Identity theft and the fraud that results impacts millions of consumers and cost billions of dollars. Then there’s the aggravation and time and frustration in getting the situation remedied. The steps below will help make sure your identity remains where it belongs; with you.
21st Century ID Thieves
The advent of computers has taken ID theft in a new direction. Stealing someone’s identity no longer requires digging through the dumpster, though that still occurs too. In today’s technology-driven world, fraud is often perpetrated by computer hackers and unscrupulous employees with access to personal database files.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), they receive 15,000 to 20,000 calls weekly from victims, and those who want to avoid becoming targets themselves. And the FTC readily admits this may only be the tip of the iceberg.
Avoiding ID theft altogether may not be feasible; there are simply too many sources of information available today for us to cover every possible base. But there are a number of steps you can take to decrease the risk of it happening, or catch it early on to minimize the damage to your financial situation.
Steps to Prevent Traditional ID Theft
Begin by leaving your important papers, such as birth certificates and social security cards at home, in a safe and secure place. Carrying these items in a purse or wallet may end up costing you dearly if the wrong people get a hold of them.
Those important bank and credit card statements you receive should go in a shredder when you’re finished with them. Also, reviewing these closely each month will help you catch suspicious activity quickly, minimizing the financial impact.
Review your credit history periodically looking for debts that are not yours. If any are found, immediately contact both the credit card company and agency. The process of removing the falsified debt may take some legwork, but will be worth it.
If remembering your PIN or bank account numbers is difficult, writing them down and keeping them with you is playing with fire. Should you lose your purse or wallet you may end up with much bigger problems than simply replacing your drivers license.
Never give out personal information over the phone to someone who has called you. If they claim to be your bank or credit card company, ask for a phone number to call back. Then, look them up first to confirm the number is for a valid bank branch or company.
Steps to Prevent Computer ID Theft
Supplying any company with a PIN or account information via email should be avoided at all costs. If there is a legitimate need for this information, the company should direct you to their secure website. Emails are much too easily intercepted by would-be thieves to be trusted with such valuable data.
Ensure the website is secure when conducting business online by looking for “SSL” (secure socket layer) at checkout, and/or what appears to be a small, gold lock. This confirms the site is using industry standard encryption to secure their transactions.
Legitimate companies will not ask you to go to their “temporary” site to update your account information. You are best served going directly to the respective website and updating information there, if it is actually necessary.
The use of software applications can help safeguard against suspicious websites. These tools require you to confirm the site is one you are comfortable with prior to loading it, particularly those they recognize as spam.
While not a comprehensive list (that would result in a small novel), these steps will help keep your identity safe. When all is said and done, preventing identify theft is often the result of simply being cautious. And, if you get that funny tingling in your stomach when something just doesn’t feel quite right, take an extra few minutes to confirm your fears; it may end up saving you a lot of money, time and heartache.
**There are a proliferation of credit monitoring companies and identity theft insurance offers out there as a result of the explosion in this problem. However, most offer little to any reimbursement if there is a theft, and usually do little more than take the steps already discussed.