Identity Theft

Identity theft is a growing problem and consumers need to take measures to protect themselves at all times.  Awareness is one of the best deterrents against fraud. Criminals can steal your identity in many ways, and are inventing new avenues every day.  Howard Bank takes real interest and responsibility in protecting our customers against fraud, and while we have many checks in place to detect deceitful activity, educating yourself about the risks will benefit us both.

Avoid Identity Theft and Online Fraud

Scams such as Spoofing and Phishing to commit identity theft are becoming more prevalent. Identity theft involves the use of your personal information – your name, Social Security number, credit card, bank account numbers, or other identifying information – by someone else, to commit fraud or other crimes.

Email Phishing – Involves you receiving an email, with something similar to “Official Information” or “Online Banking Problem” in the subject line, that appears to be from a legitimate company. It may even include the company’s logo and a link to an Internet address that looks appropriate. This email directs you to link to a website where you are to supply account or personal information. This is not normal operating procedure for a reputable company and should be questioned.  Howard Bank will never send an email that asks for information such as social security number, account number, or PIN.  Simply clicking the link could secretly install software on your computer. The software may infect your computer with a virus or record and transmit everything you type, including passwords. Additionally, the website you link to may be spoofing the correct Internet site.

Website Spoofing – Involves you trying to visit a website but accidentally keying-in or linking-to a different address. This may lead you to a website that mimics the legitimate site that you were trying to visit. The spoof Internet site may route whatever information you provide to criminals. This can include your account numbers, Social Security Numbers, credit card information, passwords and personal identification numbers. To make spoof sites seem legitimate, criminals may use the logos, graphics, names and code of the real company’s site. They also may attempt to fake the URL that appears in the address field at the top of your browser window and the padlock that appears in the lower right corner.

Skimming – Another method is called “skimming.” This method uses a small electronic device placed over or sometimes even inside a card slot at an ATM, gas pump, etc.  The device will capture information from a customer’s card, such as account numbers and PIN.  This recorded information is then used to create fraudulent cards.  If you notice anything out of ordinary, notify the machine’s owners immediately.

Sometimes, the scheme can be as simple as a phone call or letter asking you to update your information.  You should never give out personal information such as your PIN, social security number, or account number to unknown parties.  No reputable company will ever call you requesting this type of information.

Protect Yourself

  • First and foremost is awareness—be alert for the latest scams and educate yourself about how to avoid becoming a victim.
  • Do not reply to an email or pop-up message asking for personal or financial information. Legitimate companies will never ask for personal or financial information via an email or pop-up message.
  • Don’t email personal or financial information. If you initiate a transaction, look for indicators that the message is secured, which can be validated by a lock icon. Most email programs do not provide confidentiality via encryption.
  • Use bookmarks to access known sites to avoid being lured to imposter sites.
  • Use updated anti-virus software. Some phishing emails contain viruses and software that can harm your computer.
  • Do not just throw documents containing personal information in the trash (such as statements, canceled checks, credit card bills, etc.). Shred unwanted documents that contain personal information.
  • Pay close attention to new charges on your credit card bill.  Review credit card and bank statements immediately for unauthorized charges and contact the company if statements are more than a few days late.
  • Don’t leave mail in your mailbox.
  • Memorize your Social Security number instead of carrying it with you.
  • Don’t write down your passwords, and don’t use birth dates or names of family members as passwords.  Never write down PIN numbers.
  • Take your receipts from ATMs, gas pumps, etc.
  • Report lost or stolen credit and debit cards immediately!
  • Protect the sensitive information contained in your wallet, checkbook, and other items at all times.
  • Take outgoing mail to the Post Office, or put it in a USPS drop box.
  • Check your credit report often (1-2 times a year)—paying a small fee could help you avoid a huge problem.
  • Always sign a debit card or credit card immediately.
  • Balance your statements.
  • If you receive a questionable call, tell the caller you are busy and ask what number you can reach them back on.

Consumers Across the Country Eligible for Free Annual Credit Reports

On September 1, 2005, consumers in 14 East Coast states, including Maryland, joined the rest of the country in qualifying for a free annual credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The free reports were mandated by Congress in The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA), which requires the nationwide credit bureaus to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report, at their request, once every 12 months. Consumers who want to access their credit report online can go to

Consumers can also obtain a copy of their credit report from the following companies:

Equifax Credit Information Services

P. O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Phone: To request a credit report: 800-685-1111 Option 4
To report fraud: 800-525-6285

P. O. Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
Phone: (888) 397-3742

TransUnion Corporation

P. O. Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022
Phone: To request a credit report: 800-916-8800
To report fraud: 800-680-7289

If you feel you are a victim of identity theft, contact anyone that you have a financial relationship with, including banks and credit card companies, and the police.  Keep a written record of everything related to the incident and all people/companies you contact.  You can also contact the following agencies:

Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Clearing House
Hotline: 877-438-4338
IDD: 202-326-2502

Social Security Administration
Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271

The Federal Trade Commission has an identity theft hotline 877-438-4338 and a website that is a very useful tool for consumers.

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