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Identity Theft

Having your identity stolen can be scary, invasive, and have damaging effects on your finances, medical records, and reputation.  Identity theft can occur even if you do not use a computer.  It is personal information identity thieves are after and they can obtain it by stealing your wallet, eavesdropping on a phone conversation, or dumpster diving.  Also, the Internet has made it much easier for thieves to gain access to personal information as well as to sell or trade it.

Prevent Identity Theft

Prevention is the best defense against identity theft.  The following is a list of some things you can do to prevent it.

  1. Do business with reputable companies or websites.  Before providing any personal or financial data, be sure the company is reputable and established.  Check with the Better Business Bureau for ratings or complaints that may have been filed.
  2. Check privacy policies.  Verify the company has privacy practices in place to ensure the safety and use of data collected. Many companies will provide the option to opt-out of having personal data shared with other companies.
  3. Take advantage of security features.  Use strong passwords and security features to add layers of protection on account access. 
  4. Limit information that is public.  Limit the amount of information posted to public sites and social media.  Thieves will pull information from multiple sources to steal an identity.
  5. Enable and update antivirus and firewall software.  Protect your computer from malicious software that may steal or modify data by ensuring you are using an antivirus and firewall software.  Also, make sure it is enabled and up to date. 
  6. Protect your social security number (SSN).  Do not carry your social security card or anything containing your SSN with you.  Also, do not print it on checks or identification cards.
  7. Monitor account activity.  Check your account statements regularly to monitor for unauthorized transactions.  Also, check your credit report from all three bureaus at least annually.  You are entitled to a free credit report from the three major reporting companies once every twelve months by visiting https://www.annualcreditreport.com

Recognize Identity Theft

It is sometimes difficult to know if you've been a victim of identity theft until the damage is done. These are some indicators of identity theft:

  1. Unusual or unexplainable charges on your bills
  2. Phone calls or bills for accounts, products, or services that you do not have
  3. Failure to receive bills or mail regularly
  4. New or strange accounts appearing on your credit report
  5. Unexpected denial of credit card purchases or application for a loan

Recover from Identity Theft

If you become a victim of identity theft, knowing how to respond and report the incident is vital.  Here are some tips and resources to help you recover.

  1. Make sure you change your passwords for all online accounts. When changing your password, make it a passphrase that is 12 or more characters long, and make it unique to that account.
  2. Close any unauthorized or compromised credit or charge accounts.  You may also need to contact your bank and other financial institutions to freeze your accounts so that the thief is not able to access your financial resources.
  3. Cancel each credit or debit card. Get new cards with new account numbers for accounts that have been compromised. Inform the card companies that someone may be using your identity and find out if there have been any unauthorized transactions.
  4. Think about what other personal information may be at risk. You may need to contact other agencies depending on the type of theft, such as the Social Security Administration or Department of Motor Vehicles.
  5. File a report with your local law enforcement agency. Even if your local police department or sheriff’s office does not have jurisdiction over the crime you will need to provide a copy of the law enforcement report to your banks, creditors, other businesses, credit bureaus, and debt collectors.
  6. If your personal information has been stolen through a corporate data breach, you will likely be contacted by the business or agency whose data was compromised with additional instructions as appropriate.
  7. If stolen money or identity is involved, contact one of the three credit bureaus to report the crime.  Request that the credit bureau place a fraud alert on your credit report to prevent any further fraudulent activity from occurring. 

Tax Season Tips

Tax season presents an opportunity for identity thieves and fraudsters to gather personal information as well as steal taxpayer refunds. 

For Businesses:

  1. File withholdings electronically.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or state revenue agencies will not request employers to email employee tax withholding information.
  2. Store taxpayer records securely, such as in encrypted format.
  3. Notify the IRS or state revenue agency immediately if taxpayer records have been compromised.

For Individuals:

  1. Never provide personal information to an unknown person.
  2. Have all W2s and other tax documents before filing.
  3. File early and electronically.
  4. Look for signs an unauthorized person has filed a return pretending to be you, such as, more than one return associated with your SSN, unexpected notice(s) that you owe taxes, receiving a refund you did not request, collection actions with incorrect information, or the IRS alerts you a false return was filed.
  5. In Virginia, include your driver's license or state identification card number on the return.

Avoid IRS Impersonators. The IRS will not call you with threats of jail or lawsuits. The IRS will not send you an unsolicited email suggesting you have a refund or that you need to update your account. The IRS will not request any sensitive information online. These are all scams, and they are persistent. Don’t fall for them. Forward IRS-related scam emails to phishing@irs.gov. Report IRS-impersonation telephone calls at www.tigta.gov.  Learn how to protect yourself during tax season with tips provided by the IRS at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4524.pdf

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