Randy and I do what we can to keep our personal information safe. Our credit card account is checked weekly for suspicious activity, I do not relinquish my credit card to anybody, my wallet is clutched securely to my bosom on the rare occasion I visit a big city (like Portland), or anywhere there are crowds of people.
A few posts ago, I mentioned that Randy and I pulled our credit reports and discovered credit card accounts that had been fraudulently opened using our Social Security Numbers. We discovered that, for each of us, numerous attempts have been made to open various accounts ~ all starting in January of this year. Most, but not all, of these ‘hits’ were from ‘mall stores’ : Forever 21, The Sunglass Hut, Macy’s, and the like.
In our efforts to straighten this mess out, Randy and I discovered that there are some banks, who shall remain nameless, that have set a very low bar, if any bar at all, on the requirements to open a credit account. The four accounts that were successfully, but fraudulently, opened used old addresses and phone numbers where we hadn’t lived in a million years. Okay, ten years. The credit limits are low, in and around five hundred dollars, the amounts charged are small. Fifty bucks here, twenty there, a hundred next. It all seems rather minor until you realize that all these ‘hard hits’, whether an account is opened or not, drops your credit score substantially.
Facts on New Account Fraud, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) :
- With the introduction of the credit card chip technology in 2015, it is more difficult for cards to be counterfeited, thus, there has been a new focus on new account fraud.
- 2015 saw an ‘astronomical’ rise in the number of Social Security numbers exposed and on the black market because of high profile breaches.
- That number of Social Security numbers floating around and in the hands of identity thieves is estimated to exceed 165 million.
- In 2015, new account fraud was more than double what was reported in 2014.
- Thirty percent of the people asked in ITRC’s questionnaire had no clue that their Social Security numbers are critical pieces of identity theft.
- According to their survey (where each person participating was a victim of identity fraud), the most common way that Social Security numbers ended up in the wrong hands is because the victim willing handed it over.
- Responding to a phishing email is another way people willingly offered their personal information.
So, what is a law-abiding, hard working person to do to protect themselves?
First and foremost ~ Be extremely cautious to whom you give your important personal information to.
Secondly, get in the habit of checking over your your credit report yearly. The Federal Government allows each of us to receive a free credit report from each of the three credit (*) reporting agencies. An easy way to get all three reports at once is at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Keep an eye on your credit score. If your credit score takes a dive for no apparent reason, you need to do some investigation. Credit Karma is a good (and free) site to use to do this. Or, just shell out the money for another credit report.
You may opt to put a ‘credit freeze’ on your report. Depending on how old you are and where you live this may cost a few bucks. And you do have to fill out the ‘freeze’ paperwork with all three (*) credit reporting agencies. In a nutshell, with a credit freeze, you are issued a pin number. Anytime anyone attempts to access your credit, the reporting agency has to obtain that pin number in order for the information to be released. The Federal Trade Commission has a FAQs page on credit freezes, which can be accessed here : Credit Freeze FAQs
I would suggest that if you do find an account that you believe to be fraudulently opened, call the bank involved. Randy and I had better results talking to their fraud departments than we did filing a dispute with the credit reporting agency.
Randy and I not only have put credit freezes on our reports, we have also activated fraud alerts. One of the banks involved has completed its investigation and has determined that it is in fact a fraudulent account. The account has been closed, and cleared from my credit report and, obviously, I have not been held liable for the balance. My credit score has already jumped up one hundred points.
One down, three more to go. This has been a more than a bit of stress and aggravation. I certainly don’t want to go through it again.
Oh, and one more tidbit of knowledge ~ the FTC also has information about opting out of pre-approved credit and insurance offers. Here is that link for more information : Prescreened Credit and Insurance Offers
(*) Experian, Equifax & TransUnion