Identity theft has been the fastest growing crime over the past several years. With the advances in technology and creativity of identity thieves, it has become increasingly important to take measures preventing identity theft. Criminals use a varietly of methods to steal social security numbers, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers, ATM cards, dates of birth and more. With this information they are able to fraudulently impersonate their victims and spend as much money as they can in a very short period of time.
There are two main types of identity theft: account takeovers and application fraud. An account takeover takes place when someone acquires existing accounts from you and makes fraudulent purchases with the credit card account. Application fraud is when a thief steals your social security number and other personal information and is able to open new credit accounts in your name.
For preventing identity theft effectively, you must first know what you are protecting against. There are several ways a thief is able to obtain your information:
- Hacking into files at financial institutions, retailers and payment processing companies. This type of crime is on a steep rise and is something that is hard to protect against.
- “Dumpster Diving” in garbage cans for personal documents such as tax information, payroll information, pre-approved credit offers, credit card statements, and more.
- Sending “phishing” emails posing as a financial institution. Criminals are able to lure consumers to sites that look exactly like a financial institution’s real site. Once the consumers attempt to log in to the “fake” site, the criminals are able to capture the login credentials the consumer provides. The criminals can now go to the real financial institution and login with the information provided, giving them full access to your money.
- “Shoulder Surfing” at an ATM or computer
- Stealing mail from your mailbox
To decrease your exposure to identity theft, practice the following safety measures:
1. Opt out of solicitation lists. By removing your name from the lists that credit card companies and insurance companies use to send pre-approved offers, you significantly lessen the chances that sensitive information can be stolen from your mailbox or your garbage.
2. Place a fraud alert on your credit bureau file and renew it every 90 days. Activating a fraud alert is the best way to stop criminals from opening accounts in your name. When a fraud alert is placed on your credit bureau, any time a request for an account to be opened is made, the creditor is required to call you and you must authorize it before the account is established. These fraud alerts only remain active for 90 days, so you need to remember to request these quarterly.
3. Keep an eye on public records to make sure that your name does not come up on any judgment filings, bankruptcy liens, DMV records and other public records.
4. Shred sensitive documents. Use a cross-cut shredder to effectively destroy documents that contain personal information including, but not limited to, your social security number, mother’s maiden name, financial account numbers, passwords, PIN numbers, etc.
6. Keep a list or photocopy of all bank accounts, investment information, credit cards and debit cards. Also keep track of the account numbers, expiration dates and phone numbers to customer service departments. This way you can quickly contact these companies in the event your cards are stolen. Make sure this list is kept in a secure location.
7. Order your credit report at least once a year to check for changes in your information that were not authorized by you.
8. Do not allow a long period of time to pass between the time when the mail is delivered to your home and when you retrieve it. Intercepting mail is one of the easiest ways thieves steal identities.
9. Protect your social security number. Do not have it printed on your checks, never say it aloud to anyone in public when it can be overheard and never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet.
10. Each month carefully review your bank statements. Oftentimes thieves will start out by making a small test purchase to see if the account is functional before going on a shopping spree. The sooner you catch fraud, the less damage caused to your pocketbook and credit file.
Preventing identity theft is no simple task, but in these current times it is imperative that consumers remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure that they do not become a victim.
Currently the most popular Identity Theft Solutions are:
- Premium Safe Identity
- LifeLock Identity Prevention
List of all Identity Theft offers can be found on the following Identity Theft Protection page.