Identity theft has become more prevalent in recent years and has seen even more of a surge with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although there is no way to completely protect yourself from any and all potential threats, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk. In this paper, we outline tips for protecting your identity and provide guidance on steps to take if your identity has been compromised.
Protecting Your Identity
- Use passwords that contain a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are not easy to guess and avoid using the same password for multiple sites. Password managers such as LastPass offers both free and paid memberships to store and generate passwords.
- Review your credit report periodically to ensure there is no fraudulent activity. You are entitled to receive one free copy of your credit report each year, from each agency. You should not need to provide payment information to access these. Monitoring services such as LifeLock or Credit Karma can also assist with this and are relatively inexpensive.
- Set alerts on your credit cards to receive immediate notifications if your card is not present for a transaction, is used in a location outside your home area, etc. Review your statements each month as well.
- Review your homeowner’s insurance policy to determine if it includes coverage for identity theft. If it does not, consider adding that coverage for additional protection.
- Never give out your Social Security number, account PINs or other account verification information requested from unsolicited or unknown callers. If in doubt, hang up and call the institution back using a verified phone number you are confident is correct (i.e., shown directly on a statement rather than calling back a number left in a voicemail).
What to do if Your Identity is Compromised
Report the Fraud
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission. This can be done online.
- Report the fraud to one of the credit agencies. Any agency you choose will share the alert with the other two agencies. Instructions and contact information for the agencies can be found on the Federal Trade Commission website. The alert will remain active for one year.
- It is also important to report the fraud to your professional advisors so they can be extra diligent in the management of your affairs. This includes your financial advisor, accountant, attorney and banking professionals, as well as the custodians for any investment accounts you have.
- If you believe your Social Security number was compromised, report the fraud to both the Social Security Administration and the IRS. Reporting to the Social Security Administration can be done online, while reporting to the IRS must be done by completion of an Affidavit. Residents of some states, including Washington and California, can also choose to opt-in for an Identity Protection PIN from the IRS as an additional layer of protection. If your identity is compromised, the IRS will issue you an Identity Protection PIN regardless of state of residence.
Freeze Your Credit
- This will prevent anyone except your current lenders from pulling your credit reports, effectively ensuring that no new lines of credit are opened in your name. You can unfreeze your credit at any time by calling the credit agencies.
- A credit freeze needs to be requested with each agency individually. This differs from credit alerts, which will automatically cross agencies.
Monitor Your Accounts
- Alert your bank and credit card companies of the theft. Request new cards and/or new PINs where appropriate.
- Monitor your bank accounts and credit cards carefully for fraudulent charges, for at least a few months following the theft. Most credit cards allow you to set various transaction alerts that can assist with this.
Change Your Passwords
- Change your passwords on all your accounts, particularly financial accounts. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass to help generate unique, strong passwords for various sites.
Other Action Items
- If your identity was fraudulently used to apply for unemployment benefits, report the fraud to your state’s employment agency and to your employer. This can be done online for Washington and California. Oregon residents can either report fraud by phone or by email.
- If your Social Security number has been compromised, notify the Social Security Administration of misuse. If you are unsure whether your Social Security number has been compromised, the prudent approach is to report the identity theft, which can be done online.
- Consider filing a report with your local police department. This can be helpful in recovering any money lost due to fraud and may even be required by some businesses.
- If you experience medical identity theft, request copies of your records from each medical provider and review them carefully. Note that there may be a small fee to obtain full records. To ensure you are obtaining records from all medical providers, you can request a copy of the accounting disclosures for your records. You can then request corrections to your records by writing to each medical provider, outlining the errors and corrections needed, and providing a copy of your identity theft report or police report.
If you have been the victim of identity theft, your Freestone Client Advisor can help you with the process of alerting Schwab and other investment custodians. Your Advisor can also provide guidance and additional resources if you have questions or concerns regarding your identity protection or ways to enhance your personal security.
Additional Online Resources
Identity Theft Reporting Information & Guidance: https://www.identitytheft.gov/
Requesting a free credit report: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
Credit Freeze FAQs: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs
Important Disclosures: This article is provided for informational purposes only and you should not be relied upon for any legal advice or recommendations regarding identity theft and cybersecurity. The intention of this article is educational, and it is intended only to discuss a few limited aspects of identity theft. This article is not a comprehensive or complete summary of considerations regarding its subject matter. The third-party hyperlinks included in this article are from sources independent of Freestone and Freestone affiliates. Freestone did not approve or endorse any of the articles provided by the third-party hyperlinks. Each individual is in a different situation and has different items to address, and the options in this article are not appropriate for everyone. Please consult your Freestone client advisor and a lawyer regarding options specific to your needs.