How to Prevent Your Identity Theft

Identity theft is when someone obtains your sensitive information like Social Security number, date of birth, address, phone number and uses it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft. You might not think it could happen to you but it is one of the fastest growing crimes in America.

How Identity Thieves Get Your Information.

There are numerous ways skilled identity thieves get your personal information. One of the most unusual and more common methods is to take a photo from a cell phone of a card, license or other data. Here are more.

  • Get information from businesses or institutions, stealing records, bribing employees, computer hacking and inadvertent disclosure by employees.
  • Acquire from the trash of businesses or public trash dumps or “dumpster driving”.
  • Steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing “skimming”. It is a method of attaching a device to an ATM where you enter or swipe your card.
  • Steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • Steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, new checks, or tax information.
  • Complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
  • Steal personal information from your home.
  • Scam information from you by posing as a legitimate business person or government official.
  • Another more common method is through computer virus’s which can capture screen shots or record your keyboard keystrokes.

How Identity Thieves Use Your Information. Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may:

  • Go on spending sprees especially using credit cards online.
  • Open a new credit card account, using your name, date of birth, and Social Security number. When they don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report.
  • Take out auto loans in your name.
  • Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain your bank account.
  • Open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • File for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred, or to avoid eviction.
  • Give your name to the police during an arrest. If they are released and don’t show up for their court date, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.
  • Thief changes the mailing address on your credit card account then runs up charges on the account. Since the bills are being sent to the new address it may be too late before you realize there’s a problem.

Protecting Yourself. Managing your personal information is essential to minimizing your risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.

  • Watch your purse or wallet, and keep them in a safe place at all times. Just like your baggage at the airport.
  • There’s really no reason to carry you Social Security card, so leave it locked up.
  • Never share personal information with random people you don’t know especially on the phone or via emails.
  • Read your bank statements from your bank. Report problems to your bank or creditors right away.
  • Tear up or shred your charge receipts, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, and any other documents with personal information before you put them in the trash.

How To Tell If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft.

Monitor the balances of your financial accounts. Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals. Other indications of identity theft can be:

  • Failing to receive bills or other mail signaling an address change by the identity thief.
  • Receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
  • Denial of credit for no apparent reason.
  • Receiving calls from debt collectors or companies about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.

What To Do If Your Identity’s Been Stolen

If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following four steps right away. Follow up all calls in writing; send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt, so you can document what the company received and when; and keep copies for your files.

  1. Close the accounts that you believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Contact the security or fraud department of each company where you think accounts have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Make sure you follow up in writing. Include copies, not originals, of supporting documents. Many credit card companies and banks will require you to notify them in writing. Send your letters by certified mail with return receipt requested. Document what the company received and when. Keep a of everything you mail

When opening new accounts use new and strong Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. 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 like 1,2,3,4,5,6

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports. Contact any one of the nationwide credit reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name.

File a local police report or report in the community where the identity theft took place.

Get a copy of the police report or at least the report number. It could help you deal with creditors who may need proof of a crime. If the police don’t readily take your report ask to file a “Miscellaneous Incidents” report. You could also try another jurisdiction like your State Police. You may also check your state Attorney General’s office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. With so much of your personal information out there you have to protect yourself.

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