In a Nutshell: An increasing number of data breaches and the exposure of sensitive personal information have led to a greater concern of identity theft. In response, many financial institutions are doing their part to safeguard members and remediate issues. For instance, Coastal Credit Union, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, has implemented a recovery program to help members retrieve and restore their personal information if they fall victim to identity theft. The program, dubbed id Ally℠, is free for members of the credit union and their families. Identity theft recovery specialists work with the member to determine the extent of the damage, resolve the incidents, and ensure a secure identity is restored.
High-profile data breaches have been all over the news in recent years. In fact, some of the biggest data breaches in history have occurred in the past five years. So, what is a data breach exactly, and what does it mean for the average consumer? Well, it could mean quite a lot.
A data breach occurs when sensitive, confidential, or otherwise secure data is accessed or stolen from the company storing that information. It could be financial data, personally identifiable information (such as Social Security numbers), and even health records. And what it means for you is that someone could have information about you that can be used to steal your identity.
Just some recent examples of data breaches that have led to compromised personal data include the 2017 data breach of 14 million Verizon subscribers’ personal information. A breach of Blue Cross Blue Shield data also exposed health information on 80 million customers of the healthcare provider. And, of course, the biggest of them all so far was the data breach of credit agency Equifax, which exposed the personal information of more than 145 million consumers, including their names, dates of birth, addresses, and Social Security numbers.
These breaches of what should be secure information leads to a disturbing question for all of us. What happens if my personal information is compromised and my identity is stolen? How do I stop an identity thief from using it? And how will I ever recover my credit and restore my good name?
These are the questions Coastal Credit Union in North Carolina is helping to answer for its members through a new service. In light of the Equifax breach — which exposed information that could potentially be used to open false accounts or access existing accounts — executives at Coastal Credit Union implemented an identity theft recovery service they’re calling id Ally℠.
We recently spoke with Joe Mecca, AVP of Communication at Coastal Credit Union, who told us about the institution’s new offering.
“id Ally is an identity theft recovery service, and it’s a free service we offer to all of our members,” Mecca said. “If one of them suspects they may be a victim of identity theft, they can call us and report it, and we’ll turn it over to a dedicated team of recovery specialists.”
The Telltale Signs — Learning to Spot Identity Theft
Although none of us can fully protect ourselves from the possibility of someone stealing our identity, we can take steps to minimize the damage done. The key is spotting it early and immediately raising the alarm. The best way to spot potential identity theft is to learn the warning signs that can tip you off to someone using your information.
“The most common way people will notice their identity has been compromised is if they see either new credit being opened in their name or seeing hard inquiries on their credit report with institutions they don’t recognize,” Mecca said.
With both of those warning signs, the way to detect it early is to regularly check your credit report. We have recommended using the website annualcreditreport.com, which lets you request a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. By staggering this and requesting your credit report from one of the agencies every four months, you can monitor your credit year-round for free.
When you receive your report, look it over closely for things like credit cards you don’t recognize, an account with a financial institution that is unfamiliar, and even utility services at an address that isn’t yours. These are all common signs that your identity is being used by someone else.
“Another warning sign is people using stolen IDs to get work,” Mecca said. “This type of identity theft usually won’t show up until tax time, so it’s difficult to spot.”
Stolen identities are frequently used by individuals who are unable to pass a credit check. Any time a credit check is required for a loan, rental application, and yes, even getting a job, these unscrupulous individuals will use someone else’s good name.
This is why it’s so important to be proactive about protecting your identity by regularly checking your credit report, using alerts, and freezing your credit when you’re not applying for something.
Specialists Make Identity Recovery as Hassle-Free as Possible
In the unfortunate instances where identity theft does occur, going it alone can be very difficult. That’s one reason this new service offered by Coastal is so valuable to its members. Mecca told us the credit union has always been able to help members with problems involving credit or debit cards being fraudulently used, or if someone is trying to access an account using stolen information. However, this new service adds an extra layer of assurance that they will be taken care of.
“Now, our members can come to us if they see in their credit report that an account was opened at another financial institution using their Social Security number, or with a W-2 for a job they didn’t work, and we’ll handle all of it for them,” Mecca said. “It’s a big burden removed when they don’t have to deal with each individual instance or entity that’s involved. They can simply call us and start working with the ID recovery specialist who will do that work for them.”
The id Ally service provided to Coastal members is contracted with the data intelligence company, InfoArmor®.
The investigative and identity theft recovery specialists at InfoArmor work with the fraud team at Coastal to learn the extent of the damage, and then engage directly with the credit union member to identify all of the information needed to begin the recovery process. Status updates and progress on the case are handled via phone call or through an online member portal with a secure login.
“The nice thing, too, is that it covers any instances of identity theft they might experience, not just fraudulent activity on their Coastal Credit Union account,” Mecca said.
The Far-Reaching Effects of Identity Theft
For those targeted, identity theft can be a traumatic, aggravating, and time-consuming experience. It can affect a person’s credit score and ability to access credit. It can cause legal problems, with collections for debts a person didn’t actually incur. It can even bring about tax implications if someone has earned income using their Social Security number.
“These financial implications are the biggest impact, but there can also be problems if you’re applying for a job, where the employer does a credit or background check and red flags come up,” Mecca said.
Handling all of these issues by yourself can be a nightmare and can take a long time to resolve. By providing its members with the id Ally service, Coastal Credit Union is ensuring the best possible chance at a complete identity recovery, with the least possible impact on members and their families.