According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Identity theft” is also referred to as “Impersonation Fraud.” This scam is increasing at a rapid rate particularly during this time of the coronavirus dilemma. Identity theft occurs when someone assumes your identity in order to commit a crime or other criminal act. Your personal information can be obtained from the theft of your wallet or purse, your trash, and from bank or credit information. You may be approached in person, by mail, by telephone, or by the internet, with a request for information. The people perpetrating this fraud are very clever.
It appears that smart phones and tablet are the most vulnerable; but no computer that accesses the internet is completely safe. One safety precaution is to not use an unknown Wi-Fi such as are available in public locations. Another safety precaution is not to open an e-mail from an unknown source; or, if you do, do not respond and never click on a link offered by the unknown sender. This will allow your computer to be invaded. A third safety precaution is to look at the source of the e-mail. Hackers are very clever in making an e-mail appear to be from a legitimate source. Also, if the e-mail asks for a response, look to see if the response will go to the same address as the received e-mail. Do not, under any circumstances, send personal information. If you want to verify, you may make direct contact by phone with the company purporting to send the e-mail. Do not use the telephone number provided in the e-mail.
Remember the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration (or any governmental agency for that matter) does not initiate contact by phone or mail.
Even with safeguards, the FBI states it is virtually impossible to prevent identity theft. The FBI does make recommendations to reduce the possibility of identity theft.
First, never throw away, in usable form, ATM receipts, credit statements, credit cards, or bank statements.
Second, never give your credit card over the phone unless you make the call and are sure of the number/business/ person you are calling.
Third, reconcile your bank account monthly, and notify the bank immediately of any discrepancy.
Fourth, keep a list of telephone numbers to call in the event of the loss, theft, or disappearance of your wallet, purse, credit cards, social security card, Medicaid card, or other identity or credit information.
Fifth, immediately report any unauthorized financial transaction to your bank, investment advisor, credit card Company, and also to law enforcement.
Sixth, review your credit report at least once a year. Notify the credit bureau of any questionable entries. But remember that the credit bureau is using information furnished by the business or merchant, so it will be necessary to follow up with the source of the information furnished the credit bureau.
Seventh, if your identity is stolen, contact the credit bureau to print a notice to that effect.
Eighth, if you know of anyone who receives mail, credit card, or bank statements in the name of any other person, report that fact to law enforcement.
There is an excellent website sponsored by Consumers Reports dealing with identity theft. It may be accessed a consumersreport. org. When accessed type “identity theft.”
Banker Phares is a practicing attorney and founding member of the Estate Planning and Probate Law certification by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is the John and Karen Mast Professor at SFA and teaches in the Department of Economics and Finance.