Caution advised as identify theft grows nationwide

A timely reminder at the start of this year’s tax season is to always exercise extreme caution when it comes to protecting your identity and financial security. The prevalence of phishing, identity theft, filing of fraudulent tax returns and other scams continues to grow at an alarming rate.

Beazley Worldwide – the company that provides Oakland University and many other clients insurance for losses tied to data breaches – reports that it saw a 64 percent increase in data breach claims last year alone. Also, a Javelin Strategy and Research report estimates that 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft or fraud last year, and that the sum of their loses was $16 billion.

The scams criminals are using to steal sensitive personal information are steadily becoming more sophisticated, which warrants ever increasing vigilance. Although institutions around the world are working to enhance data security systems, the first and most effective line of defense is individual precaution. Important tips to remember are:

  • Never share personal information – such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, login IDs, passwords, etc. – using email, text messages or websites if there is even a hint of doubt as to their legitimacy. Also, do not click on any links, buttons or pop-up windows in such cases.
  • Resolve any concerns about your data or financial security by contacting the organization purportedly seeking information using an independently verified phone number, email address or website address.
  • Check your credit report periodically by calling (877) 322-8228 or by visiting annualcreditreport.com . Address any suspicious or unexpected activity immediately.
  • If you are paid through direct deposit, carefully review your pay stub each pay period to ensure that the personal information listed there is accurate.
  • Remember that any messages that are unfamiliar, unexpected, don’t make sense or seem too good to be true are likely fraudulent.
  • Google Mail users can flag suspicious email by clicking on the downward pointing triangle at the top right of the email message and selecting the “Report phishing” option.
If You Think You Are A Victim of Identity Theft Or Other Form Of Fraud
  • File a report with your local law enforcement agency.
  • Consider placing an initial fraud alert on your credit files using one of the three major credit bureaus:
If You Think You Are A Victim of Tax Return Fraud
  • Call the IRS at (800) 908-4490, ext. 245. The unit office is open Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Seek direction on whether to file an Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039). The form can be downloaded at irs.gov .
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