By Randy Fredlund, Peoples Bank
Fraud is big business, and a global network of criminals are actively preying on people’s fears and anxieties about the coronavirus. Some of the most common schemes include unemployment fraud where criminals use stolen personal information to file bogus claims, fraud rings offering fake COVID-19 remedies or supplies, or so-called “romance” scams where perpetrators pretending to be a friend or loved one use online platforms to request financial assistance to help them through hard times.
As we work together to contain the virus, here are a few steps that help prevent identity theft and fraud.
- Consider placing a security alert or credit freeze on your information. Each credit bureau allows you to place a free fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit report. A fraud alert lasts for one year and requires lenders to verify your identity before extending credit. This will result in some extra effort should you need to apply for credit in this timeframe, but it can be worth it. If your identity has been stolen, you can set up an extended fraud alert, which lasts for seven years. A credit freeze stops all access to your credit report unless you remove it.
- Review your credit report every year. You can request a copy of your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you see something that you don’t recognize, contact the creditor to get more information about what they are reporting to determine if it is legitimate.
- Place a Consumer Reported Identity Theft Security Alert with ChexSystems. This notifies 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 lasts for one year. A seven-year alert is also available.
- Create an account with the Employment Security Department (ESD). Employees can create and verify their account without starting an unemployment claim or taking any other action. How does this protect you? Only one account can be created per social security number. If you’ve registered and someone tries to create a new account fraudulently, they would be rejected during the account creation process.
While these actions can help protect you from fraud, here’s what to do if you find that your personal information has been breached.
- File an identity theft report. The Federal Trade Commission offers an interactive reporting tool that provides guidance on how to report and what to do next. There are 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 of identity theft and how to respond.
- Report unemployment fraud to the ESD. If you receive a notification from ESD regarding an unemployment claim you didn’t file, you will need to notify them the claim is fraudulent. You should also inform your company’s HR department if they haven’t contacted you already.
- Notify your banks. Make sure to notify all your financial institutions, including those managing your retirement and investment accounts, and take necessary precautions to protect your accounts.
When it comes to protecting your personal information and finances, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If you’re asked for money or information, and the request doesn’t make sense or feels like something’s off, it probably is! Peoples Bank has a red flag reporting process designed to protect customers’ accounts, and we maintain a Fraud Investigations Department to stay ahead of rapidly evolving fraud and scam methods. We would be happy to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.
Randy Fredlund is the Chief Compliance & Security Officer at Peoples Bank. Peoples Bank is a locally owned and operated, independent full-service community bank with 23 branches throughout Washington. Local bankers at our five Snohomish County office locations are eager to serve you. Please visit www.peoplesbank-wa.com/locations to find a branch near you.