"Identity Theft " submitted by SchoolGrantsfor Editorial Team and last updated on Friday 22nd July 2011
We are all targets for identity theft. If you become a victim, you should immediately place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the three major credit reporting agencies. Once the alert is on your file, request a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency. Report fraudulent activity in writing to both a credit reporting agency and your credit issuer, following the instructions on your credit report. Also, file a crime report with your local police or sheriff’s department right away. Many victims feel the true impact of identity theft as they apply for credit when buying a car or a house. Take proactive steps; don’t let this happen to you.
The numbers associated with identity theft are beginning to add up fast. A recent General Accounting Office report estimates that as many as 750,000 Americans are victims of identity theft every year. And that number may be low, as many people choose not to report the crime or, for that matter, even know they've been victimized.
Officials say much of identity theft still comes down to hands-on mischief -- things like Dumpster diving, in which criminals sift through trash to find a credit-card statement or solicitation that someone didnt tear up, and 'shoulder surfing', where criminals try to spot calling card and personal identification numbers, and more commonly, mail theft.
In recent years, the Internet has become an appealing place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or even banking information. In their haste to explore the exciting features of the Internet, many people respond to "spam" unsolicited E-mail that promises them some benefit but requests identifying data, without realizing that in many cases, the requester has no intention of keeping his promise. In some cases, criminals reportedly have used computer technology to obtain large amounts of personal data.
How to protect yourself against identity theft:
- Check your credit report often.
- Reduce credit card offers mailed to you.
- Mail and receive documents from a locked mailbox
- Shred discarded documents and pre-approved offers.
- Keep your Social Security number, date of birth, driver’s license, passwords, PINs and banking information confidential.
- Do not give out your Social Security number, bank account or other personal information over the telephone or Internet unless you initiated the contact.
- Never respond to e-mails asking for personal or financial information, even if they look like they’re from your bank, lender or college. Real companies will never ask you for this information by e-mail.
- Don’t leave your personal or financial information lying around in your dorm room or apartment.
- When you order new credit cards in the mail, or your previous ones have expired, watch the calendar to make sure that you get the card within the appropriate time. If it is not received by a certain date, call the credit card grantor immediately and find out if the card was sent. Find out if a change of address was filed if you don't receive the card or a billing statement. Cancel all credit cards that you do not use or have not used in 6 months. Thieves use these very easily - open credit is a prime target.
- Be careful about sharing personal information in chat rooms, blogs or discussion groups, including Facebook and MySpace.
- Buy a cross-cut type shredder (you can purchase cross-cut type shredder very cost effectively for approximately $60 - $70.) Shred all your important papers and especially pre-approved credit applications received in your name and other financial information that provides access to your private information. Don't forget to shred your credit card receipts.
- Make sure Web sites are secure before providing your credit card number or other personal information. Look for sites that begin with “https” or display a small padlock icon next to the address field or on the lower right (but outside the Web-page viewing area).
- Keep your computer current with the latest software patches and updates to reduce its vulnerability to online hackers.
- Get all of your checks delivered to your bank - not to your home address.
- Get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or http://www.ftc.gov/freereports . Check it at least once a year. Look for unfamiliar accounts and incorrect addresses—signs of identity theft.
- Shred all documents with your Social Security number, bank account numbers and other personal information before tossing.
- Be careful of "Dumpster Diving." Make sure that you do not throw anything away that someone could use to become you. Anything with your identifiers must be shredded (cross-cut) before throwing away. Throwing out your old cell phone or computer? Be sure to destroy any stored information about yourself first.
- Destroy private records and statements. Tear up from your PC or, if you prefer, shred -- credit card statements, solicitations and other documents that contain private financial information.
- Don't leave a paper trail. Never leave ATM, credit card or gas station receipts behind.
- When employees no longer work for your business, you need to be sure that their access to your computer network and company data is cut off immediately.
- You have to be careful with your entire family. Educate them. Even the children may unwittingly put information online that compromises the entire family. And the crooks love this because it's perfectly legal for them to search social media websites and find information about you.
To learn more, go to www.idtheftcenter.org www.ftc.gov/idtheft