Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft
The issue of identity theft has been gaining a great deal of attention lately. This article details the problem, and how you can protect yourself.
Chances are good that you have at least heard of the problem of identity theft, and even if you have not, it is important to protect yourself and know what to look for.
There is certainly cause for concern when it comes to protecting your identity. From the recent disclosures of data loss by major companies and organizations, to the stories of how organized gangs or criminals are getting into the identity theft racket, it is no wonder so many of us are worried about having our identities stolen.
What is identity theft?
So just what is identity theft? Many people are unsure as to just what constitutes identity theft, and how this crime differs from credit card fraud and other computer crimes. Identity theft involves much more than the simple theft of a credit card number or the use of a bank account to make unauthorized purchases. Rather, the goal of identity theft is to steal the identity, and the credit rating, of an individual, and use that identity to take out loans, get credit cards and otherwise profit from the good name of another individual.
The fallout from this kind of crime can be quite devastating the individual, and it can take a great deal of time, and a great deal of money, to recover. A recent survey has found that the average victim of identity theft will spend some $800 recovering his or her good name. What’s more is that the individual can also expect to spend some 175 hours of hard work recovering from an incident of identity theft.
Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
With all this at stake, it is important for every consumer to protect themselves against the possibility of identity theft. While identity theft is a growing problem, the good news is that there are steps ordinary people can take to protect themselves and their good name.
One of the simplest things you can do to protect yourself is to invest $20 or $30 in a quality crosscut shredder. Shredding pieces of mail and other documents that contain credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates and other identifying information is a great way to protect yourself from offline identity theft.
This is especially important, since thefts of personal materials from trash bins and dumpsters has become an epidemic in some parts of the country. It is even thought that some of these thefts are organized by gangs of methamphetamine manufacturers as a way to finance their business, and by addicts as a way to finance their addictions. Staying safe from these organized attempts at fraud is important, but it can be inexpensive as well.
Another way to stay safe from identity theft is to be very cautious about providing the kinds of information that can be of use to identity thieves. Sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, mothers maiden name, account numbers, pin numbers and passwords should never be sent through email, since email communication is not secure.
In addition, it is essential to verify the authenticity of any email communication you receive which purports to originate with your bank, or with a brokerage firm, online auction house or other type of legitimate business. Scam artists will often send out emails that appear to be legitimate but which are designed to steal personal information. If you receive such a suspicious email, do not click the link provided in the email. Instead, open up a new browser window and sign in to your account that way. And remember that the bank would not need to request information like your Social Security number, account number or other such information.
Another very effective way to keep yourself safe from identity theft and gain an early warning about any attempts that may have been made is to review a copy of your own credit report at least once a year. Fortunately, a recently passed law entitles every consumer to one free copy of his or her credit report every year, making it easier and cheaper to review this vital information.
When reviewing this important document, either in paper form or online, be sure to look carefully at the section that details credit inquiries. It is here that most attempts at identity fraud will be revealed. If you see any inquiries against your credit file that you do not recognize, be sure to notify the credit reporting agency immediately and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your account. This fraud alert will alert creditors and others who see the report that possible identity theft has occurred. It will also give you the time you need to do a thorough investigation and start to eliminate any problems that may have occurred.