The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 10 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes for the purpose of:
- Assuming another person’s identity through the use of your name, Social Security number or driver’s license information;
- Obtaining bank or credit card account information to establish credit, make purchases or even apply for loans;
- Using your name or health insurance information to see a doctor or get prescription drugs;
- Stealing money directly from credit, checking or savings accounts;
- Gaining employment.
- Filing bankruptcy or;
- Leasing or purchasing automobiles.
Victims often do not realize their identity has been stolen until they are denied credit, turned down for a job, or sent a bill for purchases they did not make. Other signs of identity theft are:
- You are contacted by a collection agency regarding a debt you did not incur.
- You see fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit reports (including accounts and personal information like your Social Security number, address, name or initials, and employers).
- You get a phone call or letter telling you that you have been approved or denied credit for accounts you never requested.
- You receive credit cards that you did not apply for.
- You fail to receive bills or other mail on their regular billing cycle.
- Checks disappear from your checkbook.
Identity theft can occur in a number of ways, either through digging through your trash, recording your credit card numbers, obtaining your personal information through false pretenses, changing your address to receive items at a separate location, and stealing wallets, purses or driver’s licenses. Legal authorities call such crimes dumpster diving, skimming and phishing.
Dumpster diving: Your unshredded bank statements, credit card statements, medical bills, pre-approved credit card solicitations and other personal documents can attract thieves and lead to a financial tragedy. Any one of those documents can be sitting in your outside garbage bins, waiting for someone to come steal them and piece together an identity.
Skimming: Criminally minded retailers can easily run your card in a special copying machine during the course of legitimately running your transactions.
Phishing: This word looks funny but sounds familiar. Every day, thousands of people receive emails from senders claiming to be financial institutions and requesting that you click on a link to verify information. These links actually take you to sites created by thieves to gain your personal information.
Never log onto a financial site from an email link. Always type your bank’s address separately and log on apart from email. Use two-step authentication for your email services and any other service such as Facebook that allows that as an option. Two-step authentication requires that, before you log on at an unusual computer to use a service, that provider will ask you to verify your identity by entering a personal identification number sent to your phone. This is very effective.
Also, use different passwords for different accounts. After all, there are frequent news reports of criminals obtaining password files from prominent companies, even from the likes of eBay. If you use the same password for all your sites, all it takes is one site to be compromised and you are in serious jeopardy.
Changing your address: This is self-explanatory. Thieves complete a change-of-address form to have your personal documents sent directly to them.
Just plain stealing: The age-old grab and run! Don’t let this conventional means of stealing your identity fool you. Carrying little cash with you should not negate your concerns for losing your wallet. Credit cards, Social Security cards, health care needs and any other nonthreatening document can give thieves exactly what they need to steal from you.
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