Identity theft can be prevented through a few smart steps
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
2/20/13 at 3:09 AM
Hollywood often portrays identity theft as a comical event, but in reality being a victim of it is anything but funny.
It's best to leave comedy to the comedians and save yourself from such grief by nipping identity theft in the bud. When it happens, at least know the immediate steps to take.
"Identity thieves are relentless in their pursuit of private information," said Rick Brinkley, chief operating officer of the Tulsa Better Business Bureau. "It's very important to be aware of all the ways to defend yourself and keep your identity safe. It's always easier to avoid it than have to fix it after it occurs."
Brinkley offers these tips for keeping your personal information secure.
Carry few cards: Carry only the cards you need in the immediate future. Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security card unless you need it, say for a job offer. Cut up old or inactive credit cards and bank account statements.
Choose PIN wisely: For your ATM card, choose a personal identification number not associated with your address, telephone number, middle name, last four digits of your Social Security number, birth date or any information easily discovered by thieves.
Social Security number: Be careful about sharing it. When asked to provide it, ask how it will be used and what will happen if you refuse. Don't carry your Social Security card with you on a daily basis. Leave it at home in a secure location.
Mailbox: Place outgoing mail in a secure mailbox. If you do not have a locked mailbox, pick up incoming mail as soon as possible.
Storage: Never store your private documents in unsecured locations, such as your car or office. At home, invest in a fireproof lock box or safe to store important documents.
Shred documents: Avoid storing unneeded documents bearing personal information: credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms and billing statements. Shred these papers; trash cans are gold mines for identity thieves. Cross-cut shredders are available in eight-sheet capacity for $60 and up to 15 sheets for $100.
The Tulsa Better Business Bureau and Shredders Inc. hold an annual "Secure Your ID Day" at the company's site in west Tulsa. On April 20, Tulsans can bring three grocery bags or boxes full of documents for free shredding.
Receipts, bank statements: Monitor bank and credit card statements for fraudulent activity. Know what dates your bills arrive. Late or missing bills can indicate your information has been compromised.
Check credit reports: Check card account statements periodically for suspicious activity. Check your credit report annually for free at tulsaworld.com/acr
Scammers fake IRS credentials in fraud schemes
Identity thieves have become so brazen that they are using legitimate information to scam honest taxpayers while posing as the Internal Revenue Service.
The agency takes this seriously and has created the IRS Identity Theft Protection Unit.
Protect yourself from having personal information used in the commission of fraud or other crimes by becoming aware of common scams.
Phony IRS emails: In a "phishing" scam, an official-looking email shows an IRS logo that lures the receiver to websites requesting personal and financial information. This includes Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers. But the IRS never sends unsolicited emails and doesn't use email to ask for detailed personal or financial information such as PINs, passwords or similar secret access information for credit cards or bank accounts. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers through email. The only genuine IRS website is www.IRS.gov.
Refund scam: In this type of crime, bogus emails tell recipients they are eligible to receive federal tax refunds for a given amount ($63.80) and direct them to a website to complete forms to submit tax refund requests. They then ask for personal and financial information. But the IRS does not notify taxpayers of refunds by email, and taxpayers do not have to complete special forms or provide detailed financial information to obtain refunds. Refunds are based on information reported on tax returns.
Antifraud Commission scam: Scammers send emails claiming the IRS "Antifraud Commission" has found that someone tried to pay their taxes on the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System using email recipients' credit cards and, as a result, some of the recipients' money was lost and the remaining funds were blocked. Emails include links that send recipients to websites where they are directed to enter personal and financial information to "unblock their funds." The IRS doesn't have an Antifraud Commission and does not have authority to freeze taxpayers' credit card or bank accounts due to potential theft or fraud perpetrated against them. And again, the IRS does not use email to initiate contact with taxpayers.
Other email scams from fraudulent people posing as IRS personnel include notifications of lottery winnings, notices that more than one return was filed by taxpayers and notification of W-2s received from unknown employers.
Taxpayers believing there is a risk of identity theft through lost or stolen personal information should contact the IRS so the agency can secure their tax accounts. Call the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 800-908-4490.
Original Print Headline: Tips help prevent identity theft
Tulsa World consumer writer Phil Mulkins wants to know which topics interest you. Call 918-699-8888, email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Tulsa World Consumer, P.O. Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.
Shredding documents is one of the most effective ways for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft, experts say. Associated Press file