PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST IDENTITY THEFT AND FRAUD

As a result of the pandemic, fraudsters are taking full advantage of all of the personal data they have been collecting through various breaches over the last few years. The use of individuals personal information varies from traditional misuse with things like fraudulent credit cards and phishing attempts, to more evolved methods like unemployment fraud and online account openings. Here is one place for you to support, guide, and protect yourself. 

Finding out you are a victim of identity theft and someone has used your personal information can feel extremely invasive no matter how much you have prepared or how much awareness you have of the issue.

Here are some of the most common questions and answers with resources to guide you along the way. 

What steps can I take to proactively protect myself from these scams?

Contact the credit and consumer report agencies and put security alerts, freezes, or flags on your information. Be sure to claim your stimulus payment from the government if you have not yet received it.

  • Credit bureaus: Each credit bureau allows you to place a credit freeze or fraud alert on your credit report. Each credit bureaus contact information can be found at https://identitytheft.gov/CreditBureauContacts
    • There are three options available depending on what your needs are each of which are free to set up. You can choose credit freeze, fraud alert, or extended fraud alert.
    • Fraud alert: This option is available to anyone and will require lenders to verify your identity before extending credit. It lasts for one year. You only need to notify one of the three credit bureaus and they are required to notify the other two.
    • Credit freeze: This option is available to anyone and stops all access to your credit report unless you remove it. You must contact all three credit bureaus to complete a credit freeze. (Note: Your credit report is used for a variety of things from credit cards to cell phone providers. If you plan to set up a new credit account or service, you may need to remove the freeze prior to applying.)
    • Extended fraud alert: This option is available if someone stole your identity and lasts seven years. You must notify all three credit bureaus that you were a victim of identity theft and request for an extended alert to be put in place.
  • Request a copy of your free credit report annually at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/
    • Review your credit reports for unfamiliar items. If you see something you don’t recognize, you will want to reach out to the creditor to determine what they are reporting. If it is fraudulent, follow the steps below in the “What to do if I am notified or determine I am a victim of identity theft or that my information has been misused?” section.
  • ChexSystems: Place a Consumer Reported Identity Theft Security Alert here. There are two options available.
    • Security alert: This will notify customers of ChexSystems (banks and credit unions, for example) that you have a security alert each time they submit a consumer account request with your information and will last one year.
    • Seven year security alert: This requires a completed form to be signed and notarized then sent to ChexSystems. It works the same as a security alert, however, extends out seven years.
  • Set up online credentials with the Employment Security Department (ESD)
    • You can set up your account with ESD at https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/SAWUserRegistrations/SignUp. (Pro tip: Use Chrome. IE doesn’t work).  Each employee can create and verify their account with ESD without starting an unemployment claim or taking any other action. The process for setting up the account is surprisingly simple.  Apparently only one account can be created per SSN, so if a fraudster tries to create a new account with someone’s SSN who is already registered for an account, the fraudster would be rejected during the account creation process (e.g. before they get to the point where they can submit a fraudulent claim) and have to work with ESD to try and convince them that they are actually the person in question.

How do I know if I am a victim?

Typically, you will receive a letter notifying you that a new account was opened or an inquiry was made with your information. Contact the company that sent you a letter and notify them it is fraud. In rare circumstances, you may receive a call from a lender or agency asking if you submitted a request to them. 

Tell the caller that you did not request the product or service, however, do not disclose personal information to someone reaching out to you over the phone. 

Ask the individual to identify themselves and the institution they are calling from, and say you will call them back. Find the contact information for the institution that contacted you and call them directly. You can then ask to speak to “____ from the ____ department/branch” that contacted you. This will help ensure that you don’t fall for a well calculated phishing attempt or social engineering to get more of your personal information. This method works well for customers as well. If we have identified or suspect fraud and the customer is uncomfortable verifying themselves, ask them to call the branch and ask for you. This will help give them peace of mind that you are who you say you are.

What do I do if I am notified or determine I am a victim of identity theft or that my information has been misused?

Visit https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to create a personal recovery plan and notify your bank. Also reach out to the party that notified you to confirm it is fraud. This may include the Employment Security Department and your employer.

  • The FTC has created a great interactive tool that starts by identifying your concern and what has been compromised, and the how to report and what to do next. There are also printable checklists, sample letters, terms, definitions, and much more. Even if you are not a victim, this is a great resource to build your understanding around identity theft and how to respond.
  • If you receive a notification from the Employment Security Department regarding an unemployment claim you will need to notify them the claim is fraudulent. You should also reach out to our HR department. They are available to help you through the process.
  • Don’t forget to notify your bank!
    • For Peoples Bank customers, we have a red flag reporting process that walks branch staff through various steps to help secure our customer’s accounts. It includes setting up a password and adding account remarks, along with directing customers to www.consumer.gov/idtheft for educational materials and resources.
    • Other financial institutions have similar processes to protect your accounts. Keep in mind you will want to notify any institution you hold accounts with, including retirement and investment accounts.

What types of fraud and scams are happening right now?

There are a variety of fraud and scam methods being used right now and they are evolving daily. 

Be mindful of customer requests for wires or cashier’s checks for things that could be related to one of these scams. If the request doesn’t make sense, something is probably wrong.

Here is a list of the most common ones:

  • Unemployment Fraud: Fraudsters are submitting fraudulent claims to the Employment Security Department. They are then redirecting the funds to prepaid debit cards or individuals that are being used as mules.
  • Medical supplies/treatments/testing for COVID-19: Law enforcement is currently shutting down and prosecuting numerous fraud rings using COVID-19 as a means to profit with fake remedies or supplies.
  • All of the traditional scams (romance, craigslist, job postings, etc.), plus some with a COVID-19 spin: Individuals are helping people they have online relationships that say they are having trouble due to COVID-19.
  • Identity theft: Using an individual’s personal information to fraudulently open credit and bank accounts.

Thank you Sidney Stonecypher at People’s Bank Home Loan Center for the helpful information and guidance. If you have any questions you can reach her at 360-650-5365!

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