Every year, there are thousands of Americans who have their identity stolen. So, what exactly is Identity theft? Identity theft occurs when your personal information is stolen and used to commit fraud, forgery or other crimes. Identity theft can cost you money and time, in addition to destroying your credit and good name.
Here, the victim's identity is fraudulently used to obtain credit, make purchases, get credit cards from banks, apply for loans and take money from the victim's account, rent an apartment or file job applications. Thousands of dollars are taken using the victim's name and identity and the concerned person may not know about it for months or even years. It is imperative that you protect against identity theft. Learn how to prevent your identity from being stolen.
Risk of identity theft
It is time to take stock of all your accounts if any of the following happens to you:
- You get a letter or a phone call saying that you have been approved or denied credit for accounts you never requested.
- Your credit card statements include charges for items you never purchased.
- Some of your mail seems to be missing.
- You no longer receive your credit card statements.
- A collection agency calls you up to collect for an account you never opened.
In today's world, where most of the businesses take place over the phone and computer, it is indeed very easy for an imposter to take your identity. All that is needed is your name, social security number, address and phone number. With this basic information and a false driver's license, identity thieves can embark on robbing you of your hard-earned money and peace of mind. They apply for instant credit, preferably through mail by providing an address of their own, claiming to have moved. Credit grantors, in their eagerness to issue credits, do not verify the given addresses and information and the imposters are able to open their account. It is very easy to open new accounts using the first account as an identifier. Thus an identity fraud begins.
Identity theft statistics reveal that nearly 1 in 4 households has been the victim of some sort of identity theft, be it social security number identity theft or credit card identity theft. The losses to the individual and the community can be enormous. Identity theft can leave a victim with life-changing repercussions. This kind of victimization is assuming larger proportions. Often criminals mix and match information from different victims to create a new identity.
Statistics of identity theft reveal that nearly a third of the crimes are credit card frauds. Others involve phone and bank frauds, such as electronic funds transfer and employment-related fraud. Illegal immigrants may try and use your social security number and date of birth to secure employment. Criminals might supply stolen identification when they are arrested and you might find yourself with a criminal record due to misuse of information.
Collecting identity information
- Your doctor, accountant, dentist, lawyer, place of work, school, health insurance carrier and others possess basic information about you. Information can be stolen or accessed through corrupt employees.
- The identity thieves steal wallets, purses, mails, personal records from employers to collect information.
- The thieves rummage through your trash looking for utility bills and other papers with your personal information on it.
- Your billing statements are diverted to another location with a change of address form.
- The thieves pretend to be representatives of financial institutions or companies and call you up for personal information.
- Spam or pop-up messages on your computer screen are another way of finding out more about you.
- They steal credit and debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Identity theft prevention
Prevention is better than cure. This not only applies to your health but to your identity also.
- Use a shredder to shred all important papers, bills, applications and forms as these are the primary source of your personal information.
- Be very cautious at ATMs and while using phone cards. Beware of 'Shoulder Surfers' (persons who peep over your shoulder).
- Use reliable ATMs at reputable sites only. Look for any suspicious attachment to any ATM that may steal information. Enter private information with touch tone but not with voice entry. Hide what you type from others.
- As mail theft is common, it is better to drop your mail at a U.S. Mailbox or Post Office. Get a post office box or a mail box with a lock.
- Get your checks to be delivered at your bank instead of your home address.
- When you order new credit cards or while re-issuing the old ones, make sure that you get the credit card within the appropriate time. Call up and ensure that no change of address is filed if you don't receive a billing statement.
- Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in the past 6 months.
- Get credit cards and business cards with your picture on them.
- Use a password for all your accounts and instead of using your mother's maiden name, make up a fictitious word. Store credit card account and bank account numbers safely.
- Do not put account numbers, social security numbers on your checks or on the outside of envelopes.
- Do not keep your personal account numbers on the hard drive of your computer if you are connected to the Internet.
- Take your name off all promotional lists.
- Call the three approved credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) to opt out of pre-approved offers.
- Order your credit report at least twice a year and if anything is amiss, immediately put a fraud alert.
- Correct all the mistakes in your credit report in writing.
- Freeze your credit, if the facility is available in your state.
- Monitor all your bank statements from every credit card every month.
- Do not carry any identifiers you do not need. Don't carry your social security card, passport, etc, unless necessary. Empty your wallet of all extra credit cards.
- When you receive a call from any business establishment, never give out any personal information. Call them back at the number that you know is the true number and then also, give only such information that is absolutely necessary.
- It is preferable to use a landline while giving out sensitive information rather than wireless or cellular phones.
- Do not publish unnecessary personal information on the web.
File a report with the local police if you suspect that your credit card/bank details have been compromised. Filing a complaint with the FTC is essential so as to get better assistance.