Did you know there were over half a million cases of identity theft reported in 2007 resulting in more than 1.2 billion dollars in losses as a result? 2008 statistics aren’t out yet, but the FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
The good news is, not everyone who’s information was stolen was used by the identity thief. Many are not even aware they have been victimized. Either way, you need to protect yourself against this growing epidemic.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make-or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
How do thieves steal an identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
1. Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
2. Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
3. Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
4. Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
5. Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
6. Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. For more information about pretexting, click here.
How to protect yourself!
Here are a few tips to help protect you from this heinous crime.
1. Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them, especially credit card solicitations.
2. Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check. Give it out only if absolutely necessary or ask to use another identifier.
3. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you know who you are dealing with.
4. Never click on links sent in spam emails; instead, type in a web address you know. Use firewalls, anti-spyware, anti-phishing software and anti-virus software to protect your home computer; keep them up-to-date. Visit www.OnGuardOnline.gov for more information.
5. Don’t use an obvious password like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Change your passwords frequently.
6. Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your house.
Make a pre-emptive Strike!
Sign up for a credit monitoring program with one of the major credit reporting bureaus such as Transunion, Equifax or Experian or an identity theft protection program such as LifeLock. (Just FYI, I do not endorse any of these companies, please do your due diligence before signing up.)
For more information, visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Website