Pittsburgh, PA - Due to a recent identity theft scheme discovered in Western PA that potentially affects thousands of people, your Better Business Bureau is reminding consumers of the steps to take in limiting your chance of becoming a victim of identity theft and what to do if your identity is compromised.
According to the indictment filed with the U.S. District Court in Erie, five defendants used stolen identities to file thousands of fraudulent tax returns and open bank accounts and credit cards. Since 2005, it is believed the alleged actions cost the United States Treasury approximately $10 million.
“The damage done by identity thieves can sometimes take years to reverse,” says Warren King, president of the Better Business Bureau of Western PA. “It’s important to keep a close watch on your finances and credit, and act quickly if you spot anything suspicious.”
To verify your identity is secure:
1. Check your credit report at least once per year. There is only one source authorized to give you ONE FREE annual credit file disclosure per year from each of the three consumer credit reporting companies: call 877-322-8228 or visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com.
2. Review your credit report for errors. When reviewing your credit report, look for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently.
3. Closely monitor your bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized transactions. Crooks with your account number generally start with small transactions to see if you’ll notice.
Additional habits to safeguard your identity include:
1. Cut up expired credit and debit cards. Make sure to cut through the numbers.
2. Shred statements and applications you get in the mail that you don’t want to keep, including credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, billing statements for utilities, phone service, etc.
3. Protect your Social Security number, all account numbers and passwords. Don’t carry these numbers in your wallet. Beware of unsolicited e-mails and phone calls if someone asks for the numbers.
4. Secure personal documents at home. If you have roommates or visitors in your home, make sure personal documents are in a safe place and not in plain sight.
5. Minimize personal information printed on checks. You don’t need to include your Social Security number, driver’s license or phone number.
6. Pay attention to billing cycles. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors.
7. Don’t create obvious passwords. Avoid using your birth date, child’s name or birth date, mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
8. Keep your computer system, browser and anti-virus software up to date. If doing business online, use your own computer and a secure Internet connection, public computers and free Wi-Fi connections are less secure.
9. Never use email to communicate sensitive personal information. Don’t respond to emails asking to verify your personal information and identifiers. Neither your bank, credit card company, online payment system nor the IRS will call or email asking you for confidential information. They already have it.
If your identity is compromised:
-Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by calling one of the three credit reporting bureaus. The company you call must then call the other two bureaus to advise them of the fraud alert.
-File a police report.
-If it is tax-related fraud, contact the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit at 1-800-908-4490.
Acting quickly is the best way to limit damage when you suspect someone is misusing your information. For more business and consumer tips on preventing identity theft, visit our website, bbb.org.
BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews, charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 113 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4.5 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit bbb.org for more information about the BBB System.