Protecting your identity

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There is a proverb that says a person’s good name is worth more than silver or gold. No one knows that better than identity thieves and they are ready to cash in on yours.

In 2015, nearly half a million Americans reported that their identities had been stolen, according to the Federal Trade Commission. It’s the second most common complaint the FTC receives. Texas is ranked 8th for the number of identity theft complaints per capita.

Scammers can get ahold of your personal information in a variety of ways. Some may use ID found in a stolen wallet. Others may use a fake web link to download malware on a computer to steal information. Others may hack an email password to get a goldmine of personal data. Some may even dig through the trash to find sensitive documents.

To avoid falling victim to identity theft, BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin recommends  consumers shred all sensitive documents, never carry their social security card, never give out personal information over the phone or to unknown people and avoid suspicious links.

It’s important to check your credit report regularly for suspicious activity. Under federal law, you can check your credit report for free once a year at www.annualcreditreport.com. You should also monitor your bank and credit card statements carefully for unauthorized activity.

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

Watch for these warning signs that your identity may have been compromised:

  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks or your credit or debit card is declined.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar charges or accounts on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan suddenly rejects your legitimate claims because they say you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • Your health plan says you have medical conditions you don’t have.
  • The IRS says you have filed for more than one tax return or says you have income from employers you don’t work for.
  • You get a notice that a company you do business with has suffered a data breach.

If your wallet is lost or stolen, or your account is hacked, there are some important steps you can take to protect your identity.

And if you suspect your identity has been stolen, the FTC has recently launched a new website, identitytheft.gov that can help you navigate how to get your good name back.

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