It Can Happen to Anyone!
Identity theft is now the top reported form of crime in the United States. This crime occurs when someone acquires key pieces of another person's identifying information such as name, Social Security number, date of birth or financial information in order to impersonate that person. The thief may use this information to:
- take over a victim's financial accounts or open new credit accounts in the victim's name to run up charges
- establish phone or wireless service in the victim's name
- open bank accounts in the victim's name and write bad checks
- get loans in the victim's name and never repay them, ruining the victim's name
- use the victim's name when committing crimes or driving offenses, resulting in warrants being issued in the victim's name
Identity theft can happen to anyone. Each of us is a potential victim.
Identity thieves steal information:
- From the trash. Identity thieves get copies of credit card receipts, credit applications and other items that have been placed in trash containers.
- From the mailbox. Thieves steal letters waiting to be picked up by postal carriers.
- From stolen wallets or purses.
- By using e-mail. Thieves often pose as legitimate companies someone does business with in order to obtain personal information, a practice known as "phishing."
- By using the Internet. Internet abusers can steal information people share on the Internet or piece together information available about someone on the Internet.
- From employee records. Dishonest personnel can access employer or other personal records and sell this information to identity thieves.
How to Protect Your Personal Information
There are a number of important steps people can take to better protect themselves:
- Freeze your credit files with the three major credit bureaus so no one can access them without your permission.
- Never give bank or credit card information over the phone unless you initiated the call and know the business to be reputable.
- Never respond to e-mail or pop-up messages asking you to confirm or verify account information, even if it looks official.
- Remove extra information from your checks. Information like your Social Security number and date of birth should be guarded.
- Shred or destroy any documents that contain personal identifying information before you dispose of them.
- Opt out of pre-screened credit card offers by calling (888) 5-OPOUT (567-8688). This will not prevent you from getting a loan or credit card.
- Review your bank and credit card statements as soon as you get them.
- Order a copy of your credit report once a year and check it carefully for fraudulent accounts. You are entitled to a free copy once every 12 months.
- Read and understand privacy and security policies before providing any personal information on Internet sites. Shop online only if the site is secure.
- Place passwords on your credit card, bank and phone accounts and avoid using easily available information such as your mother's maiden name.
- Secure personal information in your home.