Identity theft impacts thousands of Mainers each year. These easy steps could prevent it.
PORTLAND (WGME) — During National Consumer Protection Week, the CBS13 I-Team is highlighting ways to protect your money and identity.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 1,300 Mainers reported having their identity stolen in 2022. The number one report was for credit card fraud.
“It can take years to unravel the damage from identity theft because, very often, it goes unnoticed for some time,” said Jane Margesson with AARP. “By opening up credit cards and taking out loans they can do so much damage and steal a lot of money and your reputation.”
Every day you’re probably using some of your personal information, whether it’s by access money, logging on to social media and shopping online. With so much of that data out there, the experts say it’s become easier for criminals to exploit it.
I-Team Reporter Dan Lampariello – “A lot of people are probably thinking they’ll never become a victim to identity theft or to a scammer.”
Jane Margesson – “What I always says is please think again, because any of us could become victim to these crimes.”
Top Identity Theft Methods
- Credit Fraud. This happens when a criminal uses your personal information, such as birthdate and Social Security number, to apply for a new credit line.
- Tax Identity Fraud. Fraudsters can use your Social Security number to file a tax return and steal your tax refund or tax credit.
- Hacking. This is when a criminal accesses your personal information through a data breach of businesses, credit card companies and medical offices.
- Imposter Scam. Criminals often pose as real organizations by phone email or text to gain your trust and try to get you to turn over personal info.
- Stealing mail/documents. Fraudsters don’t just try to steal your identity online. Old school methods like stealing documents from your mail or trash are making a comeback.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
- Freeze your credit. This is the best protection against an identity thief using your data to open new lines of credit. It’s free to freeze your credit and unfreeze it when you want to open an account. We have details on how to do this below.
- Safeguard your Social Security number. That number is the mater key to your personal data and identity.
- Use strong passwords and 2-factor authentication. Don’t reuse passwords. Adding an authenticator app can reduce your risk.
- Check your statements & credit report regularly. This is easiest way to detect any suspicious activity early on.
- Shred, shred, shred. Any credit card, bank or investment statements that someone could fish out of your garbage. It’s also a good idea to junk mail, too, especially preapproved offers of credit.
How to Freeze your Credit
Contact each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — individually to freeze your credit.
You’ll need to supply your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information to request the freeze, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
A security freeze does impact your credit score and does not prevent you from getting access to your free annual credit report.
If you feel like you’ve become a victim of identity theft, the FTC has an entire website dedicated to helping you report it and recover it.
Have a consumer issue you want the CBS13 I-Team to investigate? Call their tip line at (207) 228-7713 or send an email to [email protected].