Identity Theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States today. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. By learning about this problem, you can learn crime prevention tips as well as what to do in the event that you become a victim.
Who has access to your information?
- Family members
- Complete strangers
Information you need to protect
- Your name
- Social security number
- Date of birth
- Phone number
How do thieves gain access to your information?
Thieves can pose as you to obtain a fraudulent driver’s license and, subsequently, fraudulent credit. Almost always, thieves will utilize a different mailing address from your own, allowing them to operate without you being aware. Thieves can also utilize this information to apply for loans, remove money from your personal accounts and even apply for a job (using your name). By using these methods, thousands of dollars can either be stolen or charged in your name in a very short period of time, often without the victim knowing until it’s too late. Some methods thieves use to obtain this information are:
Dumpster Diving – going through your trash looking for bills and other discarded papers with your personal information on it
Skimming – using a special device when your debit/credit card is being processed
Phishing – pretending to be financial institutions or companies to get you to reveal your personal information
Changing Your Address – complete a change of address request to receive your billing statements at another location
Old-Fashioned Stealing – stealing wallets, purses, personnel records, or bribing employees who have access to mail, which includes bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information
Pretexting – the practice of getting personal information under false pretenses then selling it to other people
The effects of identity theft?
Financial – opening various accounts, taking out loans, writing bad checks, etc., can all cause you to have bad credit and/or high debt, which can cause you to have to pay higher interest and insurance rates or be denied for loans or lines of credit, etc.
Criminal – criminals can steal your identity to commit crimes such as running meth labs, drug rings, and various other illegal activities, which can cause you to have a criminal record unbeknownst to you.
Emotional – violation of your privacy and not being able to prove to companies that your identity was stolen can cause very high stress.
Employment – you could be denied employment because of your on-paper background, not knowing your identity has been stolen.
Watch Lists – identity thieves may end up on sexual offender lists or terrorist watch lists under your name.
Medical Insurance – you can be turned down for medical insurance because the thief used your name to obtain medical treatment and may have a life threatening illness or condition, which can appear in your medical records and make you ineligible for medical or life insurance.
Driver’s License – unpaid tickets or too many traffic infractions, accidents, DUIs, etc. can result in the loss of your license.
What can you do to prevent identity theft?
Do not give out your personal information over the telephone, mail, or internet (especially if you were “cold called” and didn’t initiate contact) unless you know who you are dealing with. Ask questions for verification.
Shred all documents (using a cross-cut shredder) that contain personal information (like bank statements or credit card bills).
When using the internet, create hard-to-guess passwords for personal accounts and utilize up-to-date anti-virus software and firewalls to protect against hackers. Do not submit your credit card or social security numbers to websites that do not utilize encryption (the padlock symbol that appears next to the search bar). Also, never save or store your personal information for later use, especially on public computers (like in a library). Try to conduct business only on a personal computer, not a public one (like in Internet cafés).
Be on the lookout for your credit card and bank statements arriving on time. If you requested a new credit or bank card and haven’t received it in a timely fashion, follow up with the bank or Credit Card Company. These may be signs someone could have changed your mailing address.
Thoroughly review your credit card and bank statements for errors. Do not assume a charge that you don’t recognize was made by a spouse; always ask to be sure.
Cancel and deactivate all credit and bank cards that you do not use, and be sure to store them in a secure location inside of your home when not in use (in case your home is burglarized).
Carry only the cards you plan on using on a particular day, and make sure you keep them safe in your wallet or purse. Take precautions at the ATM or checkout line to be sure someone isn’t looking over your shoulder for your PIN.
When traveling, use prepaid credit cards with limited funds, or call your bank and let them know where you are and the length of your stay so they can monitor you cards for any suspicious use.
Place mobile/email alerts on your credit cards.
Do not carry a checkbook, use cash or credit.
Do not carry your social security card on you or ever use it as a password or driver’s license number.
Order your credit card report at least twice a year from the three major credit bureaus. Federal law allows you to get one free credit report per bureau per year for FREE. Visit the OFFICIAL website at www.annualcreditreport.com.
If you find mistakes on any of your credit reports take steps to begin correcting them immediately. Proper procedures are available through each bureau’s website. Maintain copies of all of the original reports as well as your efforts to dispute and correct mistakes.
What to do if you fall victim to identity theft?
File a police report with your local Police Department. Obtain a copy of the report that you can give to anyone (such as your bank or a credit card company) who may need proof of the crime.
Immediately close the accounts that you believe are fraudulent or have been tampered with. Available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website is an I.D. theft affidavit to use when disputing new, unauthorized accounts.
Contact the fraud department of the three credit bureaus and request a fraud alert on your file. In the event someone tries to open a new account or make changes to a current account, you will be contacted for verification.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases to assist in law enforcement investigations.
Approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used fraudulently each year with financial losses totaling upwards of $50 billion.*
On a case-by-case basis, that means approximately 7% of all adults have their identities misused with each instance resulting in approximately $3,500 in losses.
Close to 100 million additional Americans have their personal identifying information placed at risk of identity theft each year when records maintained in government and corporate databases are lost or stolen.
These alarming statistics demonstrate that identity theft may be the most frequent, costly and pervasive crime in the United States.
The level of sophistication employed by professional identity thieves involved in organized crime continues to grow along with the methods they develop. From individually tailored phishing and vishing scams, to increasingly successful hacks of corporate and government databases, to elaborate networks of botnets designed to hijack millions of computers without any trace, there is an ever-increasing threat to all Americans.
At the same time, basic methods of identity theft continue unabated. From stealing wallets and purses, to dumpster diving and stealing mail, to the use of pretext and social engineering to deceive customer call centers into releasing personal account information, the original methods of identity theft still work.
As the methods used to perform identity theft expand, so do the types of accounts and services being stolen by identity thieves. Credit, debit, checking, and saving accounts are no longer the only targets. Identity fraud has grown to include theft of cell and landline phone service; cable and satellite television service; power, water, gas and electric service; Internet payment service; medical insurance; home mortgages and rental housing; automobile, boat and other forms of financing and loans; and, government benefits. Identity thieves will also use stolen identities to obtain employment and to deceive police when arrested.
Quite simply, every individual or business is vulnerable to attack when it comes to personal or corporate information, products, and services.
*Based on a range of information gathered from public and private resources.