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ICBA: How to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Washington, D.C. (October 1, 2010)-Close to 10 million people each year have their personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit card and bank account numbers and home addresses stolen, according to the Federal Trade Commission.  Victims of identity theft spend approximately $5 million a year repairing their credit, and businesses deal with nearly $50 million in fraudulent charges annually[kt1] . While the Internet has given rise to a variety of financial crimes that include phishing, spoofing, pharming and vishing, most cases of identity theft still occur offline. 

With these statistics in mind, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) offers the following tips to help consumers guard against identity theft. 

"Community banks are careful guardians of our customers' personal data and information, but our customers must also play a role and practice caution in stores, online and as they go about their business every day," said Jim MacPhee, ICBA chairman and CEO of Kalamazoo County State Bank in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The following tips can help lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:

  • Don't give out personal information over the phone, through the mail or on the Internet unless you know who you're dealing with and preferably only if you've initiated the contact. Make sure you are dealing with a legitimate organization. As a general rule, never give out your Social Security or driver's license numbers.
  • Don't put personal information such as your birth year, mother's maiden name or other information on public social media sites.  Fraudsters can use that information to decipher your passwords.  Also, if you use a smart phone, be careful not to list personal information, account numbers and passwords.  If you lose or misplace your phone, a potential fraudster could easily access your information.
  • Ask questions whenever you are asked for personal information that seems inappropriate for the transaction. Ask how the information will be used and if it will be shared. Ask how it will be protected. If you're not satisfied with the answers, don't give your personal information.
  • Remember: Banks will not ask you to verify your personal account information over the phone or via e-mail if they initiated the call. They already have that on file. If you receive a phone call or e-mail asking you to verify such information, don't respond. Instead, contact the bank directly.
  • Don't leave sensitive documents containing personal information where people can see it. Shred or destroy papers containing your personal information, including credit card offers and convenience checks that you don't use.
  • Retrieve your postal mail promptly, and discontinue delivery while you're out of town. Whenever possible, mail bills from your post office, not your mail box. Stop or reduce junk mail or unsolicited credit card offers by visiting the National Credit Bureau's opt out website at: www.optoutprescreen.com or call them at (888) 567-8688.
  • Open your bills and bank statements right away. Check carefully for any unauthorized charges or withdrawals and report them immediately. Call if bills don't arrive on time-it may mean that someone has changed contact information to hide fraudulent charges.
  • Check your credit reports. Review your credit report at least once a year. Check for changed addresses and fraudulent charges. To find out more about credit reports, your rights as a consumer, access the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the FACT Act at www.ftc.gov/credit.
  • Protect your computer by following good security practices. Use strong passwords that are hard to guess. Use firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware software that you update regularly. Download software only from sites you know and trust and only after reading all the terms and conditions. Don't click on links in pop-up windows or in spam e-mail.
  • Before you get rid of an old computer, make sure you destroy the information on the hard drive. Often that means destroying the drive itself because erasing data doesn't completely eliminate it.  Otherwise look for software tools that will completely wipe data from the hard drive.
  • Use caution when shopping online, check out a website before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read the privacy policy and take opportunities to opt out of information sharing. Only enter personal information on secure web pages that encrypt your data in transit. You can often tell if a page is secure if "https" is in the URL or if there is a padlock icon on the browser window. Consumer protections under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act apply to Internet credit card purchases. Keep records of the purchase.

"No method is foolproof," said MacPhee. "Identity thieves are devising new schemes all the time. But when you see how long it takes for someone to restore their good credit after being victimized, then you know that any steps you can take to prevent identity theft are definitely worth the extra time."

For more information, visit the Identify Theft Web page at www.icba.org.