Unless you’ve been personally affected by identity theft, chances are you haven’t thought about it often. And that’s a problem.

Identity theft encompasses many fraudulent acts, but its main definition is simple; someone steals your personal information and uses it to take your money, or open financial products, like credit cards and loans, in your name.

Identity theft can be devastating. Fraudsters could empty your accounts, destroy your credit or commit financial crimes in your name. It may be a difficult journey to clear your name, secure your finances and repair your financial future.

This serious issue is preventable, and we have the information you need to keep your money safe. 

What Identity Theft Looks Like

At its core, identity theft is the fraudulent use of your personal information. However, it manifests itself in different ways. Personal information can include your name, date of birth, address, Social Security Number (SSN), bank account number or credit card number. Any information that can be used to access your accounts or apply for a loan is sensitive information. Keep this information safe. Once scammers obtain this information, they can use it for their own financial gain—hurting you in the process.

So how do people get your personal information? There are three main ways someone can get your personal information:

  1. Materials are stolen or you are hacked.
  2. You are tricked into handing this information over (i.e. through a phishing scam).
  3. You willingly hand it over to someone you think you can trust.

Let’s look at some examples. Phishing emails and text messages are a common way scammers trick their victims, impersonating a financial institution or legitimate company. For instance, you may receive an email claiming to be from an anti-virus software company. They are alerting you of an issue with a tempting link the email promises will fix the problem. After clicking the link, a virus is downloaded on your computer, scouring it for personal information. Once the scammer has the information, they open credit cards in your name, maxing them out—leaving you with the bill.

Don’t disregard your suspicions, even if the situation makes sense at first glance. If you receive a text claiming to be from the postal service, stating there was an issue with your package and to click the link to resolve the problem, you may ignore it—you haven’t mailed a package in years. However, if you recently sent out a package, you may be more inclined to believe the text, and maybe even follow the link to a payment page. Some criminals may even follow up an email or text with a phone call. Scammers go through different levels of effort—remember, there’s a lot at stake.

There are other ways scammers can get access to your personal information, from pilfering mail to using a public computer after you forget to log out of your email. Identity thieves can open financial accounts in your name or take out loans and lines of credit.

This can even happen to children’s information; with a valid SSN and name, criminals can impersonate children.

Everyone thinks it won’t happen to them. It happens all the time.

How to Stay Protected

Now that we’ve gone over the severity of identity theft, let’s discuss how to stay protected.

Physical Steps

  • Consider having mail with sensitive information delivered electronically. Mail theft is an easy way for fraudsters to steal information.
  • If you are expecting mail and it does not arrive, contact the company. Someone may have changed your address without your knowledge.
  • Only carry your SSN when you need it; keep it in a secure place at home.
  • Give us a call or visit a branch to verify information or communication you are unsure about.

Online Safety

  • Be aware of online phishing. Do not trust any email, text or phone call. Is something in the message misspelled? Does the content make sense? Are you being pressured or incentivized to click on a link? Is the offer too good to be true? Be cautious and do not click on links in suspicious emails. Instead, visit the company or organization’s official website yourself.

Management and At-Home Monitoring

  • IDShield is available to keep a close eye on your information. IDShield works with all three major credit bureaus to monitor credit activity. This makes it easy to get alerts about new inquiries or out-of-pattern behavior. With IDShield, you can lock your credit and manage your level of surveillance.
  • Review your credit report at least annually at annualcreditreport.com.
  • If you don’t plan on taking out any new loans, consider freezing your credit.
  • Appoint power of attorney to a trusted individual.

Remember that scammers work hard to get your information. There is a tremendous reward for them, if they are successful. How much or how little you protect your account and personal information is up to you. 

Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a challenging problem. As a vulnerable population, elderly individuals are particularly susceptible to having their identity stolen. Scammers may adapt their techniques to prey on them. First, unauthorized family members or relatives may use an older person’s accounts without their knowledge. They may try impersonating that person or pressuring them to give them money. Lonely older individuals are more prone to falling for romance scams, finding companionship online only to discover they are not communicating and sending money to who they think.

Appoint a guardian or sign power of attorney over to a trusted person well before there is need. If you wait, it may be too late. If you are approaching retirement age, don’t wait. Consider what trusted individual you want to manage your accounts and ensure that your assets are protected. 

You Can Keep Yourself Safe

Identity theft can be prevented. Earthmover Credit Union is diligently monitoring for fraudulent activity around the clock. And while we are able to do a lot on our end, we rely on the smart action of members to ensure your complete financial safety.

Scammers are skilled at convincing people to part with personal information. If you believe you are the victim of identity theft, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The faster you act to secure your accounts, the better the chance at mitigating the damage. Call us immediately at 630.844.4950 if you have concerns over identity theft.