Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
Identity Theft has become a huge problem in this new “cyber world” where we now live. When I was growing up computers were huge monstrosities in giant ice cold rooms in large businesses. To think that someone could “steal” your identity using a computer was not really on our “radar”. Every 3 seconds there is a new victim of identity theft 16 years old and older. There are over 15 million victims a year, and it is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. According to Identity Theft Info this costs victims over $50 billion a year, or approximately $3500 per victim. Here are some ways to identify if your identity has been stolen and what to do about it, if it happens to you. What is identity theft?
i·den·ti·ty theft noun noun: identity theft; plural noun: identity thefts
- the fraudulent acquisition and use of a person’s private identifying information, usually for financial gain.
“Identity theft” refers to crimes in which someone obtains and uses another person’s personal information wrongfully, for example:
- date of birth
- social security number
- driver’s license number
and/or financial identity, such as:
- credit card
- bank account phone-card numbers
and in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain (to obtain money or goods/services). Unlike fingerprints which are unique to each person and can’t easily be given to, or stolen by someone else for their use, your personal data can be used, by criminals to profit at your expense. On average, according to the FTC, most victims don’t even know their identity has been stolen until more than a year afterward. Identity theft can have devastating consequences for the victims, such as facing long hours:
- closing bad accounts
- opening new ones
- repairing credit records
It often costs quite a bit to get out of the mess caused by identity theft. The victim can be denied jobs, loans, education, housing, cars, or even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Unfortunately, the experience of thousands of victims shows that it often requires months, and even years, to get through the identity-recovery process. How identity thieves use personal information:
- Go on spending sprees using their victims credit and debit card account numbers to buy “big-ticket” items like computers that they can easily sell.
- Open a new credit card account, using their victims name, date of birth and SSN. When they use the credit card and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent account is reported on their victims credit report. • Calling their victims credit card issuer and, pretending to be them, asking to change the mailing address on their credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on their account. Because their victims bills are being sent to the new address, it may take some time before their victims realize there’s a problem.
- Buy cars by taking out auto loans in their victims name.
- Establish phone or wireless service in their victims name.
- Counterfeit checks or debit cards, and drain their victims bank account.
- Open a bank account in their victims name and write bad checks on that account.
- File for bankruptcy under their victims name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under their victims name, or to avoid eviction.
- Give their victims name to the police during an arrest. If they’re released from police custody, but don’t show up for their court date, an arrest warrant is issued in their victims name.
How can you tell if you’re a victim of identity theft? Monitor the balances of your financial accounts – Look for unexplained charges or withdrawals. Other indications of identity theft include:
- Failing to receive bills or other mail, this may signal an address change by the identity thief.
- Receiving credit cards, and/or statements of accounts, for which you did not apply.
- A lender tries to repossess a car you didn’t know you owned.
- Being contacted by the police after a crime is committed in your name.
- Being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not buy.
If you’re ever denied credit, it is important to find out why, especially if you haven’t reviewed your credit report lately. This may be the first indication that someone has stolen your identity and is racking up charges in your name. React quickly if a creditor or merchant calls you about charges you didn’t make. This, too, may be the first notice that someone has stolen your identity. Get as much information from them as you can and investigate immediately. Although any of these indications could be a result of a simple error, you should not assume that there’s been a mistake and do nothing. Always follow up with the business or institution.If you think your identity has been stolen you can get help free here: ID Theft Center