Identity Theft: Warning Signs and How to Protect Yourself
An increasing concern in this age of technology is the threat of identity theft. Scammers have a variety of methods to deceive you into giving up your information. While there is no guaranteed safeguard to protect you from identity theft, there are various means to protect yourself as much as possible, most of which involve heavy monitoring. Here we will go over some of the common forms of identity theft, warnings signs, and ways to protect yourself.
Credit Identity Theft
The most common type of theft involves setting up a credit line using your information. The FTC’s Data Book from 2020 revealed a 48% increase in new fraudulent accounts opened from 2019 to 2020. Thankfully, from 2020 to 2021 there was a 1% decrease in fraudulent accounts opened (though 363,092 reports of fraud are still an alarming number). For NJ residents who have been a victim of fraud, 38% of reports were for credit card theft.
Unexpected changes in your credit score or debt collection notices are the biggest red flags to indicate you may be the victim of theft.
Government Benefits Theft
Between fraudulently applying for Social Security and stealing personal information for stimulus checks, 2020 saw a 2,920% increase in government benefits theft.
Scammers may call you to either notify you that your Social Security benefits have been suspended or require you to make a payment to resume your benefits.
Tax Return Theft
Return theft usually occurs when someone uses your personal to file a tax return to claim a fraudulent refund.
While the IRS will never contact you via phone, e-mail, or social media, there are various red flags to be aware of:
- You get a letter from the IRS inquiring about a suspicious tax return that you did not file.
- You can’t e-file your tax return because of a duplicate Social Security number.
- You get a tax transcript in the mail that you did not request.
- You get an IRS notice that an online account has been created in your name.
- You get an IRS notice that your existing online account has been accessed or disabled when you took no action.
- You get an IRS notice that you owe additional tax or refund offset, or that you have had collection actions taken against you for a year you did not file a tax return.
- IRS records indicate you received wages or other income from an employer you didn’t work for.
- You’ve been assigned an Employer Identification Number, but you did not request an EIN
Scammers may try to deceive you to give up personal information to access financial accounts, change your password, and lock you out so you no longer have access.
The most common form of this type of fraud is receiving an e-mail or letter from a financial institution requesting that you take action for a password change or transaction.
Safeguards to Consider
While there is no guaranteed of 100% protection against identity theft there are various actions you can take to better protect yourself:
- Never click on suspicious e-mails, links, or messages. You should be 100% sure that the email you receive is from someone you trust AND the email should look like something that person would send. Phishing scams occur very often and can be an easy gateway for scammers to access any online account. Using a password manager (like Last Pass) and setting up two-factor authentication are one of the best ways to ensure you are protected. More about this in our previous blog.
- Protect your Social Security Number. Scammers use a variety of methods to extract this from you. Once compromised, they have the potential to do serious damage to your identity. Setting up an account on the ssa.gov site and checking it often is one of the more common measures to take. More information about Social Security benefits fraud can be found on our previous blog.
- Freezing your credit from any of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Transunion, Equifax) and setting up e-mail/text alerts for any activity on your bank/credit card accounts are an efficient way of notifying you of any suspicious activity.
- Be careful about taking phone calls from people you do not know. If someone calls you unsolicited you should never give them information over the phone.
Identity theft can occur to anyone at any time. Taking measures to ensure you do not become a victim is the best way to protect from any serious damage to your well-being.
Weingarten Associates is an independent, fee-only Registered Investment Advisor in Lawrenceville, New Jersey serving Princeton, NJ as well as the Greater Mercer County/Bucks County region. We make a difference in the lives of our clients by providing them with exceptional financial planning, investment management, and tax advice.