Identity thieves use a variety of methods to misrepresent who they are, exploit your trust and persuade you to reveal confidential information.
Knowing the warning signs and how to protect your identity can help minimize your risk.
What is identity theft?
Identity thieves acquire key pieces of your confidential information, such as your name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and mother's maiden name, to commit fraud.
With this information, an identity thief can take over your financial accounts, open new bank accounts, purchase automobiles, apply for loans, credit cards and Social Security benefits, rent apartments, and establish services with utility and phone companies, all in your name.
Common methods of identity theft
Most identity thieves use the same bag of tricks:
- Stealing your wallet, purse or checkbook
- Removing mail from your mailbox, either incoming or outgoing
- Going through your trash
- Hacking into computers that contain your personal or financial data
- Calling you under false pretenses to get you to reveal sensitive information over the phone
- Tricking you with emails and fraudulent websites that appear legitimate, aka "phishing"
Review and shred your statements
The most important way for you to protect your good name is to monitor your financial accounts. That way you can spot any suspicious activity as soon as it occurs. Try choosing a time to do this on a regular basis, like when your monthly statements arrive.
When you're done reviewing your paper documents, put them in the shredder. This means your receipts, financial statements, documents or bank statements, including credit card bills—literally everything. Once you make this a habit, you can rest a lot easier.
Follow the latest digital security practices
As technology advances, so do scammers. To keep ahead of them, you should follow these tips:
- Install antivirus software and keep it up to date.
- Download software and mobile apps from reputable sources.
- Never disclose your personal information, like your account number, user ID or password, by text message.
- Never respond to phone or text messages alerting you about blocked accounts, in particular. BB&T alerts do not send "blocked account" messages.
- Report suspicious phone or text messages to BB&T, as well as your mobile service provider.
- Remember there's a difference between unsolicited text messages like those used in these scams and legitimate account updates from BB&T.
- Inform BB&T about any online or mobile banking applications that appear to be malicious.
- Register your home and cellular phone numbers with the Federal Do Not Call Registry by calling 888-382-1222.
Protect your child
It's important to check your child's credit report as well as your own. A child's Social Security number can be used to open bank accounts, credit cards or apply for loans.
Many schools require a child's personal information. You should ask how it's being collected, used, stored and discarded.
Here are some important ways to limit the risk of child identity theft:
- Understand that federal law gives parents of school-age children the right to opt out of allowing schools to share contact or other directory information with third parties, including other families.
- Pay attention to forms from school that ask for personal information. Find out how information will be used, whether it'll be shared and, if so, with whom.
- Read notices from your child's school. They're required to send annual notices explaining your rights under the Federal Family Educational Rights Act (FERPA), including your right to review education records and to correct errors in the records.
- Consider the programs, such as sports and music activities, that your child is involved with. They may have websites where children are pictured and named. Read their privacy policies and find out if your child's information will be used or shared.
- Check your child's credit report when they turn 16. Review the report for any errors due to fraud or misuse. Doing so may allow time for corrections before the child applies for a loan, job or apartment rental.
If you've been a victim of identity theft, the following steps will help minimize your liability:
Notify the major credit agencies
Contact any one of the major credit reporting agencies immediately to request a fraud alert be placed on your credit report, and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
Once you've called any one of these agencies, you don't need to call the others. They notify each other when an individual requests a fraud alert.
Notify your creditors, the local police and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Contact any other grantors of credit about the fraud, and file a police report.
Report the fraud to the FTC at 877-438-4338 (TDD: 202-326-2502). The FTC is the clearinghouse for identity theft complaints. Filing a report with them can help protect you from being held responsible for fraudulent charges on your accounts.
Document your efforts
Keep a detailed record of all events related to your identity theft. This includes details of the scam itself as well as the steps you take to resolve it.
Include names, telephone numbers and the date and time you made contact with individuals or companies for assistance.
Keep the originals and make copies of your documents for others.
Protect yourself from scams that could trick you into providing confidential information, and learn what to do if you do get "phished."
Protect your computer
Your electronic devices require increasingly higher levels of security. Education, discretion and vigilance are fundamental.
Protecting your mail
The mail you receive and send includes information that thieves and other scam artists find valuable.
Document shredding and retention guidelines
Protect your personal and confidential information by disposing of sensitive documents in the right way at the right time.