It’s hard to tell exactly how they do it. Maybe you threw away some papers with your account number on them, somebody watched you put in your PIN number, or maybe you fell victim to an email phishing scam. Identity thieves don’t care where they get your information, they are just out take your money and ruin your credit in the process. Because there are so many different ways for identity theft to occur, it is important to know how to protect yourself and your assets.
Identity thieves are criminals who prey on other people’s personal information, for instance their social security number, credit card information, bank account information, and online account log-in information. Thieves even want to know your pet’s name or mother’s maiden name to help them steal passwords. Using this critical information, thieves are able to make unauthorized transactions and transfer funds behind your back. Before you ever find out, an identity thief could be enjoying a Caribbean vacation at your expense. While these damages can be repaired, it will cost you plenty of headaches and potentially thousands of dollars.
The threat of identity theft is ever present, but there are some things you can do to keep your credit protected. The first thing you should do is prevent yourself from revealing personal information over the phone and on the Internet. If you do not understand why a business would need your social security number or similar information, then do not give it out. Junk mail and credit card offers are also potential threats and should always go through a paper shredder before being thrown out.
Bank receipts and discarded deposit slips are a goldmine for thieves and should never get tossed in a public trash bin. When ordering new checks, request to have your first initial printed in the corner instead of your full name, to make it harder for forgeries to occur. Checks should never be printed with your social security number on them.
In your free time, take a trip to the library or use your office copier to make paper copies of everything in your wallet. Keep these duplicates in a strongbox or other safe spot at home so you can reference your driver’s license and credit card numbers if you ever lose your wallet or have it stolen. Make sure to photocopy the backs of your credit cards too, which contain the customer service phone numbers to call to deactivate the cards. Having these numbers handy will get your cards suspended quickly and cut down the amount of time the thief can access your accounts.
If you discover or suspect that your identity has been compromised, call the local authorities after you have deactivated your cards. Filing a police report legitimizes your claim and opens an investigation to find and stop the thief. Also, make a report with the fraud department at the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration. To stop further attacks to your credit, alert the three credit reporting bureaus to block the use of your social security number and name on any new credit applications.
Insurance companies offer identity theft policies to individuals who want added protection. These policies cover the costs of unauthorized purchases and restoring your credit. Sometimes identity theft protection is included with homeowner’s insurance or it can be added as an endorsement to a renter’s or homeowner’s policy.
Nearly 100,000 people each year have their identity stolen, according to Federal Trade Commission statistics. Just one bank slip or piece of mail can lead to having your credit destroyed by an identity crook. By making only a few changes to your lifestyle, you can keep your identity from being targeted by crafty thieves.