How to avoid identity theft

What is it and how can you avoid it?

There has been a lot of talk in the media about identity theft lately.

Identity theft is when someone assumes your identity for the purposes of obtaining credit, opening a bank account or selling your property. An identity thief does this by taking your identification cards (driver’s license, citizenship card or passport), social security number and address. They often obtain these by stealing your mail, but entering personal information on an unsecure website or losing your wallet are equally dangerous.

Recent History of Identity Theft in the United States

In 2010, the United States Federal Trade Commission received over 250,000 identity theft complaints[1]. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the same year saw about 7% of households having at least one member fall victim to an identity thief. This has risen from about 5.5% from 2005[2]. While these numbers are staggering, there are some steps that you can take to avoid having your identity stolen and your credit ruined from NAI.

Protect your mail

Thieves often target mailboxes. If you go on vacation, be sure to cancel your mail delivery with the post office. Invest in a paper shredder. When you discard of credit card offers, bills or statements, be sure to shred them before tossing them in the trash. When you order new checks through your bank, don’t have them delivered to your home. Instead, have them delivered to your bank for pickup.

Memorize your social security number

Instead of keeping the card in your wallet, try and remember the number – just in case you lose it.

Cancel any credit cards that you don’t use

An unused and open credit card is just one more thing that a thief can get their hands on.

Protect your wallet

Some people opt to write “see photo ID” on the back of their cards in place of a signature. Keep a copy of all of your credit cards and contact information for the respective card companies so you can cancel them immediately if your wallet is stolen.

Arm yourself with knowledge

Contact one of the major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and obtain a credit report once a year. If you notice any suspicious activity (such as a credit check that you didn’t authorize) you can put a security freeze on your file. The credit bureau will not allow your information to be reported while the freeze is on.

Even the deceased are victims to identity theft

Notify all creditors and banks when your loved one passes away. Remove them from any joint bank accounts or property in joint tenancy. You may need to order several official copies of the death certificate. It is also prudent to contact the credit reporting agencies and put a deceased alert on file so that no further credit can be issued under that name.

Don’t give out your credit card

Personal information provided over the phone or internet could be used maliciously.

Never Use Sites on a Public Network

If you do internet banking or online shopping, only use sites that are secure (it will usually have a lock in the bottom right-hand corner of the web page). Never use these sites from a public network such as in a coffee shop.

If you are certain that you have been a victim of identity theft it is imperative that you call police to file a report. You call also contact the Federal Trade Commission identity theft hotline (1-877-438-4338). You should also contact your creditors, banks and utility companies to block or cancel the accounts immediately.