During Financial Aid’s “Financial Literacy Week” in February, we had the pleasure of hosting Hazel Heckers from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Students and staff learned extremely helpful information about identity theft.
Identity Theft Defined
Identity theft is growing and it’s estimated that up to 50% of Americans will be a victim at some point in their life. The CBI defines identity theft this way:
“Identity theft and identity fraud refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Sometimes, with as little as a stolen name, date of birth, and social security number, the identity thief is able to cause major damage. Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.”
If an identity thief successfully obtains some or all of your personal information, they can essentially take your money or use your personal identifying information to sign a loan application, apply for a driver’s license, or even use your medical care. Talk about frightening!
Are You at Risk?
Alarmingly, Colorado currently experiences the second highest rate of identity fraud in the United States (Washington state is the highest). Perhaps that’s why Universal Pictures filmed their new fictional movie “Identity Thief” in Denver! But, that doesn’t mean only Colorado residents are at risk of identity theft. Of course, anyone is… especially if you do or have any of the following:
- A clear criminal background
- Bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages
- Health benefits
- Valid Social Security Number, Driver’s License, or other ID
- A college degree or professional certification/license
- Laptop or smart phone that frequently utilizes WiFi
- Use Craigslist, eBay, online dating sites, even Facebook
Tips to Protect Your Identity
While nothing is 100% foolproof, there are ways you can protect your information and significantly decrease the chances of becoming a victim. Stay with us here – these tips come straight from the CBI experts!
- Obtain a free credit report at www.AnnualCreditReport.com. By periodically viewing your credit report, you can look it over for errors and suspicious activity. Be your own protector!
- When possible, use the ATM at your established bank
- Avoid writing checks and use cash, Cashier’s checks, or bank cards when possible
- Avoid self-checkout at grocery stores and gas stations
- Sign up for paperless billing whenever you can (to protect your mailbox)
- Do not keep your Social Security Card or other valuable documents in your wallet
- Make your computer passwords (and other login information) as strong as possible by using numbers, special characters, and letters. And, change those passwords often! For more Cyber Safe ideas visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov
- Avoid using WiFi in open areas, especially if you are purchasing something online or completing an online form with personal information
- If you notice something odd, unusual or downright incorrect on your bank statement or credit report, report it immediately!
CBI Resources and Reporting
If you think you have been a victim with either your personal information or finances, it’s important to notify law enforcement, the 3 national Credit Bureaus, as well as the affected institution (such as your bank) right away.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is open to the public and can help you in a variety of ways:
- Assistance with reporting , understanding the process, and identifying a personal action plan.
- Advocacy with banks/credits unions, credit card companies, employers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and even other Government agencies such as the IRS and Social Security Administration.
- Community outreach – just like they came to FRCC to host a complimentary presentation, they can come to you too! If you have a presentation request, contact CBI for a free consultation. You won’t be disappointed!
How to Contact the CBI
- 24-hour Toll-Free Identity Theft Hotline: 1-855-443-3489
- Victim Assistance Program: 1-303-239-4649
- Identity Fraud Investigation Unit: 1-303-239-4211
- Email ReportFraud@cdps.state.co.us
National Identity Theft Resources
- FBI Internet Crimes Complaint Center: www.IC3.gov
- Federal Trade Commission: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft
Have you been an unfortunate victim of identity theft? What steps have you taken to protect yourself?