What strikes young or old, male or female, rich or poor? Here's a hint:
it topped the Federal Trade Commission's list of consumer complaints in
2002, and has cost consumers $343 million during that year. If you guessed
, you are correct. There were approximately 500,000 identity
theft victims who filed a police report in 2001.
What is Identity Theft? It's the act of using someone's personal information
(such as a name, account number, driver's license, health insurance card,
or Social Security number, for example) without that person's knowledge,
and using the assumed identity to commit fraud or theft. Oftentimes, the
personal information is used to get loans or open credit-card accounts.
Some victims who have had their identity stolen have lost job opportunities,
been refused loans and housing, been left with destroyed credit and reputations.
You can't prevent it from happening to you, but you can take precautions
to make sure you're not an easy target!
- Keep track of your personal information and only share the information with a company you know and trust. Read and understand the fine print in every document.
- Protect your Social Security number and mother´s maiden name. Avoid giving personal information out over the phone. Never post your Social Security number on your checks, outside of envelopes, etc.
- Minimize the number of identification information and financial cards you carry in your wallet and sign all new credit cards upon receipt. Write “Check ID” after your signature as a note to shopkeepers to ask for identification.
- Keep your new and canceled checks in a safe place, and report lost or stolen checks to the issuing financial institution immediately.
- Never leave receipts at bank machines, bank counters, trash receptacles, or unattended gas pumps. Save them and match them against your monthly bills, and then shred them.
- Buy only from secure Internet sites. Look for the closed lock icon to appear at the bottom of your browser to check the site´s security status. Also, check the site´s privacy policies to make sure they are not distributing or selling your name and information without your permission.
- Shred any documents that have any personal information or credit account numbers on them before discarding, including tax returns and unwanted credit card offers.
- Report all lost or stolen credit cards. If you applied for a new credit card and it has not arrived in a timely manner, call the bank or credit card company that is issuing the card.
- Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing credit card bill could mean an identity thief has changed your billing address to cover his/her tracks.
- Notify your credit card companies and financial institutions in advance of any change of address or telephone number. Make sure to contact the sender if your statements are not received in the mail by their usual time.
- Monitor your credit. Check your credit report regularly from the three credit-reporting agencies for any unfamiliar changes, such as new accounts, inquiries, or public records.
- Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement annually to check for fraud by calling 1.800.772.1213.
By keeping an eye on your statements and regularly monitoring your credit, you will be taking measures to protect your credit against the extensive damage of Identity Theft.