Tips & Advice

Identity Theft Can’t be Ignored

Presented by Larry Larsen, Director of Cyber Security

If you were to make a list of phrases that would frighten just about anyone, "identity theft" would probably be pretty close to the top of the list. It's bad enough to think of someone stealing our hard-earned cash, but to have a total stranger set up credit card accounts or fake tax returns using your personal information as a template? That's a terrible thing to deal with, and can be difficult to recover from.

Having your credit or debit card information stolen does not necessarily mean your identity was stolen; true identity theft requires a lot more of your personal information to cause damage. The thief must get his hands on your name, address, date and place of birth, and/or the crown jewel… your Social Security Number. With this information, he can create a whole new fraudulent version of you for his profit, which you end up paying for in stress, all the effort to recover from the theft, and perhaps in cash loss.

Unfortunately the threat is here to stay, as long as it's profitable.

A 2015 Identity Theft Resource Center study called identity theft, "the #1 consumer complaint for 15 consecutive years."

In many cases, the thief gets his hands on a child's personal information and builds a fraud profile with that; by the time the child grows up and the crime is discovered, the damage is done and the impact severe.

Here are six simple ways to protect yourself from identity theft:

  1. Never carry your Social Security card or number with you, or use it for identification purposes. This is the #1 piece of personal information that identity thieves are out to get.
  2. Use complex passwords on your banking and financial websites, at least 8 to 10 characters long or longer. Think of a favorite novel or movie, then replace letters with similar characters. For example, "Gone With the Wind" becomes "G0n3_W1th_th3_W1nd"; this type of format greatly increases the time it takes a thief to crack your password.
  3. Never use the same password for every website. If a thief learns one password, he will try it on every other website he thinks you use.
  4. Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit bureau accounts. You'll have to lift it to apply for new credit, but it will keep unauthorized people from applying for credit with your information, and alert you if they do. The three main bureaus charge $10 for this.
  5. Get in the habit of reviewing your financial accounts at least once or twice a month for suspicious charges. Look for small "tickler" charges of a few dollars; thieves often make these small transactions to confirm that the card works before they max out the credit limit or your bank account. You might also set up account alerts or use a service like CardValet.
  6. Get a credit report at least annually to make sure there are no errors, and review your children's account too.

If the worst happens and you think your identity has been stolen, contact Apple Member Services immediately and we will help lock down your credit and bank accounts, and then guide you on the road to recovery.