ST. GEORGE — Last year, 2,915 cases of identity theft were reported in Utah. Utah State University and Utah Attorney General Sean D. Reyes are both using this month to help Utah citizens learn to protect themselves from identity theft.
Here are some tips to prevent being a victim of financial fraud, according to a press release:
Set up a fraud alert
Placing a fraud alert on a personal credit file is a good first step. Having a fraud alert means that businesses must verify a person’s identity before they can open a new credit account. This can make it harder for an identity thief to open an account in someone else’s name. There are a few different types:
- An “initial fraud alert” lasts 90 days and must be renewed or it will expire.
- An “extended fraud alert” lasts seven years and is recommended for those who are victims of fraud or ID theft.
- An “active duty military alert” lasts one year and is intended for those in the military who want to minimize their risks while deployed.
Fraud alerts are free and can be done by contacting one of the three major credit reporting bureaus, including TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, by phone or online to set it up.
Unlike a fraud alert, a credit freeze prevents anyone – including the owner – from accessing credit report information to determine creditworthiness to open new accounts. Once a credit freeze is set up, a PIN must be used each time the person needs to freeze and unfreeze their account to apply for new credit. All bank, credit card and insurance statements still need to be monitored for fraudulent transactions.
A credit freeze lasts until it is removed. Costs range from $5 to $10 each time credit is frozen or unfrozen. Each of the three credit reporting bureaus must be contacted individually to set up a credit freeze.
Credit freezes can be a helpful tool in protecting credit, but they may not be right for everyone. The cost, hassle and whether it will be necessary to apply for a car loan, mortgage or student loan in the near future need to be considered. For those who won’t need new credit anytime soon or have already been a victim of fraud or ID theft, a credit freeze may be a great safeguard.
Create a ‘My Social Security’ account
To protect Social Security numbers and accounts, people can log on to ssa.gov and create a “my Social Security” account. That account documents Social Security earnings and taxes, allows people to request a replacement card, set up direct deposit and get a replacement Medicare card.
Guard personal information
Scammers often pretend to be someone reputable such as a business, government entity or a charity. They may claim they need to verify personal information or say that a person owes them money. Whether it’s over the phone, email, social media or in person, don’t give out personal information. That includes banking and financial information, birth dates and Social Security numbers.
Don’t believe everything you see
Technology makes it easy for scammers to alter what is displayed on caller ID, so the information isn’t always correct. When contacted by someone asking for money or personal information, hang up and call the business or entity back at their confirmed number.
Consider payment methods
Credit cards are the safest way to pay online because charges can be disputed and they often have built-in fraud protection. However, not all money transfers have the same protections. Wiring money, for instance, is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get money back. This is also true for gift cards.
Most government offices and honest companies won’t ask people to use these payment methods. If asked to provide financial or other sensitive information online, make sure that the address in the URL changes to “https” or “shttp” instead of just “http.”
Do your homework
With any online or phone transaction, always look up the business or entity online to make sure they are reputable. This goes for anyone asking for money or personal information. It is also a good idea to check with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection and the Utah Better Business Bureau to see if the person or organization is credible.
Be careful where you click
Never click on any links from unsolicited emails or text messages. These links can download malware onto computers and potentially steal a person’s identity. Even if it looks familiar, it can be fake. The best approach to receiving these emails or text messages is to simply delete them.
“Utah is a very trusting state which is good in many ways unless you trust the wrong person,” Reyes said in the press release. “President Ronald Reagan often said, ‘Trust but verify.’ One of the most effective ways to immunize yourself from fraud is to verify information before doing business with anyone, even those you know well.”
Protecting personal identifiable information is an ongoing effort. After steps have been taken to protect the account, it is still important to stay vigilant.
- Check credit reports regularly for suspicious activity.
- File for tax returns as early as possible. Don’t give an identity thief more time to file in your name.
- Read the explanation of benefits from health insurance companies to make sure all treatments are accurate.