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Identity theft has become so prevalent that almost no one is immune anymore. There are so many ways for culprits to steal personally identifiable information (PII.) The ID thieves are doing so by stealing Social Security numbers, credit or debit cards and even getting information off of phone calling cards.
A General Accounting Office report estimates that about 750,000 Americans are victims of identity theft every year. That might not be an accurate number. Some people don’t report the crime. Some don’t even know they are victims.
What do thieves need to impersonate you? In most instances, your name, birth date and address are enough information to set up accounts, loans and even get credit cards in your name.
How do thieves find this information? You’d be surprised probably. Much of your vital information is found in that familiar roll cart at the end of your driveway. Sorting through trash and dumpster diving have proven to be quite profitable for many thieves.
There are many other ways. Shoulder surfing is one. The would-be thief watches as you key in your personal information at ATM machines and making store purchases.
You may never know the thieves’ preferred methods or guarantee that you’ll never become a victim of identity theft, but you can take some steps to protect your identity.
Some of the steps include:
u Destroy private records and statements. Tear up credit card statements and other documents that contain your personal information. Better still, invest in a shredder and shred everything before discarding in a dumpster or trash can.
u Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry your card with you. Don’t put your number on your checks.
u Protect your mailbox. Retrieve mail promptly. Don’t leave paid bills in your mailbox. Thieves can easily access your vital information from your bills. Mail bills at a post office or other secure U.S. Postal Service drop box.
u Be aware of who you do business with. Make sure you are dealing with a secure business. Never give out personal information to telephone or online solicitors.
u Monitor your credit reports at least once a year to detect any suspicious activity. You can access it free at Annualcreditreport.com or by calling (877) 322-8228.
u Review your credit card statements and make sure the purchases reflected are yours.
u Be on the lookout for shoulder-surfers. When entering your PIN for any purchase or withdrawal be aware of who is nearby. Make sure no one is peering over your shoulder to see the keys you are pressing.
u Never leave receipts from ATMs, credit cards or gas station purchases behind.
If you do become a victim of identity theft take the following steps:
u Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus and request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, along with a statement asking creditors to call you before opening any new accounts or change existing accounts.
u Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with. Talk with someone in the security of the fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter.
u File a report with the local police department where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report.
u Keep records of everything, including copies of written correspondence and records of telephone calls.
You may do all these things and still become a victim of identity theft. But at least you have armed yourself with this important information and you know what to do if you do become a victim.
Be alert at all times.