Every day you share personal information about yourself by writing a check at the grocery store, charging clothing in a department store, purchasing a book online or filling out a form at the doctor’s office. Each transaction requires you to share some personal information: your driver’s license number, credit card number or Social Security number. Although businesses and law enforcement are taking some key initiatives to combat identity theft, like it or not, the fact is that it is up to you to take reasonable steps to help protect your personal information.Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the nation. Identity thieves capture information about you and use it to commit fraud, steal your money, fraudulently charge items to your accounts or even create new accounts.
What Is Identity Theft? Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Victims range from everyday people to celebrities like Tiger Woods and Rosie O’Donnell.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals personal information from another person and fraudulently uses it to obtain credit, goods and services. An example: someone steals your credit card and buys a new TV for himself. Although a large percentage of identity theft is committed by a family member or friend of the victim, more and more the crime is being committed by professionals who belong to nationwide, even international, crime rings.
Identity theft is costly to businesses and may be costly to victims. The U.S. Secret Service estimated the cost of identity theft at $745 million in 1997. According to a Privacy Rights Clearinghouse study in 2000, the average consumer victim spends 175 hours and $800 resolving identity theft problems. It takes two or more years for victims to clear up all resulting problems.
It is important for you to know about identity theft and what to do if you become a victim.
Examples of Identity Theft: Skilled identity thieves use both low-tech and high-tech methods to steal confidential information from individuals and businesses. Here are some examples of identity theft:
Purse snatching. A thief steals your wallet or purse containing your ID and credit and bankcards.
Mail theft. Thieves steal bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, telephone calling cards and tax information from your mailbox.
Change of address. Thieves divert your mail to another location.
Dumpster diving. Thieves rummage through residential or business trash, looking for personal information.
Masquerading. Thieves fraudulently pose as your employer, landlord or someone else with a legitimate need for your personal information.
Stealing work records. Thieves get your business or personnel records at work.
Home theft. Thieves find personal information in your home.
Internet theft. Thieves obtain personal information from unsecured Web sites that you may have visited.
Insider crime. People who have access to personal identifying information steal it to use themselves or to sell to other thieves.
Pretexting. Thieves pretend to be you or a legitimate requestor and persuade business employees to provide them with your personal information.
Corporate espionage. Thieves steal business secrets such as new product plans or bidding strategy.
Prevention Tips: Unfortunately it is impossible to entirely prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. But you can take a number of steps to protect your information. Managing your personal information wisely and carefully is the best deterrent to identity theft.
Don’t carry information such as your Social Security number, bank and credit card numbers, PIN numbers or passwords in your wallet or purse. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the call or know the caller. Don’t put your Social Security number on your checks.
Before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used and whether it will be shared with others. Ask if you have a choice regarding submitting certain information. Can you choose to have it kept confidential? Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. Make sure your driver’s license number is not your Social Security number. Put passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your phone number or a series of consecutive numbers. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after it has been delivered. If you are planning to be away from home and cannot pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up. Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your credit card account and changed your billing address to cover his or her tracks. Review carefully all bills and statements that come to your home. If you notice odd charges, contact your creditors immediately. Keep items with personal information in a safe place. Take steps to thwart “dumpster divers” – thieves who steal from trash or recycling bins. Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, telephone and other utility bills, bank checks and statements you are discarding, expired charge cards and credit offers that you get in the mail. Be cautious about where you leave personal information in your home. Take special care if you employ help from outside the home, have roommates or are having service work done in your home. Find out who has access to your personal information at work. Verify that the records are kept in a secure location. Order a copy of your credit record. Obtain a copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies every year. Make sure it is accurate, current and includes only those activities you have authorized or are aware of. Equifax 800-685-1111 http://www.equifax.com Experian 888-397-3742 http://www.experian.com Trans Union 800-888-4213 http://www.transunion.com