As the new year arrives, it is the time that many of us will sit down and set a few goals and resolutions for ourselves. One of those resolutions should be to take some simple steps to protect yourself from identity theft.
Identity theft is one of the top complaints our office receives every year, and the numbers are growing. Thieves can steal your identity in any number of ways – both high-tech and low-tech. They could have gotten your information in one of the well-publicized computer security hacks of the past year. Or maybe they just dug through your trash and found an old credit card bill or bank statement.
When your identity is stolen, it can take months – or even years – to put the pieces of your financial life back together. The Kansas Attorney General Office’s consumer protection team will be there to help if that happens, but there are also a few simple steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim.
• Regularly change your passwords to all online banking and other accounts that may contain personal identifying information, including your email. The new year is a good time to review your passwords and decide which ones might need to be changed.
• Never provide personal financial information, including your Social Security number, account numbers or passwords, over the phone or the Internet if you did not initiate the contact.
• Never click on a link provided in an e-mail you believe is fraudulent.
• Don’t be intimidated by an e-mail or caller who suggests dire consequences if you do not immediately provide or verify financial information.
• If you believe the contact may be legitimate, contact the financial institution yourself. You can find phone numbers and Web sites on the monthly statements you receive from your financial institution, or you can look the company up in a phone book or on the Internet and contact them directly. To contact your credit card company, call the customer service number printed on the back of the card.
• Review account statements regularly to ensure all charges are correct. If your account statement is late in arriving, call your financial institution to find out why. If your financial institution offers electronic account access, periodically review activity online to catch suspicious activity.
• Securely destroy old personal documents you no longer need to keep. Use a paper shredder or take your documents to a secure document disposal company. Many banks offer this service to their customers – and our office will be offering opportunities later this spring during National Consumer Protection Week. Watch the AG’s website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org for more information on upcoming events.
Legitimate business people will allow you time to discuss an issue and to get experts involved — even the police — to make sure you are not getting scammed.
If you are not sure, tell them “no thanks” and send them on their way.
Always remember this elemental truth: If it seems too good to be true — it probably is.