Identity theft can happen to anyone, anywhere

The nationwide identity theft epidemic hit home, recently.

A couple of weeks ago, an automated service alerted me of some unusual activity on my wife’s debit card.

Someone attempted an 80-cent charge from a store in Florida; a $1 charge at a Georgia Walmart; and a series of five consecutive $99.99 charges at another Walmart.

For a brief time, the 80-cent charge showed pending on the list of daily bank transactions.

My wife called our local bank, which quickly flagged the fraudulent transactions, hot-carded her debit card and issued a new one. When she called the store in Florida, the company representative said they sell no items of that price, nor is the charge showing in their system.

Fortunately, we were only out $17 total — $10 to immediately stop the transactions and $7 for a new card.

It could have been much worse. Had we not caught the fraudulent activity in time, we could have been out several hundred dollars.

Thankfully, the fraud protection system worked and prevented a loss of at least $500, probably more.

Having five children, there’s not a lot of disposable income, so the family budget would have taken a pretty substantial hit.

What’s strange, Kristy has never given out the card number over the phone, and it mostly stays in her purse, unless she’s swiping it at a store or using it online to pay a bill or make a purchase — something she has done for years with no issue.

It’s a real mystery how anyone got ahold of the card number. Maybe the culprit had one of those scanners that lifts the card information, even with it seemingly tucked away safely in a wallet or purse. What is clear: identity thieves are becoming more and more clever.

Whatever the method he or she used, for us, the incident was a wake-up call. I looked up a few tips to avoid identity theft.

According to the Federal Trade Commission a few ways to keep one’s personal information safe include:

— Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.

— Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security card at home. Make a copy of your Medicare card and black out all but the last four digits on the copy. Carry the copy with you — unless you are going to use your card at the doctor’s office.

— Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask why they need it, how they will safeguard it, and the consequences of not sharing.

— Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards and similar documents when you don’t need them any longer.

— Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.

— Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail.

— When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.

— Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently.

The FTC also offers clues that someone has stolen one’s identity:

— 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.

— Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.

— You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.

— Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.

— Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.

— A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.

— The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.

— You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

As the commercial says, it’s not a matter of if, but when identity theft will strike. It can happen to anyone, at anytime.

mbrasfield@couriernews.net

Article source: http://www.couriernews.net/story/2096765.html

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