For most of us, the dust has settled after a hectic holiday season and it’s time to start thinking about getting our finances in order. There will be, however, a few of us who are dealing with the aftermath left behind by cybercriminals looking to profit from misfortune. Identity theft and credit card fraud are two of the most popular ways to defraud unsuspecting victims - and the terms are often used interchangeably.
The fact of the matter is that they are NOT the same. Having your IDENTITY STOLEN and becoming a victim of CREDIT CARD FRAUD should not even be considered as remotely similar crimes.
- Credit card fraud usually applies to someone using some or all of your available credit on a single account by making fraudulent purchases or withdrawals.
- Identity theft is when someone is able to use your personal information - which may include some or all of your current credit cards and bank accounts - to open additional lines of credit, exploit current lines of credit, empty out savings or earnings, live and/or travel under your name, commit crimes that can be accredited to you, and much more. Credit card fraud is often just a single aspect of the scope of having an identity stolen.
For those of you who are among the fortunate few to have not had a run-in with the seedy underbelly of cyberspace, here’s a look at just how lucky you are:
- 41% of Americans had experienced some form of card fraud over the previous five years.
- 17.6 million U.S. residents age 16 or older were victims of one or more incidents of identity theft in 2014 alone. - 2015 U.S. Department of Justice
Luckily, there are a few simple measures you can take to reduce the likelihood that you or your business will become a victim of fraud.
Preventing Credit Card Theft
- Avoid sharing credit card information - even with family and friends.
- Don’t just pay the bill. Read it, first - and make sure you authorized all purchases.
- A strong password is a great idea. Two-factor authentication is even better.
- Discriminate which websites you provide your account information to. Just because it LOOKS secure doesn’t mean it IS secure.
Preventing Identity Theft
- Follow steps for preventing credit card theft.
- Shred or destroy all personal documents before discarding them.
- Don’t be gullible. Never give out account information via email - real companies won’t ask for it. If something sounds too good to be true, it is. You can’t win things when you had no idea a contest existed. Nothing will magically quadruple your money overnight. And, last but not least, you have no long-lost rich relatives... Well, most of the time.
- Use antivirus software. Implement a firewall and be overly vigilant about what you download.
- Don’t just toss out old devices - make sure they’re properly erased or have been destroyed and are unusable before they leave your sight.
Let’s say that its worst-case scenario and you have found fraudulent accounts or purchases using your social security or business’ good name. Take these steps to clear fraudulent charges or accounts.
Recovering from Credit Card Theft
- Call up the credit card company. Explain that there is fraudulent activity on your account and which charges are unauthorized. By law, you can only be responsible for up to $50 of fraudulent charges on a credit card account.
- Debit accounts may be different, so make sure you report suspicious activity in a timely manner once you discover it.
- Make sure you are issued a new card. A new card should be issued to you. Make sure you reset all passwords, login IDs and PINS associated with your account.
Recovering from Identity Theft
- Call companies to inform them of fraudulence. Ask them to freeze your accounts and change your login information, passwords and PINS.
- Place a free fraud alert and get your credit reports. Contact either Experian, TransUnion or Equifax to do this. Whichever company you choose will tell the other two. This alert makes it harder to open an account in your name, and requires your identity be verified before a card is issued.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.) You can report identity theft to the FTC by phone or online. Based on the information you provide, an Identity Theft Report Recovery Plan will be created for you.
- File a report with your local police department. When you have your FTC Identity Theft Report, take it to the local police department with a valid photo ID, proof of your address and proof of the theft (IRS notices or bills etc.) to file a police report. Be sure to ask for a copy of the report as you may need it in the future!
- Close new accounts. When you have the FTC report, close new accounts and explain that your identity has been stolen. Ask for a letter to confirm that you are not responsible for the fraudulent charges and they have been removed from your credit report. Keep this letter!
- Remove fraudulent charges from other accounts. Call the fraud department of the companies responsible for your other accounts. Explain that your identity was stolen and tell them which charges are unauthorized. Ask them to clear these charges from your account and send a letter to confirm that they’ve done this. Keep a record of that call and letter when it comes!
- Write to each of the three bureaus mentioned above. Include a copy of your identity theft report and proof of your identity with your letter. Explain which information on your credit report is fraudulent and request that it be blocked, as is your right.
Visit https://www.identitytheft.gov/Steps for more information - or contact Altex Business Solutions today!