Preventing Identity Theft
By Chris McElroy and Jennifer Tarzian
What is Identity Theft? It is the theft of your personal information, such as social security number, driver's license number, credit card and bank account numbers, mother's maiden name, and more, with the intent to obtain credit and credit cards from banks and retailers, steal money from the victim's existing accounts, apply for loans, establish accounts with utility companies, rent an apartment, file bankruptcy or obtain a job using the victim's name.
Did you know that in some states Identity Theft is not even against the law? The victim has to prove their innocence. This shocks most Identity Theft Victims, as it should. It shocks me. Law Enforcement and Credit Card Services should be there to help, but in many cases they don't.
Being prepared, just in case someone steals your identity is a must. It may be inconvenient, but unless you want to go out and try to use your credit card one day, just to find that someone else has been using your identity to make purchases and your card is no longer accepted, then you need to take steps to prevent your identity from being stolen. It can take years to clear this up if it happens to you, so a little prevention now is the answer.
Facts about Identity Theft;
It is considered by law enforcement to be an absolute epidemic, the fastest growing crime in the United States at this time.
For the criminal, identity theft is a relatively low-risk, high-reward endeavor. Credit card issuers often don't prosecute thieves who are apprehended. Why? The firms figure it's not cost efficient. They can afford to write off a certain amount of fraud as a cost of doing business.
Recently criminals have been using the victim's identity to commit crimes ranging form traffic infractions to felonies. How would you like to find out you are wanted for a crime you know nothing about? It has happened.
All that is needed is your social security number, your birth date and other identifying information such as your address and phone number and whatever else they can find out about you. With this information, and a false driver's license with their own picture, they can begin the crime.
If you wait until it happens to you, it's a nightmare. You won't know until you are denied credit or a creditor contacts you about a charge you know nothing about.
How do I prevent Identity Theft?
If you have roommates, employ outside help, or are having work done in your home, make sure your personal information is not readily available to them.
Deposit your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you're planning to be away from home and can't pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.
Tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you're discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. To opt out of receiving offers of credit in the mail, call: 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688).
Give your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary, and ask to use other types of identifiers. If your state uses your Social Security number as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your Social Security number as your policy number.
Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor's offices or other institutions that collect your personally identifying information. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask how your information can be kept confidential. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work; do the same with copies of administrative forms that have your sensitive personal information.
If you do financial transactions over the Internet, read their privacy and or security statements. You want to know who they share your personal information with. You want to know they use a "secure server" for transactions. You want to know how they store your personal information. If you don't like what you hear, don't do your business at that website. There are always alternatives.
Use PayPal. You can transfer a limited number of funds into your paypal account and use it to buy merchandise online instead of your credit card.
Don't give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or on the Internet unless you've initiated the contact or are sure you know who you're dealing with.
Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. Check an organization's website by typing its URL in the address line, rather than cutting and pasting it. Be cautious when responding to promotions. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers to get you to give them your personal information.
Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you'll actually need when you go out. Don't carry your social security card with you unless you expect to need it.
Should I buy identity theft insurance?
Some companies offer insurance or similar products that claim to give you protection against the costs associated with resolving an identity theft case. Be aware that most creditors will only deal with you to resolve problems, so the insurance company in most cases will not be able to reduce that burden. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy. If you decide to buy an identity theft insurance product, check out the company with your local Better Business Bureau, consumer protection agency and state Attorney General to see if they have any complaints on file.
Conclusion: Be smart. If someone is asking for your personal information, anyone, including friends, acquaintances, companies, stores, websites, or anyone else, ask questions. Find out why they need this information, what they are going to do with it, how long do they keep it stored, who they share it with, and how can you be sure it is going to be kept secure.
About The Author
Chris McElroy and Jennifer Tarzian
Jennifer Tarzian has a lot of other important information at http://www.youngparentsmagazine.com for young parents. Chris McElroy has been an advocate for consumer rights on the Internet since 1995 and also runs a missing children's organization at http://www.kidsearchnetwork.org.