Protect Yourself From Identity Theft
What Is Identity Theft?: Identity theft occurs when a criminal uses a person's identification information and pretends to be that person. Identity thieves use that information to make withdrawals from the victim's bank accounts, to apply for credit cards in the victim's name, and to apply for credit to buy cars, furniture, electronics, and other items. Identity thieves may also use other people's personal information to get a driver's license and Social Security card. This makes it easier for them to cash checks, charge credit cards, and hide from the law.
How Identity Thieves Operate: There are a number of ways that a criminal can get enough information to carry out the crimes mentioned above. They can go through the victim's garbage and get information there. They can get into the victim's mailbox to steal credit card and bank statements. They can pose as the victim's bank or creditors and call to ask for personal information to "update their files". They can pose as telemarketers or charity fundraisers to get your credit card number or bank account number. These bogus telemarketers and fundraisers also ask for their victim's social security number and say they need it for "verification purposes". Identity thieves sometimes pose as employers or landlords to get a copy of your credit report. Some theft rings pay dishonest employees at restaurants, stores, etc. for personal information on their customers.
How To Prevent Identity Theft: While it is impossible to be 100% safe from identity theft, there are a number of ways to greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim.
1) Shred or tear all documents with personal information before throwing them away.
2) Bring all outgoing mail to the post office.
3) Make sure there is a lock on your mailbox.
4) Never give personal information to a stranger on an incoming telephone call.
5) Use your check cards as ATM instead of credit because the store employees won't have access to your information and there is less paper floating around.
6) Check your credit report on a regular basis (Every 6 months or every year). Check for transactions you did not initiate and monitor who has ordered your credit report. If your credit report has been ordered by "you", but you didn't order it, then someone is probably trying to steal your identity.
What To Do If You Are An Identity Theft Victim: Contact all of your creditors immediately and ask them to call you before authorizing any changes to your account. This way, the identity thief won't be able to order checks, charge your credit card, change your address, etc. Also, contact the fraud unit of the three major credit reporting agencies and ask them to place a fraud alert in your credit file. Ask them to include a statement to creditors asking them not to open new accounts or change existing accounts without calling you to verify that you initiated the transaction. If you discover that your identity has been stolen, you should file a police report in addition to taking the steps mentioned above.