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Tips to Reduce Identity Theft Risk

With all of the stories being written about identity fraud, you may be wondering how you can minimize your risk of becoming a victim. According to experts, identity fraud is primarily a low-tech crime that occurs most often in traditional physical channels, such as in-person transactions and the direct theft of personal data by individuals.

Properly securing your sensitive information will go a long way in protecting your identity. You can minimize the potential for identity theft by paying closer attention to how you handle information in your wallet, paper bills, statements, and other documents and files. Additionally, monitoring your accounts regularly online as opposed to waiting for paper bills and statements has proven effective in detecting and resolving identity theft more quickly.

Although the number of identity fraud victims as a percentage of the U.S. adult population declined from 4.7% to 3.7% between 2003 and 2006, it's important for you to stay diligent in protecting your personal data. Use the tips below to reduce your chances of being a victim.

Identity Safety Tips

PREVENT access to your personal information

  • Only carry credit and identification cards that you use, and do not carry your Social Security card. Lock personal information, sensitive documents, checkbooks, credit cards, etc. in a secure place.
  • Whenever possible, protect your accounts (banking, utility, merchant, etc.) by adding difficult-to-deduce PINs and passwords to them. Secure PINs and passwords, even inside your home, and change them frequently.
  • Replace paper invoices, statements and checks with electronic versions, if offered by your employer, bank, utility or merchant. Sign up for automatic payroll deposits and e-mail or telephone alerts, which will warn you of any unusual account activity.
  • When responding to e-mail from businesses with which you have an account, do not link to their Web site through the address provided in the e-mail. Go to the business site through your search engine and type in the URL.
  • Never provide personal information over the phone unless you made the call or you are certain of whom you are talking to. Do not respond to automated phone messages or e-mail requesting you call a number to resolve an account issue.
  • If you have a home computer, install and regularly update firewall, anti-spyware, anti-virus and browser security software.
  • Secure your sensitive mobile data with a strong password or file protection software, whether it is stored in your laptop or a PDA device.
  • If you receive a solicitation to pay an advance fee (i.e., for a prize, preapproved credit or loan), verify the identity of the organization through a legitimate source (such as the Better Business Bureau) before sending any payment.
  • Shred all sensitive documents prior to disposal.
  • Use a secure mailbox for incoming mail.

DETECT unauthorized activity

  • Contact your bank, credit card company or merchant immediately, if your checkbook, wallet or debit/credit cards are lost or stolen or if you do not receive statements, invoices or new or renewed credit/debit cards.
  • Monitor your bank and credit card account activity regularly. Check your account balances weekly through the phone, ATM or Internet. Confirm that all transactions are authorized.
  • Review your credit information regularly (free reports are available at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228). Confirm that all accounts listed are yours.
  • If offered by your bank, use e-mail or telephone alerts to monitor transfers, payments, low balances and withdrawals.

RESOLVE fraud promptly, minimizing losses and protecting your credit record

  • If you think you are a victim of theft:
    • Notify your financial providers.
    • Close any affected accounts immediately.
    • Place an "alert" at all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
    • File a report with your local police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report for your records.
  • Ask your financial provider about its zero-liability protection against fraud and about dedicated resources to help you resolve and recover from any potential losses.

A Few Facts About Identity Fraud

According to the 2006 Identity Fraud Survey Report by Javelin Strategy & Research:

Identity Fraud Trends

  • Identity fraud is dropping in the United States - down by an estimated 12 percent over the previous year, which translates into a total fraud reduction of $6.4 billion.
  • Fraudulent new account openings are down over the previous year with average fraud amounts also dropping significantly.
  • More fraud occurs in traditional physical channels, such as in-person transactions and by the direct theft of personal data by individuals, rather than online.

Young Adults Most at Risk

  • Young adults are at the greatest risk for identity fraud - adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are least likely to take easy but important safeguards such as shredding documents and using antivirus software and firewalls.
  • The overall adult population of the United States reported a fraud rate of 3.7 percent. Younger adults between 18 and 24 reported a much greater incident rate of 5.3 percent.
  • More than half of these young adult victims reported knowing their perpetrators, which could include friends, neighbors or in-home employees, as compared to just 23 percent of overall respondents.

Income is a Factor

  • Americans earning less than $15,000 are least likely to be victims but take the longest to uncover fraud when it happens. They also react differently to fraud than those Americans earning more than $150,000. Lower income victims are more than twice as likely to reduce their overall spending, almost three times more likely to avoid online purchases, and are also three times more likely to avoid online banking.
  • When the lowest income population is victimized, misuse lasts twice as long and the fraud is the hardest to uncover, taking on average 70 percent longer to detect than in higher income populations. These victims spent twice as long, or 44 hours on average, more time resolving the fraud.
  • Fraud victims earning more than $150,000 are two times more likely to turn off paper statements and bills, choosing to adopt electronic alternatives, a technique to help prevent fraud. They are 65 percent more likely to monitor their accounts online, giving them a timely advantage in catching fraud before large incident values build up.

> If you'd like to start paying bills online and reduce your chances of becoming an identity fraud victim, contact your bank or visit www.EBillPlace.com.

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