One crime that is becoming popular with thieves and often overlooked by the public is Identity Theft. With occurrences on the rise, attention must be taken to prevent victimization. Identity Theft affects thousands of people every year with the number of victims growing.
ID theft occurs when thieves obtain your name, address, date of birth (DOB), and social security number (SSN). This goldmine of information can be used, without your knowledge, to commit various types of fraud such as opening new credit cards in your name and draining your bank accounts.
Becoming a victim can be extremely easy as thieves will look through your trash (dumpster divers) searching for account numbers, SSN and other vital information. ID theft also occurs by someone simply stealing your wallet, purse, mail, important information in your home and by phone / door-to-door scams.
What are the warning signs that you may be the victim of ID theft? According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, credit card fraud is the most common form of ID theft and prevented by simply staying diligent with your credit card statements. Statements that stop arriving or statements that have unknown charges is a clear sign that you may be the victim of ID theft. Being denied credit for not apparent reason especially if you have good credit could be a sign. Receiving bills from companies you don’t recognize or credit card bills from credit cards you did not apply for is also a warning sign that you’re the victim of ID theft. Lastly, calls from collection agencies trying to collect on debts that do not belong to you is another clear cut sign that you may be a victim.
How can you protect yourself? As with any crime, you cannot completely control whether you become a victim. The most important principle to remember and one we’ve all heard is “if it’s too good to be true, it is.” Moreover, shredding important documents is an essential tool in fighting the victimization of ID theft. Anything that has your name, address, DOB and SSN should be shredded prior to it being placed in the trash.
Do you have your social security card or your birth certificate in your wallet? If so, why? Don’t you have these numbers and dates memorized? Keep this in mind, if someone steals your wallet or purse they will have your social security number and when they have that number they have everything. Remove this information from your wallet and place it in a safe, locked place in your home. In addition to social security cards, many still have their social security number on their license. Many departments providing information on ID theft encourage individuals that have their social security number on your license to have it removed and replaced with an S number that the registry of motor vehicles provides you.
In regards to new checks, it is recommended that individuals pick them up at the bank rather than having them mailed as thieves may steal them. As for vacations, if you know that you’ll be away for a few days, ask your someone to pick up your mail/newspaper or call the community’s post office and your local newspaper distributor and ask them to hold your mail/newspapers, as an accumulation of mail/newspapers will signify to criminals that your not home.
On the back of your credit cards, instead signing your name, write photo ID required. In regards to the contents of your wallet, photocopy all the contents of your wallet. Keep these copies in a safe and easily accessible place as they may be needed if your wallet/purse is stolen.
Do you use the internet? If you do, it is strongly suggested that a firewall be installed to prevent thieves from hacking into your computer and stealing your personal information. Lastly, never give your personal information over a cellular/cordless phone, as people will be listening and waiting to document your account and social security numbers. If you have to give out information over the phone, it should be done on a landline.
IF YOU BECOME A VICTIM, WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
- Police Departments: Call your local police department. Provide them with the numbers of the accounts that have been compromised, as it needs to be listed in the police report.
- Notify creditors and financial institutions: In writing and by phone, inform them that your name and accounts have been used without your permission.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC): Report the crime to the FTC. The FTC collects complaints about ID Theft from consumers and stores them in a secure online database.
- Credit Report Agencies: Contact the fraud units of the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union) and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report to help prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened.
- Obtain a credit report from one of the above-mentioned credit agencies as you are entitled to a free one every year
- Trans Union
- Social Security
- Federal Trade Commission