank will be aware of how you typically sign your name. Also, if a phone number is printed on your checks, use your work phone number instead of your home phone. If you have a P.O. box use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a P.O. Box, use your work address. When paying bills, write only the last four digits of your account number in the memo line so that anyone who handles the check during processing does not have access to your full account number.
     
  • Photocopy your license and credit cards. Make copies of both sides of your license, credit cards, and other important information kept in your wallet so you will have all of your account numbers and the phone numbers to call if a problem ever arises. Keep the photocopies in a safe place.
     
  • Do not sign your credit cards. Rather than signing the back of your credit cards, write “PHOTO ID REQUIRED.”
     
  • Social networking.  Avoid oversharing on social networking sites.  If you post too much information about yourself, it could be used to answer security challenge questions for your accounts.
     
  • Monitor your credit reports. The federal FACTA law enables you to receive a free credit report per year from each of the three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. While reviewing the report you should ensure that old accounts are closed and also check for any new accounts, aliases, and suspicious mailing addresses. Do not contact the three nationwide credit reporting companies individually.  You can order your free credit reports by phone at (877) 322-8228, visit www.annualcreditreport.com, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form available at ftc.gov/credit and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

Warning Signs That Your Identity May Have Been Stolen

  • Withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain
     
  • Not receiving your bills or other mail
     
  • Merchants refusing your checks
     
  • Debt collectors calling you about debts that are not yours
     
  • Unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
     
  • Medical providers billing you for services you did not use
     
  • Rejection by your health plan of legitimate medical claims because their records who you have reached your benefits limit
     
  • Refusal of coverage under your health plan because your records show a condition you do not have
     
  • IRS notification that more than one tax return was filed in your name or that you have income from an employer you do not work for
     
  • Receipt of notification that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account

Action Items Following the Occurrence of Identity Theft

  • Contact law enforcement. Report the crime to your local police department (you might also need to report it to police department(s) where the crime occurred if it's somewhere other than where you live). Keep the phone number of your investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of the crime. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the police report in order to verify the crime.
     
  • Notify credit bureaus and establish fraud alerts. Immediately report the situation to the fraud department at one of the three credit reporting companies -- Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The company you call must tell the other two companies about your alert.  Placing the fraud alert means that your file will be flagged and creditors will be required to call you before extending credit. You can place an initial fraud alert for only 90 days. You can renew it after 90 days.  The fraud alert will allow you to request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting companies. The credit bureaus can be reached at the following phone numbers:
     
    • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
       
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to obtain an extended fraud alert.  Complaints from consumers help the FTC detect patterns of fraud and abuse and can be filed at ww.identitytheft.gov.  If you have created an Identity Theft Report, you can get an extended fraud alert on your credit file.  With an extended fraud alert, you can get 2 free credit reports within 12 months from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.  The credit reporting agencies must take your name off marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5 years, unless you ask them to put your name back on the list.  The extended alert lasts for 7 years.
     
  • Credit freezes. You may choose to put a credit freeze on your file; however, this may not stop misuse of your existing accounts or some other types of identity theft.  If you put a freeze on your file, you can still get a copy of your free annual credit report.  If a business, lender, or employer wants to review your credit report, you must ask the credit reporting company to lift the freeze.  There is no cost to place or lift a freeze. A freeze remains in place until you ask the credit reporting company to temporarily lift it or remove it altogether. A credit reporting company must lift a freeze no later than three business days after getting your request by mail or within one hour for online and phone requests.  You may contact the nationwide credit reporting agencies regarding a credit freeze at the following phone numbers:
    • Equifax: 1-800-685-1111
    • Experian: 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872
       
  • Resolving fraud items. If your credit report shows that new accounts have been opened in your name, contact those creditors immediately by telephone and in writing. Creditors will likely ask you to fill out a fraud affidavit. The Federal Trade Commission affidavit is accepted by most businesses.

 

Disclosure: This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Diversification cannot assure profit or guarantee against loss. There is no guarantee that any investment will achieve its objectives, generate positive returns, or avoid losses. Sequoia Financial Advisors, LLC makes no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy, reliability, or utility of information obtained from third-parties. Certain assumptions may have been made by these sources in compiling such information, and changes to assumptions may have material impact on the information presented in these materials. Sequoia Financial Advisors, LLC does not provide tax or legal advice.

 

The views expressed represent the opinion of Sequoia Financial Group. The views are subject to change and are not intended as a forecast or guarantee of future results. This material is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute investment advice and is not intended as an endorsement of any specific investment. Stated information is derived from proprietary and nonproprietary sources that have not been independently verified for accuracy or completeness. While Sequoia believes the information to be accurate and reliable, we do not claim or have responsibility for its completeness, accuracy, or reliability. Statements of future expectations, estimates, projections, and other forward-looking statements are based on available information and Sequoia’s view as of the time of these statements. Accordingly, such statements are inherently speculative as they are based on assumptions that may involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties. Actual results, performance or events may differ materially from those expressed or implied in such statements. Investing in equity securities involves risks, including the potential loss of principal. While equities may offer the potential for greater long-term growth than most debt securities, they generally have higher volatility. Past performance is not an indication of future results. Investment advisory services offered through Sequoia Financial Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor. Registration as an investment advisor does not imply a certain level of skill or training.

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Identity Theft | Sequoia Financial Group

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