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What Is Identity Theft? How Can You Prevent It?

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Identity theft can ruin your credit and recovery can be time consuming and expensive.

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Read on to learn more about different types of identity theft, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you think someone has stolen your identity.


What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when an unauthorized person uses your personal information to access your financial accounts, open new accounts, or commit a crime.

How do Thieves Steal Personal Information?

Low-Tech

  • Going through trash or recycling bins
  • Stealing mail
  • Stealing wallets and purses
trash can containing personal documents

High-Tech

computer and smartphone
  • Phishing—emails or phone calls asking for your account or other private information
  • Pharming—fake websites enticing you to provide your information
  • Skimming—using a data storage device to capture your credit card or debit card number
  • Hacking—illegally gaining access to a computer system
  • Planting a computer virus or using spyware

How to Protect Yourself

Your personal information is as good as gold to an identity thief, including your:

  • Name
  • Social Security number
  • Driver's license number
  • Passwords and PINs
  • Credit or debit cards and checking account information—your bank's routing number and your checking account number

What can you do to keep this information out of the hands of thieves?

Available Identity Theft Protection Services

There are services that promise to protect you from identity theft—for a price.

  • Credit Monitoring is available from all three nationwide credit reporting agencies for about $15 a month, allowing you unlimited access to your credit report and notifying you of any suspicious activity. Free resources are available from Identity Theft Resource Center.
  • Identity Theft Insurance, available from credit card and insurance companies, covers the cost of certified mail and long-distance calls you make to clean up your credit, but won't reimburse you for the money lost.

Take note that neither of these services actually prevent identity theft, but simply help out if it happens to you.

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How to Detect Identity Theft

Even if you're very careful to protect yourself from identity theft, there's still a chance it could happen to you. How do you know if your identity has been stolen?


Some signs you've been a victim include:

  • Being denied credit when you should qualify.
  • Not receiving your usual bills and bank statements.
  • Suspicious activity on your bank or credit card statements.
  • Receiving calls from debt collectors on accounts you don't recognize.
  • Receiving medical bills for services you didn't use.
  • Being rejected by your health plan for a legitimate medical claim because the records show you've reached your benefits limit or your medical records show a condition you don't have.
  • Being notified by the IRS that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer that you don't work for.
  • Receiving notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

One of the best ways to make sure you haven't been a victim of identity theft is to monitor your credit report. Spread your three free credit reports from each of the major nationwide consumer reporting agencies out over the year. Request them at AnnualCreditReport.com.

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To help prevent further misuse of your identity, consider placing a security freeze on your credit reports.

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How Great Lakes Keeps Your Information Safe

Your privacy is important to us. Great Lakes has a strong commitment to providing excellent service, including respecting concerns about privacy, and we do everything we can to protect your personal information. Only authorized employees who are trained in the proper handling of customer information have access to confidential customer information. To learn more about how we protect your information, read our privacy policy.


Additional Resources

Want to know more? Watch these videos to find other ways you can detect and prevent identity theft.

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Video: Identity Theft - what is it?

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