Straight Talk: Key steps to avoid identity theft

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Scams are designed to either steal your money, or steal your identity in order to steal your money later. Scammers have all kinds of techniques to collect personally identifiable information. Once they have it, they can become you, using your identity to open accounts, file taxes or obtain medical coverage.

How identity theft scams work

With enough information, a scammer can take over your identity and commit a wide range of crimes. They are capable of making false applications for loans and credit cards, withdraw money from your bank account, or obtain services in your name. They can also sell your information to others on the internet.

Identity theft may take a long time to detect. Scammers typically ensure that bills and statements for new accounts are not sent to your address. You may not notice what is happening until the scammer has already inflicted substantial damage on your assets, credit, and reputation.

If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, it is very important to act quickly. Visit www.identitytheft.gov for more information on how to stop and recover from identity theft.

Tips to spot this scam

  • Look for unexplained withdrawals, charges, and accounts. Review your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Look for unfamiliar charges, accounts, or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; one tip-off for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Debt collectors may call you about debts that aren’t yours. You can also set up automatic alerts on your accounts so you are notified every time a transaction is made.

  • Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. You have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only free crediting reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out across the year to know fairly quickly if something is wrong.

Protect yourself against this scam

  • Be careful with your personal information. Shred any documents that have your bank account information, Social Security number, or other personal information. These include credit card applications, insurance forms, financial statements, health forms, and billing statements from utilities and phone services. Cut up expired credit and debit cards, making sure to cut through the numbers, before you dispose of them.

  • Secure personal documents at home. If you have roommates, employ outside help, or have contractors in your home, make sure personal documents are in a safe place. Minimize personal information on checks and never include your Social Security number, driver’s license, or phone number.

  • Be alert to phishing attempts. Scammers are sophisticated; their phishing attempts may come via email, text, social media message, or even phone calls. Be suspicious of any unsolicited communication asking for personal information. Whether it's a supposed tech support call, an offer for a free cruise, or a charity plea, they may be after your personal information.

For BBB Information – To report a scam, go to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your experience can help others avoid falling victim. Visit BBB.org or call 330-454-9401 to look up a business, file a complaint, write a customer review, read tips, follow us on social media, and more!

BBB'S Shred and e-Cycle event

Your BBB plans a freecommunity event for consumers and businesses to safely dispose of personal documents and unwanted electronics. For more information, go to the shortened link, bit.ly/OHWVSHRED,  or call 330-454-9401.

Where: Dover

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 30

Site: Buehler’s parking lot, 3000 N. Wooster Ave. in Dover.

This article originally appeared on The Alliance Review: Straight Talk: Key steps to avoid identity theft