Last year, $16.9 billion was lost as a result of identity fraud according to the 2020 Identity Fraud Study from research and advisory firm Javelin. In the first half of 2020 alone, 571,188 identity theft reports were made to the Federal Trade Commission.
You may have heard the many commercials for identity theft protection. “Last night while Judy was asleep, Judy bought some nice dresses, a purse, some shoes, and $600 worth of toilet paper. Only, it wasn’t Judy who purchased these items. It was a person that stole her identity and used her information to buy those items online. Now Judy is not sleeping.”
There is no guaranteed way to keep from having your identity stolen or compromised. If it does happen, there is no panacea to make it better. Shielding your confidential information with no risk of a breakdown, is almost impossible these days.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are at home and online more than ever. Education, from elementary to Doctorate programs, are taught online. Instead of going to a restaurant to eat, you order everything through a phone app. Business is not conducted face-to-face in a building, it is now on platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Because of the increase the internet plays in our day to day lives, it should be no surprise that almost all the tax scams on the IRS Dirty Dozen list involve some form of identity theft. Either the scammer is pretending to be someone else, or they are trying to get access to your information. Consider all the information that is located on social media or on your smart phone. A criminal only needs to obtain a few items of personal information and he can begin.
There are some steps you can take to try and minimize the chance of becoming a victim of identity theft. Here are some suggestions to protect yourself, personally and professionally.
- Destroy private records and statements. Tear up or shred credit card statements, solicitations, and other documents that contain private financial information.
- Safeguard your social security number. Never carry your social security card with you, or any other card that may include your social security number, such as a health insurance card. Do not put your social security number on checks. It is the primary target of thieves, because it gives them access to your credit report and bank accounts.
- Do not leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card, or gas station receipts behind.
- Know who you are dealing with. Whenever someone contacts you asking for private identity or financial information, make no response other than to find out who they are, what company they represent, and the reason for the call. If you believe that the request is legitimate, hang up and contact the company yourself, using a number you sought out yourself. Confirm what you were told, before providing any confidential information.
- Take your name off marketers’ hit lists. In addition to the national Do-Not-Call registry (1-888-382-1222), you can also cut down on junk mail and opt out of credit card solicitations.
- Monitor your credit report. Obtain and thoroughly review your credit report at least once a year to check for suspicious activity (check for a free copy at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228). If you find something, alert the credit bureau and the creditor immediately. You may also consider credit protection services, which alert you any time a change takes place with your credit report.
Make a strong password and change it every 30 to 90 days. Don’t make a password so difficult that you need to use “Change Password” each time you sign in, but don’t make it easy for criminals either.
- Keep the antivirus and antimalware software on your computer up to date. This is especially important with more people working from home.
- As with your antivirus and malware software, be certain your computer system is up to date. Patches and updates should be applied to your operating systems. This is usually done through your information technology department.
- Keep up to date with your organization’s security policies. Check with your organization about their back up policies so that you do not lose important client data.
- As with your personal life, do not give out personal or business information unless it is an approved source.
With some commonsense actions and a little awareness, you can lessen your chance of becoming a victim of identification theft. But what happens if you do become a victim? The important thing is to remain calm. These are four suggestions to begin the path of reclaiming your identity:
- Call companies where you know fraud occurred.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
- You may even have to file a report with the police department.
If you do become a victim of identity theft, you should talk to your financial institutions to determine how best to avoid further damage. This may include closing and reopening accounts, even ones that have not been affected or compromised. It can be a tedious process but a necessary one to stop the criminal’s control of your identity and money.
At ADKF, our Department of Tax Controversy offers a variety of services and can assist if you feel that you have become a victim of identity theft. If you have any questions on how we may help, please do not hesitate to contact us at (210) 829-1300.