Identity theft a growing threat

MN Commerce Department, BBB offer advice on how to protect yourself

Identity thieves are constantly on the prowl for your personal information. The Minnesota Department of Commerce and Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) are teaming up to offer advice for protecting yourself and steps you can take if your ID is compromised. Identity theft can happen to anyone and because scammers are always getting smarter, it’s important to remain vigilant.

“While businesses have the responsibility to protect sensitive data, consumers can take proactive steps to protect their personal information,” said Minnesota Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.

“This is an issue that isn’t going away, and perhaps the best people can do is be clear on how they can best protect themselves and what they should do if their identity is stolen,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota.

Identity thieves will stop at nothing to gather personal information, which can be stolen in a variety of ways:

  • Mail theft: For fraudsters, it’s as easy as opening up the victim’s mailbox and taking their bank statements or other financial information. It’s a good idea to closely monitor your incoming mail. If you’re expecting sensitive materials to arrive through the mail, check and retrieve your mail daily. If there’s a delay in delivery, contact the sender to check the status.
  • ATM skimming: Devices installed illegally on ATM machines can gather information contained on your debit card’s magnetic strip. Be sure to inspect the ATM for signs of tampering and avoid ATMs in poorly-lit or low-trafficked areas. When making a withdrawal from an ATM, it’s also a good idea to cover your password with your hand.
  • Credit card offers/bank statements: Be sure to shred unwanted credit card offers and old bank statements. Thieves are more than willing to go dumpster diving if it might lead to a potential payday. Around the house, make a habit of keeping sensitive financial documents in a secure location.
  • Your Social Security number: Don’t provide your Social Security number unless it’s absolutely necessary. If at all possible, offer alternative forms of identification such as your driver license. Never give your full Social Security number over the phone.
  • Social media: When you post to sites like Facebook, keep in mind — depending upon your privacy settings — that information is public. Scammers are looking for phone numbers, birth dates, employment information and any other sensitive information they can use for illicit purposes.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, the Minnesota Department of Commerce recommends the following:

  1. Place an initial fraud alert by contacting any of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax.com, Experian.com or TransUnion.com). When you place a fraud alert on your credit report with any one of the three major credit reporting companies, that company will notify the other two and fraud alerts will also be placed on those files, too
  2. Monitor your credit report. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each credit reporting company.
  3. Report it to the authorities. File a complaint with the FTC at ftc.gov and also your local police department. Get copies of both the police report and your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.

You can also contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce to file a complaint. Contact the Consumer Services Center at 651-539-1600 or 800-657-3602, or go to the Commerce Department website.

Complaints can also be sent by email to consumer.protection@state.mn.us or by mail to Minnesota Department of Commerce, 85 Seventh Place East, Suite 500, Saint Paul, MN 55101.

Additionally, complaints can be filed online at bbb.org.

This article was provided by the Minnesota Department of Commerce.