What is identity theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record. Some consumers victimized by identity theft may lose out on job opportunities, or be denied loans for education, housing or cars because of negative information on their credit reports. In rare cases, they may even be arrested for crimes they did not commit.
How do thieves steal an identity?
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving : They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources.
What do thieves do with a stolen identity?
Once they have your personal information, identity thieves use it in a variety of ways.
Credit card fraud:
They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts appear on your credit report.
They may change the billing address on your credit card so that you no longer receive bills, and then run up charges on your account. Because your bills are now sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.
Phone or utilities fraud:
They may open a new phone or wireless account in your name, or run up charges on your existing account.
They may use your name to get utility services like electricity, heating, or cable TV.
They may create counterfeit checks using your name or account number.
They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks.
They may clone your ATM or debit card and make electronic withdrawals your name, draining your accounts.
They may take out a loan in your name.
Government documents fraud:
They may get a driver’s license or official ID card issued in your name but with their picture.
They may use your name and Social Security number to get government benefits.
They may file a fraudulent tax return using your information.
They may get a job using your Social Security number.
They may rent a house or get medical services using your name.
They may give your personal information to police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.
How can you find out if your identity was stolen?
The best way to find out is to monitor your accounts and bank statements each month, and check your credit report on a regular basis. If you check your credit report regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft.
Unfortunately, many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done.
- You may find out when bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts you never incurred.
- You may find out when you apply for a mortgage or car loan and learn that problems with your credit history are holding up the loan.
- You may find out when you get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.
Should you file a police report if your identity is stolen?
A police report that provides specific details of the identity theft is considered an Identity Theft Report, which entitles you to certain legal rights when it is provided to the three major credit reporting agencies or to companies where the thief misused your information.
An Identity Theft Report can be used to permanently block fraudulent information that results from identity theft, such as accounts or addresses, from appearing on your credit report. It will also make sure these debts do not reappear on your credit reports.
How long can the effects of identity theft last?
It’s difficult to predict how long the effects of identity theft may linger. Victims of identity theft should monitor financial records for several months after they discover the crime. Victims should review their credit reports once every three months in the first year of the theft, and once a year thereafter. Stay alert for other signs of identity theft.
What can you do to help fight identity theft?
A great deal !!! Awareness is an effective weapon against many forms identity theft. Be aware of how information is stolen and what you can do to protect yours, monitor your personal information to uncover any problems quickly, and know what to do when you suspect your identity has been stolen.
How do I get an Identity Theft Report?
Ask the officer to give you a copy of the official police report that incorporates or attaches your ID Theft Complaint.
How do I prove that I’m an identity theft victim?
Applications or other transaction records related to the theft of your identity may help you prove that you are a victim. For example, you may be able to show that the signature on an application is not yours. These documents also may contain information about the identity thief that is valuable to law enforcement.
Protect yourself from identity theft on Facebook
Facebook has rolled out a new account security setting that stops hijackers from stealing your Facebook identity. Facebook allows users to opt-in to use the encrypted “HTTPS” protocol. Facebook recently released this account setting on Wednesday January 16 and is still working on it.
They won’t be completely finished with it for a couple of weeks. Changing this setting on your Facebook page is extremely important because a browser extension named Firesheep has made hijacking Facebook accounts very easy for anyone sharing a wireless network i.e. cafe or conference.
- Identity theft has become a major issue in recent years,Here are ten ways you can protect yourself.
1. Shred All Identifying Documents, Bank Slips, Etc.Bank deposit receipts, credit card statements, old documents, anything with sensitive information should be properly disposed of. If you don’t have a fireplace, consider investing in a low-cost paper shredder. Identity thieves can learn a lot from rifling through trash — don’t let yours give away your identity.
2. Shop Online Only on Secure Web Sites
Shopping online is safe — when you use secure web pages. Check the bottom of your browser and look for a locked graphic, or look for “https” in the address bar. This means you are on a secure web page and your data is encrypted. Without a secure connection, hackers can eavesdrop on your transaction and grab your private data.
3. Don’t Fall for Phishing Scams
Phishing is a technique employed by identity thieves through email or online chat services. The thief pretends to represent a company, such as PayPal or your credit card issuer, and informs you that you need to respond with some information or click on a link. The thief may even claim to represent a charity or sweepstakes giveaway. Don’t fall for it. Don’t respond and don’t click the link, even if it appears to be a legitimate link. Responsible organizations will not contact you in this way.
4. Beware of Telephone Scams
Never give out personal information over the phone to someone who calls you claiming to represent a bank, credit card company, charity, or other organization. People are not always who they claim to be. You could be talking to a scam artist who is sweet-talking you out of your credit card or bank account number.
5. Keep Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware Software Up to Date
A computer virus or trojan horse spyware program that sneaks its way onto your computer can compromise your private information. These malicious programs can scan through your entire harddrive and send what it finds out over the internet. These programs will help defend your computer against those who want to compromise it.
6. Check Your Credit Report
Verify that the information is correct and check for suspicious activity, particularly mysterious new accounts opened. For even better protection, sign up for a service that notifies you when changes occur to your credit report.
7. Ask About Identity Theft Prevention Procedures
Ask your bank about what they are doing to combat identity theft. Call your credit card company and find out if you will be liable for fraudulent charges. Ask your employer about what steps are taken to safeguard sensitive employee data. It’s your data; you should know how it is managed.
8. Secure Your Important Documents
Be sure that your documents are safely stored, preferably in a locked box tucked away and out of sight. Do not regularly carry these documents on you. When you travel, pay special attention to securing your passport. Leave it in a hotel room safe at all times.
9. Be Vigilant About Your Social Security Number
Some institutions–insurers, colleges, etc.–prefer to use your social security number as their identification number for you. This is very foolish, as it essentially deprivatizes this number. Because your social security number can be used to gain access to a lot of other private information about you, opt out of allowing institutions to use it.
10. Be Careful With Your Mail
Of course tampering with someone’s mail is a federal offense, but that doesn’t stop people from doing it. Try not to let incoming mail sit in your mailbox for a long time.
Armed with the knowledge of how to protect yourself and take action, you can make identity thieves’ jobs much more difficult. You can also help fight identity theft by educating your friends, family, and members of your community.