The Villages Voice - June 2015

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Identity Theft Protection Tools and Tips

by Bryan Lifsey, Office Manager Seniors Vs. Crime

Identity Theft Protection Tools and Tips  There was a time when identify theft seemed a distant threat and identity theft protection was something you heard about but probably thought you didn't need.  Those days are long gone! Latest estimates suggest the personal information of more than 13 million Americans ends up in the hands of criminals every year.  Every two seconds another person falls victim. The crime takes on many guises.  More common forms are claiming benefits and tax refunds using forged documents, the use of stolen credit and debit card numbers for fraudulent purchases, and taking out loans and other forms of credit in a victim's name. And it's not just the financial cost that victims suffer but also the sheer pain of trying to put things right. In a worst case, it can take years to sort out. So, what can, and should, you be doing to protect yourself? Below are some keys that Identity Theft Protection experts recommend.  If you do all of the things listed below, you could substantially reduce the risk of falling victim to identity theft.  BUT you can never completely eliminate that risk.
  1. Get educated. There are stacks of free resources available online to keep you up to date about current risks.
  Scambusters (http://www.scambusters.org/identitytheft.html ) regularly publish issues on the subject to supplement their Identity Theft Information Center. You can also sign up for alerts and get more information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft). The IRS also offers help and advice, which is particularly important in what is turning out to be another busy year for identity-related tax fraud (http://www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection-Tips). If you're a savvy computer user and really interested, you could also set up a Google news alert based on the phrase "identity theft" and Google will send you a list of key stories every day containing the phrase.
  1. Be cautious. Any time you use your card, online or off, sign on to your web accounts or give information about yourself, including your Social Security number, think about who you're giving it to.
Do you know this individual or company? Are you sure they are who they say they are? Are you on a secure Internet page that uses "https" in the address? When you insert a card into an ATM, check for signs of tampering (a ‘skimmer’).
  1. Be secure. Use and regularly update security software on your PC. Carry any RFID-enabled credit or debit cards in a protective sleeve.
  1. Be vigilant. Keep a very close eye on what's happening to your account by monitoring online and paper statements.
This is especially important if you receive a notification that your personal information may have been stolen in a hack attack. Remember too, to get your free annual credit report from each of the Big Three credit bureaus.
  1. Get help. Increasingly, individuals are turning to monitoring and safeguarding services that employ all the latest security techniques that can stop identity thieves in their tracks, identify attempts to use your ID, or help with the laborious corrective process if you're already a victim.
Many credit card companies and banks offer this sort of service but we don't recommend them because they're costly and often not comprehensive enough in their scope. Instead, consider a specialist service. There are many of these, offering a range of services for monthly subscription rates. The good ones include monitoring your status and credit applications with the Big Three bureaus, use of your credit cards, Social Security number and driver's license, address changes, public records, and bank account activity. Many of them also offer insurance in some form of guarantee against theft and a few of them even come with their own internet security software. If you've been sitting on the sidelines wondering if you should be doing more for identity theft protection, now is the time to act -- it's no longer a case of "if" but "when." Clever scam artists are always finding new ways to con people.  As long as you stay informed, you can remain one step ahead of the scammers. No one will watch out for your interests better than YOU.  When in doubt as to what you can to do to protect your interests, contact your nearest Seniors Vs. Crime office in The Villages for advice or assistance.  There is never a charge for their services. Seniors Vs. Crime can be reached at 352-753-7775 at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in The Villages; 352-689-4600, Extension 4606 at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office in The Villages; or 352-750-1914 at the Wildwood Police Annex at Brownwood in The Villages.  Volunteers at all three offices are ready, willing and able to assist you.  To keep up with the latest scams, LIKE ‘Seniors vs. Crime Region 4’ on Face Book. Bryan Lifsey, Office Manager Seniors Vs. Crime  Editors Note:  The Seniors Vs. Crime office located at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Annex on CR-466 also serves Lady Lake-Lake County residents.