Today identity theft is so common that the Federal Bureau of Investigation cites it as “America’s fastest growing crime problem.” It occurs when a person obtains personal information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, or bank account information to commit fraud or other crimes.Given the recent information breech at Target stores, where up to 110 million people are suspected to have their identity stolen, identity theft is on the top of everyone’s mind. Criminals are getting more creative with how they steal information too; skimming technology, or devices placed in ATM’s or other point-of-sale machines that capture card information when swiped, continue to evolve.
In the United States, where the use of magnetic strip cards is still standard, these skimmers are able to easily collect the information of unknowing victims. Europe and other foreign countries have made progressive attempts to switch to EMV credit cards (also referred to as “chip cards” or “smart cards”) which make identity theft more difficult due to more secure authentication methods and encrypted transference of information. The United States plans to start using microchip-enabled credit cards as soon as 2015, and the amount of identity fraud is expected to dramatically decrease once set in motion (countries like England have already seen a decrease in identity theft from 2012 to 2013 after introducing these cards).
Understanding how these thieves obtain your personal information will help you to better protect yourself from identity theft. After extensive research, we have compiled a list of essential steps you should take in order to best prevent and protect yourself from identity theft:
Identity theft and Social Security card
Protect your Social Security number- Your SSN is a critical piece of personal information that should not be printed out or carried around. In order to lower your chance of identity theft, never carry your Social Security card in your wallet, and avoid using your SSN as a personal identifier if at all possible. The less you write down and give out your SSN, the lower your risk for identity theft.
- Monitor your credit report as well as your bank and credit card statements-Regularly monitor your credit report and bank statements in order to identify discrepancies as early as possible. Scan your bank statements for purchases that seem unusual and check your credit report for accounts or credit cards that you did not open. You are entitled to a free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) so take advantage of this service by checking your credit report every four months, changing bureaus each time. The more you monitor your accounts, the more accurately you will be able to identify and prevent identity theft.
- Shred sensitive documents-All items and documents that you discard containing personal information, such as bank/credit card statements, utility bills, credit card offers, and more should be shredded in order to protect your identity.
- Protect your computer- In this digital age, it is easier than ever for a thief to hack into your computer or one of your online accounts. Prevent this from occurring by safeguarding your computer with a firewall, virus protection, and a secure network. In addition, create a password for your computer and online accounts, and change them frequently in order to better protect yourself from identity theft. Identity theft isn’t isolated to just bank accounts, thieves are also making fraudulent charges using portals like PayPal, Amazon, and even phone bills!
- Guard your mail– Identity thieves will often monitor your mailbox in order to snag documents that might contain your personal information. Prevent this from happening by opting out of pesky pre-approved credit card offers by calling 888-5OPT-OUT or by logging onto https://www.optoutprescreen.com. Also make sure to cancel mail delivery when you go out of town, or have someone you trust pick up your mail when you are away in order to detract thieves from raiding your mailbox for personal information.
- Beware of phishing scams that can occur on the telephone or internet- In order to obtain personal information, identity thieves will contact you under false pretenses claiming there is a problem with one of your accounts or promising you an extravagant vacation. They will ask for your SSN and other personal information to verify your identity. If you receive a phone call from someone asking for this information, hang up immediately; most likely it is a phishing scam. Over the internet these thieves will send spam emails stating that you need to log into one of your accounts in order to resolve a problem. In reality they are redirecting you to a false log-in page where they can steal your I.D login and password to gain access to your account. Again, if you receive an email like this do not click on the link they provided; delete the email and/or call the company they are claiming to be in order to confirm if there is a legitimate problem with your account.
- Safeguard your wallet- Photocopy your credit cards, debit cards, and personal information in your wallet to have this information readily available in case your wallet or credit cards are stolen. Also write “See ID” in place of the signature on your credit and debit cards to make it more difficult for thieves to purchase items with your information.
In today’s technology-driven society, it is more important than ever to proactively protect yourself from identity theft. If you have been a victim of identity theft, you know how devastating the effects can be both financially and emotionally.