If you’ve never taken the time to do an internet search on yourself, you just may be surprised about how many details of your life – past and present – are readily available to the public.

In addition to personal details that already may be available, fraudsters sometimes breach security systems at major companies, potentially giving them access to some of your most personal information, like your Social Security number, birth date, address or credit card numbers.

If you suspect that your personal information may have been exposed, take these five important steps, then be on high alert for signs of identity theft and phishing.

1. Review your financial statements and online transaction activity. If you notice unauthorized activity on your account, immediately call the number on the back of your card or stop by your local branch. PNC customers will not be held responsible for verified unauthorized activity that is promptly reported. You do not need to replace your cards unless you are directed to do so. You also can sign up for alerts so you receive an email or text message when there is activity on your account.

2. Check your credit report. You can request a free copy of your three credit reports at each of the three credit agencies once every 12 months at www.annualcreditreport.com. Consider spreading out your reviews, checking one report every four months. Make sure that all the information on your report is accurate. If there is any suspicious activity, contact the credit reporting agency.

3. Place a 90-day credit alert on your file. This means the agencies will contact you any time someone attempts to acquire credit in your name. There is no charge, but it must be renewed every 90 days. Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies who will then contact the other two.

4. Consider a security freeze on your credit to block inquiries. You must place the freeze at each of the credit bureaus individually. The good news is consumers no longer have to pay fees for placing or lifting a credit freeze at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Just remember when you do apply for credit you will need to request the agencies lift the freezes temporarily in order for the creditor to access your credit report.

5. Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission and local police. Send copies of both of these reports to your bank, credit card companies, mortgage holder, other organizations with which you have financial relationships and all credit reporting agencies. If a thief has run up your credit cards, drained existing accounts or opened accounts in your name, this can make it easier to dispute charges.

Warning Signs of Identity Theft

If your personal information has been exposed, you could be at risk for identity theft. Fraudsters with your information could pose as you or use available information to access your accounts. Depending on the details they acquire, they could open accounts in your name or make purchases, resulting in hits to your credit score and damage to your finances.

Deborah Guild, chief security officer for The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., says all it takes is a Social Security number, which can be paired with a different name, birth date and address to apply for credit.

“The primary use of stolen personal information is for financial purposes,” said Guild. “Using the stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open up credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs.”

Warning signs that you may be a victim include:

  • Notification by the IRS of unpaid taxes in your name.
  • Notification that your Social Security number was used on another tax return.
  • Receiving collection calls for accounts you did not open.
  • Receiving bills for products or services not ordered or delivered.
  • Being declined for government benefits because those same benefits already are being paid to another account using your Social Security number.

Phishing Red Flags

Furthermore, fraudsters may use news of a security breach to impersonate the affected company through phishing, tricking you into providing more personal information or infecting your computer with malware. The danger lies in fraudulent phone calls, fake text messages (referred to as a SMiShing attack) and email links and attachments, which can deliver malware to your computer system with one click.

The easiest way to protect yourself is to not click on links or respond to text messages you don’t recognize. Phishing attacks are designed to resemble legitimate correspondence and rely on a user’s inability to spot them in order to succeed.

Email or text messages containing certain red flags should alert users to a possible phishing or SMiShing attack:

  • Misspellings
  • Grammatical errors
  • Offering fantastic prizes
  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Requesting personally identifiable information (PII)
  • Requesting User IDs and Passwords
  • Threatening with consequences
  • Making demands
  • Take Action

Fortunately, there are ways to help detect and avoid a phish. Upon spotting a phish, delete it or forward it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Using a stolen Social Security number, identity thieves can open up credit cards, rent apartments, buy cars, secure jobs and apply for welfare or other government programs.

-Deborah Guild