Steps You Can Take to Avoid Being a Victim
How Serious is the Problem?
Government officials call identity theft the “fastest growing crime in the nation”, with over 400,000 people affected last year alone. The average financial loss to an identity fraud victim is estimated at $36,000.
Thieves obtain personal information such as social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and even birth certificates and passports. Accounts are then opened in the victim’s name for credit cards and loans with the mail diverted to a different address.
With this approach, it could take months or years to learn that you are a victim. Pat attention to the tips listed below.
How to Guard Against It
Remove mail promptly from your mailbox. Never use your mailbox for outgoing mail. Identity thieves raid mailboxes to steal credit card offers and financial statements.
Guard your social security number. Never carry your Social Security number in your wallet or have it preprinted on your checks. Give you Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. Do not give out personal information like your PIN, debit, or credit card numbers over the phone or the internet unless you initiated the transaction. Identity thieves often call you posing as an internet provider or credit card company to gain knowledge of your accounts.
Be very careful with receipts. Make sure you have them when you leave the store or ATM and do not throw them into a public trash can. Thieves use these receipts to access your accounts.
Review your credit report from time to time. For a nominal fee, the credit bureau will give you a copy to review. The major credit bureaus are:
TRANS UNION: 800-916-8800
Destroy pre-approved credit card offers before you throw them out. A home shredder is the best thing to use on financial statements, receipts, and old canceled checks that you are discarding.
Account for all new checkbooks when you receive them in the mail. If any are missing, report stolen checks immediately. Keep new and canceled checks in a safe place. Do not carry around more checks, credit cards, or other bank items than you really need. Cancel credit cards you don’t use.
Block your ATM transactions with your body. Keep they keyboard from view and prevent someone from learning your personal identification number (PIN).
Commit all passwords and personal identification numbers to memory. The less you have on paper the less likely it is that someone will learn these numbers.
Be creative when you select a password. Don’t be obvious like using the last four digits of your social security number, phone number, address, birth date, or any format that could be easily decoded by thieves.
What to Do If You Are a Victim
Contact your financial institution and credit card company to close your accounts. The FBI suggests that you put passwords (not your mother’s maiden name) on any new accounts you open.
Call the three major credit bureaus (numbers shown below) to tell them your identity has been stolen. Request a “fraud alert” be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
TRANS UNION: 800-916-8800
Call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271
Contact the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-438-4338. You can download a complaint form online at Consumer ID Theft, the agency’s website.
You should not only file a report with the police but also get a copy of the report in case you need proof of the crime later for credit card companies etc.