Last time, we hopefully alerted you to
the dangers of identity theft. If we did our job, even your mailman
is looking a tad suspicious to you right about now. OK, so maybe we
don't have to go that far, but it is good to be cautious.
But what's all the ruckus about, anyway?
The operative word in the phrase "identity theft" is
theft. The crooks who get hold of your Social
Security Number or bank account number and password can do things
like file a tax return (pretending to be you) and get your refund.
If that happens, and you file later, you'll get a rejection from
the IRS, saying your SSN has already been used on a return. These
same cybercreeps can run up charges on your credit card accounts,
tap into your bank accounts, and wreak havoc on your credit
The financial industry as a whole was sort of slow to come up
with procedures to recover from identity theft, mainly because the
offense was so hard to track down in the first place. But we can
help with some general pointers on what to do if there's monkey
business going on in your finances.
One place to start is online. The Federal Trade Commission has a
couple of great publications dealing with identity theft. You can
download them here or go to www.ftc.gov.
In general, be suspicious when confronted with the warning signs
of identity theft: bills or statements for items you didn't order;
late statements from your accounts; unknown transactions showing up
on credit card statements; mistakes on the Explanation of Benefits
from your health insurance plan; collection statements on your
credit report; or a notice from the IRS that your Social Security
Number has been used on a return -- and you haven't filed yet.
If you suspect identity theft on a tax return, contact the IRS
immediately. If you got a notice from the IRS, use the phone number
on the letter, otherwise call 800-908-4490. You should also fill
out the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, Form 14039.
Once it's been confirmed that your identity has been
compromised, start your defense by contacting one of the three
major credit reports: Equifax (800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com);
Experian (888-397-7289 or www.experian.com); or TransUnion (800-680-7289
or www.transunion.com). This can help mitigate any
further damage to your credit score -- and your reputation.
Sometimes, instead of stealing your information outright,
cybercrooks will attempt to fool you into giving it to them
outright. It's done through fake emails, texts or even telephone
calls that mimic legitimate communication from your bank or some
other account. This is called phishing, but the only fish these
hoaxes plan to hook is YOU. It's just another item in the identity
The best tactic against identity theft, of course, is not to
fall victim in the first place. The Internet
Crime Complaint Center (also known as IC3), a joint venture of
the FBI and the White Collar Crime Center, has some very helpful
hints to help avoid identity theft:
We'll be honest: The sophistication of some of the identity
theft attacks is considerable. But we can all add another layer of
defense by following the tips from IC3 and the IRS. Oh, and one
last hint. Remember that the IRS NEVER contacts taxpayers by email
to request personal or financial information. That includes text
messages and social media channels.
Stay safe, my friends.