Identity Theft & Fraud on the Rise: How to Protect Yourself


Identity theft and fraud have a devastating effect on many people’s lives, and the crimes are becoming more widespread. If a criminal gains access to your personal or financial information, your accounts and good name can be ruined, and your stress levels will rise. Preventing identity theft and fraud starts with education. Consider these security topics to help protect yourself and your loved ones.


What is identity fraud?


Fraud occurs when thieves create fake accounts using a real person’s name and information that they obtained without the person’s consent, which criminals use to steal money. This crime increased 8% in 2017 according to the 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin. With 16.7 million victims in the United States, identity fraud has resulted in a combined $16.8 billion stolen from consumers.


What is identity theft?


Identity theft occurs when an unauthorized person attempts to use your bank account or personal information to open a new bank account, apply for a new loan in your name or engage in another fraudulent act. California is the state with the 4th highest level of complaints, averaging 55,418 in 2017 alone. There are several sub-types of identity theft:


  1. Account Takeover

Fraud Account takeover fraud tripled from 2016 to 2017. This type of identity theft occurs when criminals use a victim’s personal information, often from a data breach, to change the victim’s account information or add themselves as a new user to the account. With access to a victim’s bank account, they can take over credit card accounts, checking accounts, savings accounts or brokerage accounts. Criminals conceal their activities by updating the email addresses and contact information within the account so no red flags are raised. Identity thieves mainly use the following information to commit account takeover fraud include:


  • Bank account login information (username, password, PIN)
  • Social Security number
  • Email address


  1. New Account Fraud

New account fraud, which accounted for 12.7% of all identify fraud in 2017, occurs within the first three months of a new account being opened. Fraudsters open a new account in someone else’s name just to commit fraud, such as depositing and withdrawing stolen or counterfeit checks. Often, the victim’s information is used after being obtained from a data breach, which are becoming much more common in the U.S. Most people find out they’ve been a victim of this type of fraud when they review their credit report and notice a discrepancy, or if they receive a call from a debt collector.


  1. Card-Not-Present Fraud

In 2017, Card-not-present fraud became 81% more prevalent than point-of-sale fraud. With this type of fraud, purchases are made without presenting a physical card to a merchant, typically as an online transaction. With the transition to EMV chip cards, this type of fraud has been harder to commit at physical locations so fraudsters are targeting online transactions.


Everyone’s at Risk for Fraud


Both online and offline users are at risk for identity theft and fraud, but the Javelin study found that your online habits can determine your risk category:


  • Offline Users: If you’re not much of an internet user, you are at less risk than those who are. However, the study found that these consumers incur higher losses, and take 40 days on average to detect the fraud.
  • Online Users: Social networkers are 46% more likely to have account takeover fraud. Shop online? You’re in the higher risk category. In fact, women who are digitally connected and shop online are 30% more likely to be a fraud victim. However, these consumers are also much better at detecting fraud within a week which helps mitigate the problem.


How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft & Fraud


Protecting your identity is paramount to keeping your personal information safe. Be vigilant in safeguarding valuable information like your Social Security number, PIN, bank account logins and passwords. Also, be careful with paper documents – shred them, or opt for paperless statements. Never share your sensitive information with anyone, and keep important documents locked up in a safe. Here are a few other tips to prevent identity theft:


  • If a “bank” calls you asking for payment information – do not provide it. Banks and credit unions don’t initiate calls you didn’t ask for. Instead, hang up, and call your bank to verify if it was them. If it wasn’t, they can place a fraud alert on your account.
  • Review your credit report at least every year for new accounts you didn’t open and suspicious transactions. You are legally entitled to one free credit report from each credit bureau every 12 months from
  • If you lost your credit or debit card, report it immediately. Also, check your accounts frequently for suspicious charges, and report them ASAP. A good way to keep tabs on your account is to set up account alerts in our online banking.
  • Don’t choose the same password for multiple accounts. Select a hard to guess password with a combination of symbols, upper and lowercase letters and numbers. A good way to remember a password like this is to spell out a longer sentence, use the first letter in each word, then add a comma and a year and a character, like this: “I love to eat lasagna at night, 1983! Your password would be, “Iltelan,1983!”
  • Only buy online from secure websites that encrypt their data using https. Once you’ve made a purchase online, log out from that website.


Is University Credit Union a Secure Site?


Securing your personal information is of the utmost important to us at UCU. When coming to our website, ( you should see the “https” protocol at the beginning of the website’s address, and a padlock to the left of our name.


University Credit Union [US] https


This means that you are on a secure website. Websites that begin with https use Secure Sockets Layers. (SSL). SSL is a security technology that enables websites and browsers to establish an encrypted link to ensure that data being passed through, like credit card numbers or online banking login information, is protected. A simple way to remember the difference between a secure website and one that’s not is that the “s” in “https” stands for security.


If you suspect you’ve been the victim of fraud, please contact us immediately at 800.UCU.4510 or contact us here. To learn more about how strongly we at UCU take your online privacy and safety, visit our section on security.

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