No doubt there are some pretty savvy criminals out there who come up with all sorts of schemes to steal your identity. That is, they find ways to get your social security number, credit card information, bank account or other financial information, and documents or statements that include your name, address, account number and other personal details. According to a report commissioned by the Federal Trade Commission, about 8.3 million Americans were victims of some form of identity theft in 2005, the most recent year a survey was conducted, and the crime continues to cause problems for consumers, businesses and law enforcement. As daunting as the crime may be, identity theft is preventable. As the U.S. Department of Justice advises, individuals and businesses need to become more educated and aware of ways to prevent identity theft.
Identity Theft Basics
The U.S. Department of Justice defines identity theft, also referred to as identity fraud, as a federal crime where a person unlawfully obtains and uses another individual’s personal information in a manner that involves deception or fraud for economic gain or some other purpose. Personal information encompasses all forms of data that identify a person, such as a social security number, driver’s license number, telephone calling card number, credit card number and bank account information. With this identifying information, identity theft criminals can open up accounts in your name, take out loans, withdraw funds from your financial accounts, run up debt and commit crimes using your name.
How To Prevent Identity Theft
While we are all at risk for identity theft, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FB I) points out that there are things we can do to protect ourselves from becoming victims of identity theft. Here are some tips provided by the FBI and law enforcement experts:
* Never carry your social security card or documents containing your social security number in your handbag or wallet. And never write your social security number on a check.
* Shred documents (a cross-cut shredder is best) that contain personal information or identifying information.
* If going out of town for several days, stop your mail.
* Put a lock on your mailbox.
* Be discreet with personal information, credit card numbers and bank account information when talking on your cell phone in public or providing the information to a store or office clerk.
* Be careful about what you say about yourself and your lifestyle to others or while in a public setting. Friends also commit identity theft.
* Protect your computer from online identity theft schemes by installing a firewall, an anti-spyware program and anti-virus software.
* Sign up for credit monitoring.
Ways To Track Information You Give To Others
Unfortunately, your personal information is necessary for a plethora of everyday transactions. Employers, schools, stores, financial institutions, credit card companies and the like are among the types of businesses and organizations that require your personal information for identification purposes or to open up an account for you. While you have no control over how these third-parties store and protect your personal information, there are some measures you can take. The U.S. Department of Justice recommends the following:
* Ask the business or organization how they safeguard your personal information. If you are not comfortable with their methods, consider other options.
* Monitor your credit reports regularly. The three consumer credit reporting agencies are Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.
* Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service or identity theft protection service which monitors your credit reports and performs Internet monitoring and other forms of monitoring to ensure your personal information is not being fraudulently used. Many identity theft protection services also offer identity theft insurance, which helps pays for lost wages and expenses that incur while resolving an identity theft issue.
When it comes to preventing identity theft, the key is being proactive. Take measures to lower your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.