Identity theft has become a serious crime, disrupting and ruining lives, and often beyond repair. Slick thieves are able to use your name, date of birth, bank account number and social security number to apply for credit cards, and charge items with this information. They are able to gain access to your bank accounts, open new accounts and buy cell phones in your name and even use your name to commit crimes. And before you even know what happened, you are not able to buy a car, a home, rent an apartment, obtain insurance or get a job. The damage is done and sometimes it’s irreparable.
Millions of people have been victims of identity theft. According to a survey from the Federal Trade Commission, 2.73 million Americans were victimized by identity thieves within a five year period. This survey also revealed that most identity thieves use your personal information to buy material goods.
It seems as if no one is safe from the crime of identity theft. Although hearing stories of people’s identities being stolen is heartbreaking, there are precautions people can take to safeguard their information and their lives. Below is a list of ways to help protect and safeguard your personal information.
Never give out your personal information over the phone. Identity thieves may call and pretend to be a representative from a "legitimate" sounding company and try to confirm, or get you to reveal your personal information. Decline and ask for written verification. Be wary of giving information to people or "companies" that contact you, and be sure of whom you are speaking.
Do not carry your social security card in your wallet. Maybe in older times this served as a form of identification, if you did not have proper id, but not anymore. If your wallet is lost or stolen, whoever finds it may use your social security number to harm you. So leave it at home in a secure place.
Copy all of your credit cards, the front and back, including the customer service telephone numbers. If you lose your wallet or it is stolen, you need to have assurance that you can call credit card companies quickly to report the lost or stolen credit cards.
1. Do not store your personal information on a laptop.
2. Do not store passwords to websites you frequent on the computer. Each time you go onto a website that requires a password, enter it.
3. Make sure your computer has antivirus software and a firewall set up.
4. Do not download files on your computer from people you do not know.
5. Sign up for the National Do Not Call List.
6. Check your credit report at least once a year.
7. Only carry credit cards that you use.
8. Consider having your mail sent to a post office box instead of a physical address.
9. Shed any financial documents you don’t need as well as preapproved credit card offers.
10. Regularly check your bank statements, credit card and telephone statements for unauthorized charges.
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11. Remove personal information from your computer’s hard drive before you get rid of it.
12. Lock your card and do not leave sensitive information inside.
13. When you make purchases and hand your card to someone to charge, keep the card in sight to avoid "skimming". Employees have been caught swiping cards with a machine that can copy a credit card’s numbers.
These are a few tips to get you started in preserving your personal information. Identity thieves are cunning, and the more information all of us have to safeguard our information; the better able we’ll be to stop the theft of identities.
If you find you are a victim of identity theft, please call the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-IDTHEFT to file a complaint. In addition, contact each of the three national consumer credit reporting agencies (Transunion, Equifax, Experian)to report fraud and to put a fraud alert on your credit.
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