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These articles outline various steps you can take to reduce the risk of identity theft and compromised financial accounts.

As information becomes more and more accessible in the United States, so does the fraud that surrounds information accessibility become more prevalent. In order to protect yourself, you should become aware of what ID theft is and what can be done to prevent it.

What is it?

Identity theft is the crime of using the identity of another individual or business for the fraudulent gain of another individual or business. This form of fraud is the fastest growing white collar crime in the United States. It is estimated that over 750,000 to 1 million Americans will fall victim to ID theft every year. Victims of ID theft not only suffer the aggravation of spending (on average) 175 or more hours trying to restore their good name but they suffer difficult obstacles when it comes to getting legitimate credit, employment and bank accounts for themselves.

Preventing ID theft:

Americans must consistently protect their personal information. Here are a few actionable steps you can take that will help prevent your important personal information from being stolen.

  1. Check each of your credit reports annually:* There are three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, Experian, Trans Union. Your credit report contains information on all of your credit history and will reveal any fraudulent action associated with your credit. Once you carefully check these reports against what you actually have and against each other report, communicate any discrepancies to the applicable credit reporting bureau.
  2. Close old accounts: If your credit report(s) show that you have old accounts you have forgotten about, take the time to close them. ID thieves use old open lines of credit to rip you off in a stealthy way. Closing these accounts and accounts you no longer need make it impossible for a thief to assume your identity and use your old credit to take advantage of you.
  3. Shred: Nothing is better at making sure your information is safe than a shredder. Investing in a good shredder (preferably one that “cross-cuts”) is an investment that will pay off in the effort to protect your information. Shred everything you no longer need that contains your information. Receipts, Credit Approvals, medical documents, any document with your social security number, and anything you do not want anyone else to see. By shredding unneeded important documents, you make yourself a very difficult target for ID thieves.
  4. Go the distance: Make sure you do all you can to protect your personal information. Don’t keep your Social Security Card in you wallet or purse. Don’t write your pin numbers on your credit cards or on a piece of paper that you carry with you. Make sure you put your payments (or any mailing with a check in it) in a secure mail box, preferably inside a post office building. Reconcile each of your accounts regularly. Never give any information to anyone unless you are absolutely sure they are legitimate. Watch out for frauds on the phone or email asking for personal information. Be very suspicious of offers that seem too good to be true. Remember, your vigilance in stamping out ID theft, is the key to reducing its growth.
  5. Know the law: California has passed several laws that protect your information. One of the newest of these laws is SB 168 which severely limits the usage of your social security number by businesses and service industries. This law also gives you the right to “Freeze” your credit report at any time. Freezing your report makes it so no one can access it without your permission. If no one but yourself can access it, because it is frozen, then no one can open credit, get employment or fraudulently use your good name for any unauthorized purpose.
  6. Have your name removed:* Get your name removed from credit card approval lists, tele-marketing lists and direct mail lists. By contacting the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org) and by calling (888) 5-OPTOUT you will limit a large number of unwanted mail, phone and credit card offers you receive. However, by “Opting” out, you will not completely eliminate all of these types of solicitations, but you will drastically limit their proliferation.
  7. Call the authorities: If you ever become a victim of identity theft, call the authorities as soon as possible. Also, call the three major credit reporting bureaus, report the fraudulent activity and have them freeze your credit report. For more information contact the Federal Trade Commission, the Direct Marketing Association and your local and state governments.
*First Financial Credit Union is not responsible for the business practices or procedures of third party organizations or entities. Some fees may be associated with the use of these services. Contact the provider for full information.

Opting-out of FFCU offers*

You have the right to opt-out of receiving marketing related offers from First Financial Credit Union. By opting-out, your name will be removed from the marketing related mailing and telephone lists generated by First Financial. This means that you will no longer receive direct mail offers such as pre-approvals or similar offers over the telephone. It also means that your public information will not be shared with partnering third-party companies of First Financial.

To opt-out of the services, you must make it known to First Financial Credit Union by calling (800) 537-8491.

Opting-out of non-FFCU offers*

Tired of getting incessant credit card offers and credit related mailing? If so, you can greatly reduce the number of mailed credit solicitations by opting-out with the 4 major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, Trans Union, Equifax, Innovis.

It is actually very easy to opt-out with these bureaus. They have provided a service that opts you out of credit solicitations by calling one number:

(888) 5-OPTOUT (888) 567-8688

You will be requested to provide some personal information and once entered, you will be opted-out for a designated period of time (options are explained on the call). While this service works well to nearly eliminate mailed credit solicitation, it will not eliminate all mailings. You may need to call certain credit granting companies that solicit you to eliminate all solicitation.

The National Do Not Call Registry*

The National Do Not Call Registry is open for business, putting consumers in charge of the telemarketing calls they get at home. The Federal Government created the national registry to make it easier and more efficient for you to stop getting telemarketing sales calls you don’t want. You can register online at DONOTCALL.GOV if you have an active email address. You can call toll-free, 1-888-382-1222 (TTY 1-866-290-4236), from the number you wish to register. Registration is free.

The Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and participating states are scheduled to begin enforcing the National Do Not Call Registry on Oct. 1, 2003. That’s when consumers who put their numbers on the registry by August 31, 2003 will notice a reduction in the number of telemarketing calls they get. Placing your number on the National Do Not Call Registry will stop most, but not all, telemarketing calls. Telemarketing firms also have lists of people who do not want to be contacted. If you do not want to be contacted, please inform the caller at the time of the call.

The Direct Marketing Association’s Telephone Preference Service (TPS)*
To receive fewer unsolicited telemarketing calls, you can register for The DMA’s Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which allows you to “opt-out” of national telemarketing lists.

The Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service (MPS)*
To receive less commercial advertising mail, you can register for The DMA’s Mail Preference Service (MPS), which allows you to “opt-out” of national mailing lists.

The Direct Marketing Association’s email Preference Service (e-MPS)*
To reduce the amount of unsolicited email you receive at home, register for e-MPS, the email Preference Service which allows you to “opt-out” of national email lists.

* While use of these services will reduce the number of solicitations you receive, you may still receive unsolicited telephone calls, mail or email. First Financial Credit Union does not guarantee, endorse, or otherwise control the business practices of featured third-party organizations or entities. Please note that there may be fees associated with using these services. Contact the provider for more information. Please use care when dealing with your personal information.

There are many benefits in using the Internet to manage your finances, to shop and to get information. However, one must be vigilant in protecting his/her information while using the Internet to conduct business. The following are some basic tips that will help make your internet experience successful and safe.

Upgrade your browser

One of the best ways to protect yourself online is to simply upgrade your Internet browser to the latest version. This can be easily done by visiting your provider’s web site and downloading the software. Most providers are happy to help you do this. Simply call them and explain to them what you want to do, and they will walk you through it.

By upgrading you browser regularly, you will enjoy the most current security features including the latest in encryption technology which greatly enhances your security online. Currently 128bit encryption is standard on the latest browser versions.

Look for the “s” and for the “lock”

This may sound strange but it is a good practice to always look for the “s” and the “lock” before you transmit your private information. The “s” refers to the “s” in “https” which is found in your browser address line. When there is an “s” in “https,” the browser is telling you that your web connection to the host web server is a secure connection. This basically means that your browser has verified that you are connected to the correct server and not a fraudulent server.

The “lock” is an icon that appears at the bottom of your browser screen. This lock along with the “s” indicates that you are on a connection that is encrypted. Encryption is a method of scrambling information that is impossible to decipher without the necessary key.
lock

Obtain virus software and update it

It is a good idea to purchase and regularly (weekly) update the virus protection software used on your computer. This can help you avoid the major problems that come with running into a computer virus. You may also want to install a firewall if necessary.

Watch out for bad email

If you have ever had an email account, you can attest to the limitless junk mail constantly deluging your inbox. Most of this kind of email is simply unsolicited “spam,” but email is also a very effective way for thieves or vandals to cause damage.

Some of this malicious email is designed to get you to open a file that could contain a virus or a program that will either take information from your computer or cause your computer to not work properly. The best medicine for this is to not open any email unless you know who sent it to you. Completely delete this email from your computer and call your provider if you find or feel that something is very suspicious.

Potentially bad email can be contained easily by using a few strategies…

  • Add bad email to the junk email function in your email system.
  • Use an unconventional email address. Changing your email address to something that only you can understand can reduce the amount of unsolicited email you receive. Basic email addresses seem to get hit harder overall.
  • Do not give your main email out indiscriminately. It is a good idea to set up a junk email account which you can use when shopping, entering contests or requesting email notification.
  • Use spam filters for your email accounts.
  • It is better to delete the “spam” you get from an unknown source, rather than to try and unsubscribe. The people who send you spam often do not care if you unsubscribe and may ignore your request. They also use your “unsubscribe” to verify your email in order to send you more junk email.
  • Call your provider to report suspicious email.
  • Never open email unless you are totally sure it is Okay.
  • Generally, be suspicious. Better safe than sorry.
  • NEVER heed an email that asks you to submit personal or financial information.
  • Avoid web sites that junk email promotes. These sites could be fraudulent and can be taken down instantly.
  • Just because an email looks official does not mean that it is. Many scammers use official looking email to fraud you out of your money and good name. Take the time to verify all email offers or claims.
  • Legitimate charities do not need to solicit you for donations using email or the phone, and they do not need your Social Security Number or your personal information.
  • Report fraudulent activity to your local, state, and federal authorities.

Avoid online scams

It is surprising to see all of the different scams that are popping up online. Hackers and thieves are finding more and more ways to rip you off and to steal your personal information. It is best to be careful about where you go online and what email you open. Keep in mind that an online presence can be gone in seconds after filching your personal information. Especially watch out for any unsolicited email or site that is looking for you to remit your Social Security Number, your bank account number, your credit card number or any other personal information. Reputable companies will deal in a legitimate manner and will only ask you for the info they need to take care of your business. Watch out for companies trying to trick you into an agreement. If it feels suspicious, it probably is.

According to the federal government, the top 10 online scams are:

  • Internet Auction Fraud
  • Internet Service Provider Scams
  • Internet Web Site Design/Promotions – “Web Cramming”
  • Internet Information and Adult Services – “Credit Card Cramming”
  • Multi-level Marketing/Pyramid Scams
  • Business Opportunities and Work-At-Home Scams
  • Investment Schemes and Get-Rich-Quick Scams
  • Travel/Vacation Fraud
  • Telephone/Pay-Per-Call Solicitation Frauds (including modem dialers and videotext)
  • Health Care Fraud – If you suspect fraud, contact your local, state and federal authorities.

Websites

Phone Numbers

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation: (202) 324-3000
  • Los Angeles Sheriff: (323) 526-5541
  • Los Angeles Police Department: (877) ASK-LAPD (877) 275-5273
  • To opt out of each credit bureaus direct mailing lists call: (888) 5-OPTOUT (888) 567-8688
  • Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Response Center: (877) FTC-HELP (877) 382-4357
  • FTC’s Identity Theft Helpline: (877) ID-THEFT (877) 438-4338
  • Equifax Credit Bureau: To place a fraud alert on my Equifax credit report call: (888) 766-0008
  • Experian Credit Bureau: Contact us by phone: (888) 397-3742
  • TransUnion Credit Bureau: If you have questions call: (800) 916-8800
  • Innovis Credit Bureau: Innovis Consumer Assistance, P.O. Box 1358, Columbus, OH 43216-135
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