Identity Crisis? Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft
Life has become a lot easier over the last few years-you can get money in a flash with ATM machines, pay for your groceries with debit cards and buy anything you need online. But life has become just as easy for thieves. All of this new technology gives them more ways to get your personal information and rip you off. Here's how you can protect yourself and your identity.Beware of "Shoulder Surfers" and "Dumpster Divers"
It's hard to believe, but someone could be looking over your shoulder or digging through your garbage to get the financial goods on you--personal data like your Social Security number, or your bank, credit card, or telephone calling card number. This information can be used in a flash to assume your financial identity. This could leave you under a virtual black cloud of credit and legal problems that may follow you for years. To weather this storm, you need the cold hard facts on how to avoid becoming a victim and guidelines for quick action should your luck change. So don't let some shady character rain on your parade. Get the facts, know your options, and minimize your risk. Start by visiting the Federal Trade Commission's web site. It will help keep your financial forecast bright and your identity to yourself.
Why Is ID Theft Such a Big Deal?
If someone has key pieces of your personal data, like your Social Security number, date of birth, or your mother's maiden name, he or she could take over your financial accounts, apply for new credit cards, open new bank accounts, buy a new car, even apply for Social Security benefits. Ultimately, they can drain your bank accounts and ruin your credit rating. In the worst case scenario, the ID thief could even commit another more serious crime, under your name, and give you a criminal record.
How Can Crooks Get My Personal Data?
It's easier than you think for criminals to get their hands on your personal data. They don't even have to break into your home or steal your wallet or mail to do so. You could unwittingly be making their "job" easier. For example, do you make credit card calls in public places? Do you swipe your debit card at the supermarket and punch in your PIN number in plain view of other customers? Do you forget to cut up any credit cards you don't want or need before throwing them in the trash? Simple everyday tasks like these could help a criminal help himself to your personal data. Here are some other tips to minimize your risk.
- Never give out your personal information like Social Security number, date of birth, mother's maiden name, credit card number over the telephone unless you initiated the call to a trusted organization.
- Memorize your pin numbers or passwords; don't keep them in your wallet.
- Sign all new credit cards upon receipt.
- Report lost or stolen credit cards immediately.
- Remove mail promptly from your mailbox after delivery.
- Save all credit card receipts and match them against your monthly bill.
- Never loan your credit cards.
- Never leave receipts at bank machines, gas stations or restaurants.
Because the US Postal Inspection Service plays such a key role in trying to stamp out mail fraud, check out ww.usps.gov/postalinspectors for more information.
What if I am a Victim of ID Theft?
As soon as you know or suspect that you've been victimized, act quickly. Contact all of your creditors-by phone and in writing. And notify your local police, your banks, the DMV, the US Postal Inspection Service and the three credit bureaus' fraud units:
- Equifax Credit Bureau, Fraud
- Experian Information Solutions
- TransUnion Credit Bureau, Fraud
You should ask for a "Fraud Alert/Victim Impact" statement to be placed in your credit file. And ask your banks for a new pin number and password. Be sure to keep good records of all contact you make to notify companies and creditors of your situation.
You can also call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-ID-THEFT to report the problem and the Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
For more information on other popular consumer issues check out FCIC's Consumer Focus Archive.
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FOR ID THEFT VICTIMS
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44 page detailed informational handout for ID theft victims
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