As many as 40 million credit and debit cards may have been compromised at Target retail stores nationwide from November 27 – December 15, 2013 due to a point-of-sale security breach. (abcnews.go.com Dec. 19,2013) Making this among one of the largest retail security breaches in history. Many consumers are blaming Target but experts say that this type of theft could occur at almost any large retail store. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the number one type of consumer fraud in the U.S., resulting in about 9 million people annually having their identity stolen. (www.experian.com)
Whether you were a possible victim of the latest Target breach or not, now is the perfect time to educate yourself on the risks of identity theft and prevention because December is Identity Theft Awareness and Prevention Month. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person's personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. The identity thief can obtain your personal information from lost or stolen wallets, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, “phishing” scams, or paper documents thrown out by you or a business (dumpster diving). Thieves steal the identity of adults, children and even deceased persons and primarily use the information for financial gain but it can also be used for medical treatment, employment, tax related situations and more.
If you think your personal information has been compromised you need to act immediately to minimize the damage that could be done to your finances, credit and reputation. Contact one of the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. Ask for an initial fraud alert and ask the credit agency you contact to notify the other two agencies. The fraud alert will stay on your report for 90 days and will make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit, so it may try to contact you. The alert can be renewed and allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you. The U.S. Department of Justice also recommends contacting these organizations as well:
- Local Post Office if you suspect that a change of address has been submitted to redirect your mail
- Social Security Administration if you suspect the improper use of your Social Security number
- Internal Revenue Service if you suspect tax violations involving your information
- Creditors and financial institutions with whom your name and personal information have been fraudulently used
- Federal Trade Commission to report the situation
If you become a victim of identity theft you will most likely need to start repairing your credit. Unfortunately, identity theft is all too common these days but a lot of resources are available to help you take on the arduous process of cleaning up the mess. There are also non-profit organizations that can help. For those of you who haven’t fallen prey to identity thieves, it is a good idea to take steps to minimize your risks. Follow these tips provided by Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization:
- Don’t give out your SSN unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment
- Use a cross-cut shredder to dispose of documents with personal information. Also, use a specialized gel pen when writing out checks.
- Place outgoing mail in collection boxes or the U.S. Post Office.
- Know your billing cycles and contact creditors when bills fail to show up. Review bank and credit card statements carefully.
- Password protect your financial accounts. A strong password should be more than eight characters in length, and contain both capital letters and at least one numeric or other non alphabetical character. Use of non-dictionary words is also recommended.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Use firewall software to protect computer information. Keep virus and spyware software programs updated.
- Reduce the number of preapproved credit card offers you receive: 888-5OPT-OUT (you will be asked for your SSN)
- Order your free annual credit reports on-line at: www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228
- You may also “freeze” your credit report. For more information on this, go to: State Resources
Sometimes identity thieves obtain you personal information despite your diligence in safe keeping your information. However, following these tips can help minimize your risk of becoming the victim of identity theft. We at Synergy HomeCare of North Orange County hope this information keeps you and your families safe and secure in the New Year!
Synergy HomeCare provides a wide range of non-medical care, including companionship, transportation, housekeeping, and personal care services. Synergy HomeCare of North Orange County services Brea, Silverado, Anaheim Hills, Fullerton, Orange, Placentia, Yorba Linda, Anaheim, Tustin, Foothill Ranch, Santa Ana and most cities in North Orange County. We offer a free, no-obligation visit to your home to assess your personal care needs. We provide quality, compassionate care, with no contracts, and no minimums. Contact us today to see how we can help make your New Year the best ever!