We’ve all read or heard stories about people who have had their lives turned upside down after falling victim to an identity thief. If you’ve ever wondered how identity theft works, and how to prevent it from happening to you, the following information should prove helpful.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information from another party and uses that information to fill out credit card applications, apply for mortgages and shop until they drop. Unfortunately, by the time the unsuspecting victim catches on, the identity thief has already stolen thousands of dollars and left the other person’s credit in shambles. The nightmare doesn’t end when the theft is detected, either. It can be a long frustrating process to clean up the mess. Don’t let this happen to you, take the proper steps to prevent identity theft.
An Identity thief can:
- Dig through your trash and recycled papers looking for personal information that yields clues to your identity.
- Steal your mail and learn account numbers, passwords, salary and credit information.
- Issue changes of address in your name.
- Fill out credit applications in your name.
- Steal personal records from your place of employment.
- Steal your purse or wallet in order to learn more about you.
- Hack into business and personal computers.
- Take out car, boat, home or other loans in your name.
- Open bank accounts in your name and write fraudulent checks.
- Use your name, address and social security number if he or she is arrested.
An identity thief can be anyone. It can be someone at your place of employment, bank, department store, or credit card agency. In addition, he or she can also pose as a government worker, representative of your credit card company, even a customer service agent from your Internet provider. Scary, isn’t it?
It’s important to be aware of the signs of identity theft. By knowing what to look for, you’ll be able to detect the problem immediately instead of finding out after serious damage has been done to your credit. Scrutinize all banking and credit card statements for fraudulent charges or withdrawals. Make sure you’re receiving all your mail.
If you fail to receive an invoice or statement, this can mean an identity thief has changed your address. Even if your mail is late by a few days, you should call the company to check on the address. Never be afraid of becoming a pest. Since an identity thief won’t pay the bills, you may receive calls from bill collectors soliciting payment. This is another red flag and should not be taken lightly. If in doubt, request a copy of your credit report.
So how does one safeguard oneself against identity theft?
- If your purse or wallet is stolen, or your house burglarized, immediately contact your credit card company and bank to cancel your old accounts and passwords. Have new accounts issued in your name?
- Never give out your social security or credit card information to anyone sending an instant message or email who claims to be a representative of your internet provider, online banker, or other company. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from your credit card company, survey company or any other business, take the name and phone number (a red flag should go up if you’re not allowed to return the call) and call that company directly. (Don’t call the number given by the agent on the other end of the phone.) Find out if the person actually works for that company.
- Never carry your social security card with you. Leave it home in a safe place that can’t be viewed by guests.
- Shred any important documents before placing them in the trash or recycle bin. This includes credit card solicitations with applications or checks.
- If you’re going out of town, make arrangements with a trusted relative or neighbor to pick up your mail.
- Don’t carry a wallet full of identification and credit cards. Carry only what you will need. Never flaunt cash or credit cards.
- Know how your personal information is handled at the doctor’s office or your place of employment.
- Always ask questions when providing your social security number. Find out why it’s needed, how the information is stored, who has access to the information, how your social security number will be protected, how the information will be used and what will happen if you don’t give out that information. The only situations where a social security number should be necessary is at your place of employment and when requesting credit or a loan.
- Delete any personal information from computer hard drives before throwing away or giving to another person.
- Don’t use easily recognizable information such as birthdays or maiden names as passwords. Use random numbers and letters instead.
- Use a firewall program on your computer to protect yourself against hackers.
- Know who is sending you files. Don’t download anything unless you trust the sender. Don’t click on any questionable links, either.
You can never be too safe when it comes to protecting yourself against identity theft. If you think you’re a victim, cancel all your accounts immediately, and contact social security. Also, place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting the credit company under which that report is issued.
In addition, you’ll need to contact the DMV about replacing your Driver’s License. Keep an eye on all bills and credit histories to make sure your accounts have indeed been closed. If you know for sure you’re a victim of identity theft, immediately fill out a report with the police department. You’ll need a paper trail to help repair your credit history and open new accounts.
You’ll also want to help capture the identity thief and aid in the prosecution. If you don’t fill out a police report, this might not happen. You should also file a report with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) who will work with legal authorities to find the thief and take any legal steps necessary to see this person is stopped. The FTC will also contact credit agencies to assist in rebuilding your accounts as well as your good name.
When it comes to identity theft, what you don’t know can hurt you. Don’t be a victim, safeguard your personal information.