What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is the fastest growing white collar crime within the United States, and it affects millions of people and costs billions of dollars annually. The problem is alarmingly prolific in the United States. One incident of identity theft occurs every two seconds.
Assessing your Risk of Identity Theft
One of the following actions or inactions could put you at risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:
- Carelessly throwing away bank statements, credit card offers, and receipts without shredding them.
- Providing your social security number without asking how this information will be used, and what safeguards are in place to protect its disclosure for unintended purposes and individuals.
- Carrying your social security card in your wallet.
- Constantly sharing personal information on a widely visited website such as a social networking site or financial website.
- Often forgetting to log off when doing online banking or when on social media sites in public places such as a library, hotel, or coffee shop.
- Using public computers for Wi-Fi internet access to your private accounts.
How do thieves get your information?
There is a multitude of ways by which thieves can access your information, such as your billing and financial records, or paycheck stubs. They will go through your trash to find credit card bills, cancelled checks and pre-approved credit card offers, so whatever bills or records you discard into the trash, you should shred before doing so. Keep in mind that you may also be vulnerable to identity theft from the information and updates you share on social networking internet sites.
The three most common scams for gathering information is “Vishing” where you are tricked into giving information over the phone, “Phishing” where you are sent an email or text message that contains a fraudulent link to a website through which Malware or Spyware is inserted into your computer so as to steal passwords and other personal information. Identity theft puts your loans and credit cards, bank accounts, school enrollment, and business at risk.
How to protect your assets
With all of these risks, the question remains: how are you supposed to protect yourself completely from the risk of Identity theft? First things first, do not hand out your social security card or number to anyone who asks. While this goes without saying, you may run into a scenario where it may seem prudent and necessary to handover your social security number. However, you should never provide your social security number to an unverifiable source.
Checks & Credit Cards
It’s widely recommended to have just your first initial and last name printed on your checks, and make sure you do not have your home phone number. If you really want to put a number on your checks, then choose your work number. Additionally, make sure you close any inactive bank accounts.
When it comes to your credit cards, you should monitor your credit report annually to check for any discrepancies or any payments you don’t remember making. After all, you are entitled to one free report a year from the major credit reporting bureaus. Be sure to properly dispose of any credit cards that have expired.
Telephone, Computer & Passwords
It may go without saying, but we’ll say it anyone: never give any personal information over the phone. Also, if you have children, you should also teach them what to say and what not to say on the phone. And, when it comes to your cell phone, you should add a code or lock to it. Most smart phones allow you to create a 4- or 5-digit passcode.
In this digital age, it is becoming easier and easier for people to steal your information via your home computer or laptop which is why you should invest in an up to date virus and firewall program. Additionally, you should avoid sharing personal sensitive information on social networking sites. Of course, we all like to post status updates, but nothing with regards to your pay, mortgage, bank accounts, social security number, address, or driver’s license. Lastly, if you ever decide to get rid of your computer for a new one, make sure you wipe it clean of all your personal information.
Of course, when it comes to computers, there are a lot of passwords you have. Keep them simple, nothing that can easily guessed by simply looking at your address, social media profiles, or your date of birth. Stay away from something like ‘Password1’ or ‘ABCD123.’ You should also try to change your passwords periodically.
If you become a victim of identity theft you should immediately follow these steps:
1) File a Police Report (make sure you keep a copy of the report for your own accounting)
2) File a fraud alert with all three national credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
3) File your case with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC puts all complaints into its database, which is used by law enforcement. Keep all evidence. You need to build a case to present to your creditors, don’t discard anything. Keep detailed records of your conversations, people you speak to, and copies of all correspondence.