Identity theft occurs when someone unlawfully obtains your personal information with the intent to commit fraud. Information such as name, date of birth, social security number, mother's maiden name, etc., can help a thief impersonate another individual. Once this person has access to this information, he/she can commit different kinds of fraud, including accessing bank accounts, obtaining loans, making purchases, etc.
Approximately 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.* You can help protect yourself from becoming the next victim.
Identity theft has become the number one reason for consumer complaints, according to the Federal Trade Commission - costing the average consumer $1,000 to clear his or her name.
At the Principal Financial Group®, we want to help you secure your financial future. We work hard to safeguard your personal information. It's also important that you learn how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of this crime.
The businesses of The Principal® continually enhance how we protect your confidentiality. Some examples of what we do include:
- All call centers have procedures in place to help validate the identity of callers.
- We're ensuring that no Social Security numbers are contained in correspondence, unless legally required.
- We conduct regular training with our employees on how to detect fraudulent activities.
- We follow strict standards that limit access to data and regularly test our security technology.
If you suspect you're a victim of identity theft
Call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by phone at 1-877-IDTHEFT. The FTC handles complaints from victims of identity theft and can help you by referring you to credit bureau and law enforcement agencies.
Some additional things you should consider doing:
- Contact the three major consumer-reporting companies to request a Fraud Alert be placed on your credit file. A fraud alert requires creditors to verify your identity before opening any new accounts in your name or changing any existing accounts. You will only need to contact one consumer reporting company to do this – that company will notify the others.
- You should also request a copy of your credit report when placing the fraud alert on your credit file. Consumer reporting companies are required to provide a free credit report to victims of identity theft. Request one from each company to see if any accounts have been opened without your consent. If there are accounts fraudulently opened, notify the consumer reporting company and the business where the account was opened. Once your dispute is resolved, the consumer reporting company will send you a new copy of your credit report for your review to ensure your file has been corrected. The victim assistance phone numbers and websites for the three consumer reporting companies are as follows:
- Contact your local police department and ask to file a report. This can help convince creditors that someone else opened an account in your name.
- Contact other creditors by phone to let them know of the possibility of fraudulent activity on your accounts and follow-up with a written letter. Closely monitor all of your accounts. Any discrepancies should immediately be reported.
- Close any accounts that may have been tampered with and reopen them with new account numbers and passwords.
If you experience fraud or suspect a breach of an account
Call our fraud hotline at 1.800.642.3788 or report unethical or fraudulent activity online.
Improving your "Identity IQ"
In addition to the steps we take at The Principal to prevent identity theft, your actions are critical in protecting yourself. When you know how identity thieves operate, you can make it less likely you'll become their next victim. Many believe identity theft can only happen to those individuals who shop, communicate or do business online. However, experts say your mailbox and garbage are the easiest ways criminals can access your personal information. In fact, checking on your financial status online may mean you can discover a potential fraud situation earlier.
To improve your "Identity IQ," ask yourself the questions below. If you answer yes to any of them, the suggested actions on the right can help to reduce your risks.
|Actions that put you at risk for identity theft||Suggested ways to minimize your risk|
|Is your driver's license number your Social Security number?||Change your driver's license number to a random number.|
|Do you carry your Social Security card in your purse or wallet?||Store your Social Security card in a safe place.|
|Do you have your Social Security number or driver's license number printed on your personal checks?||Order new checks that do not include this information.|
|Do you give out personal information over the telephone such as your Social Security number or date of birth?||Don't give out personal information unless you initiated the call to make sure you're giving it to a legitimate person and only as needed.|
|Do you provide your Social Security number whenever asked, without asking questions as to how that information will be safeguarded?||Before giving out your Social Security number the next time, make sure you know how it will be used and how it will be protected.|
|Has it been more than a year since you've ordered a copy of your credit report?||Request a report at least once a year to check that others aren't applying for credit under your name.|
|Do you set out your trash the night before pickup?||Wait until morning to set out your trash. Dumpster divers can find a wealth of personal information in your trash while no one's looking. Shred any personal documents before throwing them away.|
|Do you throw away credit card offers or other financial solicitations?||Shred the information or tear it up before throwing it away.|
|Do you place outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox?||Use a secure, official Postal Service collection box instead to prevent thieves from using your mail to steal your identity.|
|Are you planning to be out of town or away from home for several days?||If you are going to be out of town or away from your home for any reason, have your mail held at the post office until you return.|
|Do you casually glance at bank statements, credit card statements or other financial documents?||Make sure you carefully review them each time to detect any unusual activity. Also, pay attention to when you should receive statements in the mail. If you don't receive them on time, it could be a sign a thief has redirected your mail to another address.|
|Do you carry a military ID in your wallet at all times?||Carry your military ID only when absolutely necessary.|
|Are you planning to upgrade your computer?||Be sure to use software that will overwrite any information on your hard drive before you throw or give it away. Your personal information may still be accessible if you simply delete it.|
|Do you use the Internet or make on-line purchases?||Never give out your password to anyone. Make sure you're dealing with reputable sites and use fraud protection tools your credit card company provides, such as passwords or purchase pre-authorizations.|
|Do you have children?||Teach your children to check with you before giving out personal information on the phone or the Internet. Encourage them to look for privacy policies on the web sites they visit that ask for information about them. Many sites for children require approval from a parent before gathering information, but many still do not.|
|Do you use easily available information such as your mother's maiden name, date of birth, or the last four digits of your Social Security number for passwords?||Create unique passwords that are easy for you to remember, but would be difficult for others to guess.|
Protect your account numbers, PINs, and passwords
- Never share your PINs, usernames or passwords with anyone. Be cautious of emails or individuals who ask for this information. The Principal will never ask for your personal password via email or telephone.
- Refrain from writing account numbers or PINs down. If you do need to write these down, put them in a safe and secure place and do not carry them in your wallet.
- Identify one secure records storage place in your home to keep all of your financial records. This could be in a drawer or a file cabinet. It is better if you can lock this storage place. Keep all of the following items in this storage place:
- All account statements and new and cancelled checks.
- A photocopy of the front and back of all of your credit cards and ATM/debit cards. This will be helpful if you ever need to contact the issuers about a problem with the card or if one is lost or stolen.
- Shield the keypad with your hand or body while entering your PIN at an ATM.
- Always wait for all ATM and credit card receipts. Do not leave them at the ATM or store counter. Avoid any ATM that appears to have any additional hardware affixed to it.
- Change all passwords regularly using a mix of numbers and characters. Your password is more secure and harder for criminals to guess if you include a special character (like an asterisk or an exclamation point). Memorize passwords and write them down only in a secure place.
- Report lost or stolen checks, cards, deposit tickets or statements immediately to your financial institution.
- Purchase checks from your bank’s suggested vendor instead of an unfamiliar vendor that may not be as reliable.
- Review and balance your account statements on a regular basis. Watch for any transactions showing unfamiliar payees and amounts you do not recognize. The more often you review your statements, the simpler it will be to detect fraudulent activity on your account. If you have Internet access to any of your accounts, including your accounts with The Principal, review the activity in these accounts on a regular basis.
- Do not write the full account number in correspondence to or on checks written for payment on an account to a creditor. For example, it is best to write only the last four to eight digits of a credit card account number on the check. Rather than writing a check, it is better to use your bank's Online Bill Pay features and/or an automatic ACH capability to further minimize correspondence by mail.
- Always report any unknown activity or unauthorized transactions on your accounts to your financial institution immediately
- In a secure location, keep a list of all of your account numbers and telephone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen.
- Make photocopies of vital information you carry on a regular basis and store them in a secure place.
- Only do business with companies you know and trust.
- Add yourself to the National Do Not Call Registry to limit telemarketing calls you receive.
Checking your credit report
The Principal recommends that you check your credit rating regularly with each of the three major credit bureaus. Consider ordering a credit report from one of the three nationwide consumer-reporting companies every four months. By rotating from one agency to the next, you can have year-round monitoring. If you have joint credit with your spouse, you can alternate between you and your spouse and between the three consumer-reporting companies and check your credit bureau report every other month.
An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer-reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months, from www.annualcreditreport.com. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, has prepared a brochure, Your Access to Free Credit Reports, explaining your rights and how to order a free annual credit report. Additional information, including your credit score, will cost extra but the credit report itself is free.
A credit report contains information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you've been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your credit.
Your credit report is available for a small fee from:
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian Information Solutions
P.O. Box 949
Allen, TX 75013-0949
P.O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Choosing a password
- Do not use the same password on other websites that you use for more sensitive, secure sites, such as your online banking. If other sites are not secure, your password could be compromised.
- Choose PINs and passwords that are not a duplicate of other personal information (i.e. social security numbers, birth date, etc.)
- Choose a password that is easy for you to remember, but that is difficult for others to guess. Do not use information about yourself that others can easily find out.
- Use at least 6 characters and it is a good idea to vary the types of characters in your passwords, if possible. Using combinations of capital letters, numbers and symbols makes passwords much more difficult to figure out.
For more information about identity theft, see the following websites:
- The Federal Trade Commission Identity Theft Website
- Taking Charge: What To Do if Your Identity is Stolen (PDF: 1 MB)
- The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
- Social Security Admin – Office of Inspector General
- National Do Not Call Registry
*Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau