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Protecting Your Identity and Personal Security

October 24, 2012

By: Jim Oosterman
Melrose Bank

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a staggering 9 million people were victims of identity theft last year, a 13% increase from the prior year. Identity thieves will use a variety of methods to steal one's personal information and with the growth of technology, the techniques used to steal information have become even more sophisticated.

Identity theft is when a person wrongfully obtains your personal information and uses it to commit fraud or steal money. Thieves today have adapted to the new technology to create very sophisticated high tech scams but have not limited themselves to just the internet. Victims have reported that there information was stolen by simply having their wallet, pocket book or personal computer stolen. Some other techniques that are used today include:

  • Dumpster Diving: refers to rummaging through trash looking for items that may contain personal information such as bills or other documents.
  • Address Change: billing statements are diverted to another location by completing a change of address form.
  • Pretexting: using false pretenses to obtain personal information.
  • Skimming: credit and debit card numbers are stolen using a special storage device when processing a card.
  • Pharming: redirecting people to a fake website.
  • Spear Phishing: a fraudulent email that targets a specific organization, seeking unauthorized access to confidential data.
  • Phishing: spam or pop up messages that appear to be from a trusted company or financial institution, when in fact they are not, and aim to get people to reveal personal information.

How Can I Protect Myself?
Credit card companies and financial institutions have many security standards and protocols in place to detect and defend against identity theft. These are vital when it comes to securing your personal information but don't solely rely on these precautions set up by your bank or credit card company; there are numerous steps you can take personally to add extra protection against identity theft. If you don't already, begin to monitor your checking and credit card accounts along with checking monthly bills and online accounts for suspicious transactions. Check your credit report information annually as well. The Fair Credit Reporting Act guarantees you access to your credit report for free from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. is the only authorized source for the free annual credit report that's yours by law. Other precautionary steps to protect prevent ID theft include:

  • Shred documents that contain any personal information before you throw them away.
  • Do not use passwords that anyone can guess and never write them down or email them.
  • Do not carry all of your credit cards and IDs with you.
  • Do not click on links in unsolicited emails or purchase anything online from unknown sources.
  • Protect your computer with Firewalls and Antivirus programs.
  • Never give your credit card number or personal information over the phone, unless you have initiated the call and trust that business or person.

What Should I Do If I Have Become A Victim Of ID Theft?
If you have reason to believe that you have fallen victim of ID theft, do not panic. Act swiftly and take the following steps to report the crime and restore your credit.

  • File a police report and begin keeping a record with details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
  • Notify creditors and close accounts you know have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
  • Contact your bank and the three major consumer credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) to issue a Fraud Alert.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission at their toll free number, 1-877-IDTHEFT.

With the growing number of ID theft reports each year, it's more important than ever to take every precautionary step possible to protect your private information. It's also important to be aware and understand the tactics used by thieves so you can recognize if you are being targeted. For more information and additional resources, visit

James Oosterman is the Vice President of Melrose Bank. He can be reached by telephone 781-665-2500, online at or on Facebook at

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