Defense Against Crime

11/02/2009

Don’t become a victim of Identity Theft

Filed under: Crime — peppereyes @ 12:51 PM
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idtheft4It can happen to anyone. The phone rings and a collection agency demands that you pay past-due accounts for a new car that you bought in Bugtussle, TN. The problem is you don’t know where that is, and you didn’t buy a new car. The supermarket refuses your checks because you have a history of bouncing them. But you have always paid bills on time, and you have lots of money in the bank. What has happened?

 

You’ve become a victim of Identity theft. Identity theft or identity fraud, the fastest growing crime in the United States, is the taking of a victim’s identity for financial gain or to conceal the real identity of the perpetrator.

Using a variety of methods, criminals steal Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, credit card numbers, ATM cards, telephone calling cards, and other pieces of individuals’ identities such as date of birth. They use this information to impersonate their victims, spending as much money as they can in as short a time as possible before moving on to someone else’s name and identifying information.

In the last year alone, nearly 10 million Americans became victims of identity theft, a crime that cost them approximately $5 billion total. It is the fastest growing crime in the United States, and if you’re not careful, it could happen to you, or perhaps it already has. On average, it takes identity theft victims 12 months to realize that they have been victimized.


There are two types of identity theft.

  • Account takeover” occurs when a thief acquires your existing credit account information and purchases products and services using either the actual credit card or simply the account number and expiration date.

  • Application fraud” is what some experts call “true name fraud.” The thief uses your SSN and other identifying information to open new accounts in your name. Victims are not likely to learn of application fraud for some time, because the monthly account statements are mailed to an address used by the imposter. In contrast, victims learn of account takeover when they receive their monthly account statement. This guide discusses strategies for reducing the risk of both types of fraud.

How to reduce your chances of becoming a victim

Personal Information

 First, you must understand what personal information of yours should be kept private. While some personal information is inevitably going to be made public, there are some items with high sensitivity that should never be made public. See the table below for details.

Item

Sensitivity

Full Name

Low

Address

Low

Phone Number

Low

Date of Birth

Medium

Birthplace

Medium

Mother’s Maiden Name

Medium

Social Security Number

High

Bank Account Number

High

Credit Card Number

High

PIN or Password

High

 

Protecting yourself against identity theft involves nothing more than protecting this personal information, particularly the high sensitivity items. Anyone with knowledge of just one of your high sensitivity items can do a lot of damage.  If an identity thief can get access to your Social Security number, your date of birth, or even sometimes just your address and telephone number, they can use that information to pretend to be you. They can open new credit card accounts, access your present bank accounts, rent a house or apartment, establish utility company accounts, and even obtain a job — all in your name. Part of the battle of preventing identity theft is recognizing how this personal information is stolen and from where.

Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

There are steps that you can take to make it more difficult for these thieves to obtain your personal information. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these tips can help identity theft from happening to you:

·         Do not give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you initiated the contact or are sure you know who you are dealing with. Identity thieves may pose as representatives of banks, Internet service providers (ISPs) and even government agencies to get you to reveal your SSN, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, and other identifying information. Before you share any personal information, confirm that you are dealing with a legitimate organization. You can check the organization’s web site as many companies post scam alerts when their name is used improperly, or you can call customer service using the number listed on your account statement or in the telephone book.

·         Do not carry your SSN card — leave it in a secure place such as a diversion safe.

·         Secure personal information in your home, especially if you have roommates, employ outside help or are having service work done in your home.

·         Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office, rather than in an unsecured mailbox. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox. If you are planning to be away from home and cannot pick up your mail, call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777 to request a vacation hold. The Postal Service will hold your mail at your local post office until you can pick it up or are home to receive it.

·         To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bins to capture your personal information, tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards that you are discarding, and credit offers you get in the mail. If you do not use the pre-screened credit card offers you receive in the mail, you can opt out by calling 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567- 8688). Please note that you will be asked for your Social Security number in order for the credit bureaus to identify your file so that they can remove you from their lists and you still may receive some credit offers because some companies use different lists.

·         Get a paper shredder so no one can piece together important information (at the very least, rip up the documents yourself)

·         Carry only the identification information and the number of credit and debit cards that you will actually need.

·         Place hard to guess passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your dog’s name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. When opening new accounts, you may find that many businesses still have a line on their applications for your mother’s maiden name. Use a password instead.

·         Protect those PIN numbers – Cover the number pad when you are entering pins at the ATM machine and never tell anyone about them.  Also, never use something like 1234 as your pin please!

·         Ask about information security procedures in your workplace or at businesses, doctor’s offices or other institutions that collect identifying information from you. Find out who has access to your personal information and verify that it is handled securely. Ask about the disposal procedures for those records as well. Find out if your information will be shared with anyone else. If so, ask if you can keep your information confidential.

·         Give your SSN only when necessary. Ask to use other types of identifiers when possible. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number. Do the same if your health insurance company uses your SSN as your account number.

·         Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills do not arrive on time. A missing bill could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.  If you have computer access, many institutions offer electronic statements.

·         Be wary of promotional scams. Identity thieves may use phony offers to get you to give them your personal information.  They don’t need your SSN or Bank Account Number, or FULL Name.

·         Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work as well as any copies you may keep of administrative forms that contain your sensitive personal information.

·         Cancel all unused credit accounts.

·         When ordering new checks, pick them up at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home mailbox. Don’t put your Whole name on your check, try using your initial. Don’t include your phone number or SSN on your checks.

·         Freezing Your Credit – You can call the credit report agencies to freeze your credit so no one can ever apply for a credit card or get a loan under your name until you unfreeze it.  It will cost money but the piece of mind might be worth it.

·         Get free credit reports so you can check them. (They are FREE by Federal Law)

·         Instead of signing the back of the credit card, write “Check ID”.

·         If your credit card company offers it, opt for the card that has your photo on it.

·         Only make online purchases through trusted websites.  Stuff like the Trust-e symbol, better business bureau stamp are a must.

·         Install anti-virus or anti-spyware on your computer and never open links through an email unless you are absolutely sure that it’s safe.  For now, you can also use a Mac instead (until macs get popular enough that crooks start targeting it as well)

·         Monitor all your accounts online – Check your accounts regularly now that it’s so convenient to monitor them online.  Make sure there’s nothing suspicious going on.

·         Passwords – Never save your passwords just for the convenience.  Typing it out doesn’t take that much time!  Also, the more complicated it is, the better.  Remember to also use capitals, letters, symbols and letters.

·         More about Passwords – Change them regularly.

·         Security tokens – Some banks are starting to offer those security tokens that change numbers every few seconds as an added security over your password when logging onto your online account.  Take advantage if yours offer one.

·         Don’t log onto accounts using a public computers – You don’t need the possible hassle of forgetting to log out.

·         Identify theft insurance can be a good investment just in case you become a victim

PepperEyes.com – Personal Protection Products

Don’t be their next victim

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