Identity theft is the fast growing crime in America today! It is a crime in which a person wanting to steal your identity appropriates personal information, such as your Social Security Number (SS) and a driver’s license number. This information can then be used to obtain credit, merchandise, or services in your name. The criminal behind this identity theft may even go as far as to show your information to the police upon their arrest for various other crimes. This gets you an unwarranted criminal record. The thief will usually change the mailing address on the account and leave behind a huge bill before the victim is even aware of the problem.
Almost every person with reasonable credit will have their identity stolen within the next ten years, and almost everybody now knows someone who has already had their identity stolen.
Unfortunately, the Internet has made it easier for identity theft to occur because online transactions can be made without personal verification.
Although many people believe that an identity thief would rather hack into a database to acquire personal information, most internet experts say the thief would rather use methods such as:
1. retrieving personal paperwork
2. discarded mail from garbage cans.
3. shoulder surfing – stealing a computer password or access code by sneaking a peek over someone’s shoulder.
4. watching someone at a public office fill in a form.
Hacking can be very successful and even easy, but the thief must understand the various computer systems and how to break in without being noticed. Since learning these programs is like a full-time job, and there is also no monies
being brought in, most thieves prefer the easier methods of access to personal information.
Top 10 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft:
1. Get yourself a copy of your credit report from the 3 major credit reporting agencies every year and crosscheck all accounts. You might also want to consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. With these services you will also receive a free credit report and credit score, enabling you to monitor your credit report on a monthly basis, catching anything unususal before it gets out of hand. Close all unused accounts. In a secure place, make a list of all accounts and credit cards you have, their numbers and the phone number to call if you need to cancel if they’re lost or stolen. Guard your credit card, passport, and SSN/SIN numbers, tax information/filings, birth certificate, driver’s
license, bank and utility account information.
2. Do not leave any mail in your mailbox overnight. If you are going on vacation, call the postal office to hold your mail. If possible, deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Pick up new checks from your bank or have them delivered to either a post office box or your office directly. Report lost or stolen checks immediately and properly store cancelled checks. Examine new checks to make sure none were stolen and keep them in a secure location. Do not put your telephone number on personal checks.
3. Minimize the number of cards you carry to only what you need. If your I.D. or credit cards are lost or stolen, notify the creditors immediately and call the credit bureaus to ask that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file. Tear or shred any credit/debit card receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, credit offers, expired charge cards, bank checks and statements that you are discarding. Don’t forget to fully destroy pre-approved credit lines/credit cards.
4. Don’t give out any personal information over the phone, through the mail or over the internet, unless you have contacted the company or person you are dealing with. If a store clerk asks for your phone number, do not give it to
5. Put passwords on all your credit cards, bank , phone and internet accounts.
6. Do not leave any cards with personal or account information in your vehicle.
7. Always keep your computer turned off when you’re not using it. Sometimes a cable or DSL internet connection allows for easier access to your computer. Ask your cable or telephone provider what features they offer for
your security. Never store any personal information on your computer, and use a reliable firewall, strong passwords, and encryption. Do not give valid personal information to telemarketers or when visiting other websites. If you make online purchases, verify that the website is viable. Check the website’s security certificate. Cyber-thieves often divert online purchasers to fake websites or use fraudulent security certificates.
8. Pay attention to your billing cycles. Always follow up if bills do not arrive on time. Always maintain detailed financial records in case you have to dispute payments you know you did not authorize.
9. Use a paper shredder to destroy bank machine receipts, bank statements, credit card offers, receipts, checks, addresses from magazines, envelopes, and packaging.
10. Educate your children. Do not allow them to visit chat rooms unsupervised. Children often give out personal information without realizing the danger.
Dealing with Identity Theft
1. Contact any Fraud Victim Assistance Departments at each of the credit reporting agencies and tell them you have been the victim of identity theft.
2. Ask the credit bureaus to add a fraud statement to your file, and to alert credit grantors of your situation. This will help prevent fraudulent accounts from being opened in your name.
3. File a report with your local police department, and get a copy.
4. Contact each credit company and open any new accounts with passwords attached.
5. The FTC is the central point of contact for reporting identity theft. Their service is available for international complaints of identity theft. Canada does not have a central reporting point.
6. Document all the contacts you have made to report the identity theft. Record names, dates, phone numbers, and websites. Print out and save any copies of emails.
7. Obtain a credit report every few months. If a new fraudulent account is discovered, you now know how to handle it.
To prevent identity theft, experts recommend that you regularly check your credit reports with the major credit reporting companies, sign up for a credit monitoring service, follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on
time, destroy unsolicited credit applications, and protect yourself by not giving out any personal information in response to unsolicited e-mail.