5 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft

Beth AtkinsonFraud Awareness

The 2016 Identity Fraud Study found that $15 billion was stolen from 13.1 million U.S. consumers in 2015. These cases include identity theft, fraud complaints and other consumer complaints.

The holiday season is the most common time of year for consumers to experience fraud. What are you doing to protect your assets? What about your online accounts? Your identity? How do you protect your business against fraud?

These 5 practices can help protect you and your family against fraud and identity theft.

  1. Review your credit report regularly.
    This is one of the most effective ways to detect fraud early.Your credit report will identify all of your open and closed credit accounts, credit inquiries, collections records and payment timeliness history. By reviewing this information regularly, you’ll be able to identify discrepancies that affect your credit score. For instance, accounts that have been erroneously or unlawfully opened in your name.Individuals are able to get a free credit report every 12 months from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion by going to annualcreditreport.com. We recommend reviewing your credit report 2-3 times per year.
  2. Protect your computer and mobile device.
    Cyberfraud is the fastest growing form of identity and financial theft across the world. And with the rapid adoption of mobile devices and apps as forms of payment, it won’t slow down any time soon.Be sure to have safeguards in place to protect your computer and mobile devices. Use anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software and update them often. These three precautions can protect against intrusions and infections that compromise your files or passwords.Be cognizant of files, links or programs sent by strangers (often called phishing attacks). These files can expose your system to viruses or spyware that capture your passwords or other sensitive information.Here are a few additional quick tips regarding online and cyber security:
    • Encrypt your data on your phone, laptop and desktop computers.
    • Ensure your Wi-Fi network is set-up securely and don’t share sensitive information or access sensitive sites on unsecured, public Wi-Fi networks.
    • Use complex passwords that are different, difficult and include multiple character types.
    • Be wise about social sharing. Don’t accept friend invites from people you don’t personally know or share updates on when you’ll be out of town.
  3. Read your account and billing statements.
    Many people never look at their bank or credit card statements; this is especially common with the increasing move to eStatements.It’s important to identify what credit lines you have open by running a credit report, and then watching for the statements and reviewing them each reporting period.Reviewing these statements allows you to catch charges you didn’t make, accounts you didn’t open or fees you shouldn’t be getting charged. If you do notice any suspicious activity, contact the credit company immediately to correct errors before they reach your credit report.


  1. Keep important papers secure.
    While eStatements and online banking are gaining popularity, most financial and medical records still have physical paperwork. Ensure these papers are secure by having a designated, locked space at work and home for sensitive documents.Shred documents with any personally identifiable information on it, never throw them in the trash. This includes receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, medical records, bank statements, expired charge cards and similar documents.Are you getting a lot of “pre-screened” offers of credit in the mail? Consider opting out of these offers for five years, or permanently. Visit optoutprescreen.com to opt out. This will minimize your junk mail and your vulnerability to fraud!
  2. Secure your Social Security Number.
    There are certain instances in which you must share your SSN – for instance when you’re getting a new job, applying for a loan or renting an apartment. But other times, it’s not necessary to share your SSN number, even if a business requests it. Ask if you can use another form of identification. Also ask why they need it, how it will be used, how they will protect it and what happens if you don’t share your number.Also, unless you need to show someone proof of your SSN, do not carry your Social Security Card with you in your purse or wallet. Serious financial, medical and identity damage can be done when your SSN is in the wrong hands.

Protecting yourself and your family against identity theft or fraud can save you thousands of dollars and months of work trying to recover after-the-fact. When implementing these precautions, consider your minor children and their accounts as well. Children are often times a target of identity theft or financial fraud because it goes unnoticed for longer.

If you have any questions about protecting yourself from identity theft or financial fraud, stop by our Waite Park or Sartell locations for a free workbook on Taking Charge of Your Identity, published by the Federal Trade Commission.

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Connect with one of our Personal Bankers.