Tips > Identity Theft

Deterring Identity Theft, 5/26/2010

The best way to deter ID thieves is by educating yourself about their methods.  Knowing how thieves steal identities will enable you to take steps to thwart their efforts.  Here are some helpful hints to help you avoid being a victim of the fastest growing crime in America:

 

·        First and foremost remember these points about Bank of the Carolinas' web site (www.BankoftheCarolinas.com) :

o       Never access our site (or that of any other financial institution) from a link in an email from a third party.  Instead, always use one of these methods to access the site:

§         Bookmark the web site or save it in your Favorites and access it through the bookmark, or

§         Type the URL or web address (www.BankoftheCarolinas.com) into your browser directly.

o       We will never send you an email requesting confidential information such as account numbers, passwords, or PINs.  If you ever receive an email requesting such information that appears to be from Bank of the Carolinas contact your local branch immediately.

o       Our online banking pages are secured.  You can verify this by 1) looking at the URL in your browser.  The address should begin with "https" (the "s" indicates that the site is secure), and 2) from the online banking logon page, click File, then Properties, then the Certificates button at the bottom of the box.  This will provide you with more information about the authority that certifies the security of the website.

·        Mailboxes are a favorite target of identity thieves.  They know they can find valuable information about you just from the mail you receive.  Beyond the names of your family members, they can learn what credit cards you carry and what banks you use by looking at the statements you receive.  They can apply for credit in your name by taking those pre-approved credit card offers that you usually throw away.  If you mail your bill payments by leaving the outgoing payments in your mailbox for your carrier to pick up, they can get your checking account number from your payment check.  Most importantly, they watch for incoming government checks and other payments that they can steal outright.     
Here are a few helpful tips to make your mail more secure:

o       Remove your incoming mail from your mailbox as soon as possible after it is delivered.

o       If your employer offers direct deposit as a payment option, sign up for this service.  Likewise, if you receive regular payments from the government, such as retirement pension, social security, or even tax refund payments, have these direct deposited also.  Doing so allows you to receive your payments sooner AND prevents paper checks from ending up in the wrong hands.

o       Before you go on vacation, ask the Post Office to hold your mail until you return (1-800-275-8777 or online at www.usps.gov).

o       Take your outgoing mail to the Post Office or a locked USPS collections box.  Never leave payments or other items that contain personal information in your mailbox for the carrier to pick up.

o       Consider receiving bills and e-statements online instead of on paper, and have the paper statements and bills stopped altogether.

·        Know when bills and statements should arrive.  If you receive your statements by mail and they are late by more than a few days, contact the company to find out when the statement was mailed and the address to which it was mailed.  Thieves will sometimes send Change of Address notices to companies (or sometimes even to the Post Office) to have your mail sent to a different location.  Their hope is that you won't notice that the statement is missing, thereby allowing them to hide the fact that they have used the account for their own purposes.

·        Never give your Social Security number, credit card number, or any bank account information to someone on the telephone unless you initiated the call and you know the business with whom you're dealing.

·        Don't put your Social Security number on your checks.

·        Be careful about what you put in your trash and how available you make your trash to ID thieves.  Another common practice of ID thieves is called "Dumpster diving" – digging through trash to find personal information about you.  Thieves don't mind getting dirty if it helps them get information they can use to steal your good name.

o       Buy a shredder and shred all your discarded personal papers and mail before putting them in the trash, including bills, statements, and credit card and ATM receipts.  Cross-cut shredders provide the best protection.

o       Don't put your trash out until shortly before it will be picked up.

o       To opt out of receiving pre-approved credit offers, call 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688).  You will be asked to provide your Social Security number, which the consumer reporting agencies need to match you with your file.

·        Store financial information securely at home.   Keep things like blank checks, bank and credit card statements stored securely out of sight, particularly if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done on your house.  Share your personal information only with those family members who have a legitimate need for it. 
If you are responsible for helping a family member with their finances, be equally diligent with their information. 

·        When shopping online, don't enter your payment information unless you know the site is secure.  Easy ways to determine if the site is secure are to:
1) Look for a lock icon on the browser's status bar (the icon looks like a padlock at the bottom of the screen), or

2) Look for "https:" at the beginning of the site's URL address (the "s" stands for "secure").
Unfortunately, no indicator is foolproof, and some fraudulent sites can have forged security icons, so even if the site contains both of these indicators, be cautious about entering your financial information unless you are confident that the website is owned by a secure, legitimate business.

·        Never send your financial information via email – regular email is not a secure method of transmitting any confidential information. 

·        Be creative when you devise PINs and online passwords.  Don't use numbers or words that are easy to guess, like birth dates or names of your spouse, child, or pet.  Use a mix of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters.  One good trick is to use the first letter of each word in a phrase or song lyric, substituting numbers or special characters for some of the letters or words.  For example, the phrase "You are just too good to be true" could be converted to "Yrj2g2Bt".  Remember, the longer the password, the harder it will be to guess.  Never use a standalone word that could be found in a dictionary.

·        If you have a high speed internet connection, be sure to use a firewall and quality anti-virus and anti-spyware programs to protect your computer from internet hackers.  When you throw away or trade-in an old computer, use a "wipe" program to overwrite the entire hard drive to completely erase any personal information.

·        Don't open emails or attachments from individuals or sources you do not recognize and trust.

·        Be alert to phishing attempts.  Phishing is a scam where internet criminals send spam or pop-up messages to lure unsuspecting victims into providing their personal or financial information.  To avoid this scam, don't reply to email or pop-up messages that ask for personal information, and don't click on hyperlinks in these messages.  Links in phishing messages often take victims to sites that look legitimate, but which actually are designed to trick them into keying in financial information or passwords.  Don't be fooled – banks and legitimate online retailers will not ask for your password.