Be proactive in protecting your identity, learn how to spot fraud

This was originally published on Monday, April 18 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Q: I recently received a letter in the mail from my employer stating that my personal information may have been compromised.

They tried to ease my anxiety by informing me that they will be monitoring my information for the next five years looking for any signs of identity theft.

I want to be more proactive but do not know where to start.

Could you offer some advice?

A: Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes worldwide. Technology has moved us into a whole new world when it comes to finances, socializing and shopping.

We place so much personal information online that we are very susceptible to having our identity stolen.

The United States Department of Justice defines identity theft and identity fraud as “types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”

Identity theft can cause a lot of stress and lost hours trying to correct it, not to mention a strain on your job and credit.

There are several types of identity theft.

  • Financial identity theft. This theft is the most familiar and most heard of. Financial accounts are compromised and money is taken from accounts and unauthorized purchases are made on credit cards.
  • Tax-related identity theft. This type of theft occurs when a Social Security number is used to get a job or for tax purposes or when a Social Security number is used to file for a tax return in another state.
  • Medical identity theft. This occurs when health insurance numbers or policies are used to receive medical attention, prescription drugs or to file a claim with an insurance provider.
  • Child identity theft. A minor’s Social Security number is misused to open bank accounts or credit cards, or to apply for a loan, utilities, or government benefits.
  • Criminal identity theft. A crime is committed using another person’s name.

Many people do not know that their identity has been stolen until it is too late and the damage is quite extensive. There are several red flags that one can spot that could indicate that you are a victim of identity theft. Some include the following:

  • Credit score. Your report shows inaccurate personal information or unfamiliar accounts and/or your credit score is lower than you think it should be. Take a closer look at what is bringing your score down. If you see unusual activity, start repairing it right away. Contact the company or companies that are reporting to the credit agencies.
  • Mail. Not receiving your mail, especially your utility bills and bank statements, or receiving mail from banks or services from which you did not apply are both signs that you may have had your identity stolen.
  • Unauthorized purchase/debt. You are receiving phone calls from debt collectors regarding debts that are not yours or unauthorized purchases on your debit/credit cards. Medical providers are sending you bills for services you did not receive.
  • Loan application. You apply for a loan or credit card and receive a very high interest rate offer or you are denied.
  • Tax return. The IRS has called to inform you that you filed more than one tax return in a year or you failed to file in a particular year.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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