Identity (ID) theft is a crime where a thief steals your personal information, such as your full name or social security number, to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to fraudulently apply for credit, file taxes, or get medical services. These acts can damage your credit status, and cost you time and money to restore your good name.
Causes of Identity Theft
Thieves rummage through trashcans for pieces of unshredded personal information that they can use or sell.
Crooks seek out and steal from unattended/unlocked mailboxes to obtain pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, tax forms, and/or convenience checks.
ATM Theft, Skimming
Thieves secretly attach electronic devices on an ATM to capture numbers when customers swipe their cards. This may include a tiny camera to record the PIN number a customer enters for the transaction. The skimming device may be taped over the card reader.
An individual who fraudulently poses as someone who had a legitimate or legal reason to access the victim’s personal information (e.g., landlord, an employer, marketer, etc.).
Direct Access to Personal Documents in the Home
Unfortunately, there are identity thieves who can gain legitimate access into someone’s home and personal information through household work, babysitting, healthcare, friends or roommates, etc.
Stolen purses and wallets usually contain plenty of bankcards and personal identification. A thief can have a field day using this information to obtain credit under the victim’s name or to sell the information to an organized-crime ring.
Prevent Identity Theft
Take steps to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Secure your social security number. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your number on your checks. Only give out your social security number (SSN) when absolutely necessary.
- Don’t respond to unsolicited requests for personal information (your name, birthdate, social security number, or bank account number) by phone, mail, or online.
- Watch out for “shoulder surfers.” Shield the keypad when typing your passwords on computers and at ATMs.
- Collect mail promptly. Ask the post office to put your mail on hold when you are away from home.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
- Review your receipts. Ask for carbon copies and incorrect charge slips as well. Promptly compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorized transactions.
- Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
- Store personal information in a safe place at home and at work.
- Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
- Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess easily. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases
- Order your credit report once a year and review to be certain that it doesn’t include accounts that you have not opened. Check it more frequently if you suspect someone has gained access to your account information.
For more information about how to protect your personal information or if you have fallen victim to identity theft, please visit the Federal Trade Commission website