Have you ever received an e-mail from a prince in Nigeria asking you to wire a small amount to receive in return a large sum of money? Have you ever been asked to write down your e-mail address for a free raffle? Have you ever thrown in the garbage a promotional letter or statement with your full name and address printed on the face of the letter?
If you answered yes to one of the above questions, or even if you did not, you could still become a victim of identity theft, which may lead to fraud.
Victims of identity theft and fraud in the United States come in all shapes and sizes. Immigrants are no exception and sometimes are easy prey due to excessive trust, misinformation or lack of fluency in the English language. Once a victim of identity theft, a person may be impacted in unimaginable ways. A criminal who gets a hold of a person’s sensitive information (i.e. social security number, bank account numbers, credit card numbers), can commit crimes that may cause the victim to lose their money or ruin their established credit history.
On the one hand, a criminal may use personal data to gain access to a person’s financial accounts and steal money. This is a problem that may be noticed by the victim right away, and through a claim and investigation, could be solved by the financial institution. On the other hand, a more serious incident would be when criminals steal information to obtain a loan or credit. This is more difficult to dispute and usually, victims are unaware of the incident until after several months or even years.
Although it is impossible to be 100% protected from identity theft and fraud, and the fact that criminals are using advanced technologies and schemes, there are some useful tips to keep in mind to protect you and your family from cyber criminals:
- Never reply to an e-mail from an unknown and questionable source.
- Do not believe you’re the winner of a prize or that a prince abroad needs your help to bring a fortune to the U.S.
- Do not respond directly to links provided in an e-mail, even if they come from your bank or credit card company. Go directly to their website, call the company or visit a banking center.
- Finally, your bank or credit card company will never ask you for your password or full account number via e-mail.
- When using your debit/check card, try to always use it as credit and avoid using your pin number.
- At ATM’s, cover the keypad when entering your pin and make sure you hit clear or cancel after your transaction is complete.
- If you feel an ATM has been altered do NOT use it and report it to your financial institution.
- When you receive promotional offers in the mail or even your bank statements, do not throw them in the mail with your full information.
- Try shredding the materials or tear them in pieces prior to disposing of them. This also applies to labels in shipments such as Amazon or any other mail orders.
- Do not carry your social security card with you unless necessary, and do not write down your social security number, bank account numbers, or pin numbers in easily accessible places.
- Do not say out loud your social security number or account number in public places. Be very discreet when verbally offering your personal information.
- Close Internet browsers after using them, especially if you visited your online banking, made an online purchase, or any other page where you entered personal information.
- Regularly clear cookies and delete browsing history.
- Place your cursor above web addresses to confirm that you’re visiting a legitimate page. For example, when visiting Amazon.com, the displayed address should read just that and not other unidentified web address.
- Change your personal passwords regularly as well. Some systems require a password change every 3-6 months.
- Get your credit report at least once a year and be aware of recent credit activity you may not recognize. Project Prosper recommends that you use www.annualcreditreport.com to retrieve your free credit report.