Identity theft is quickly becoming one of the most common crimes in the United States, particularly in this economic climate. According to Experian, nine million Americans have their identity stolen every year, which happens any time there is unauthorized usage of a Social Security number, bank account, credit or debit cards.
Once any of these fall in the hands of a thief, your personal information is compromised, and criminals can use this information to take out loans, buy goods and services, and even partake in criminal activity using you as an alias, ruining your good name. Unfortunately, this all happens without your knowledge, and you won’t discover the crime until the damage has been done. The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to prevent it before it occurs. Use the following some methods to stop theft:
Get rid of any paper containing your Social Security number, bank account numbers, or debit and credit card numbers. Instead of simply throwing them in the garbage, get a shredder so the documents cannot be stolen out of a trashcan. Letters, documents, bank statements, credit card offers, and other papers with personal information are all fodder for criminals if they aren’t safely discarded.
The Internet has provided a different avenue for identity theft. Many Internet scammers will pretend to be someone you know or a respected official in order to obtain your sensitive information. Never give out bank account numbers to any third party solicitor on the web, and never click on hyperlinks in emails from unknown sources. Lastly, choose passwords that are not easy for thieves to find: a combination of words and numbers that do not contain proper names or dates of birth, are best.
Keep a close watch on your personal belongings, as well as your information. If a solicitor calls requesting personal information, do not readily hand it over unless you are certain they are from a reputable organization.
Additionally, your purse or wallet usually contains a hotbed of sensitive information, including credit and debit cards, a driver’s license, and bank account numbers. If you ever lose a purse or wallet, or think it has been stolen, call your financial institutions immediately so they can cancel your current accounts and issue you a new set of numbers.
Check Credit Reports
It’s easy to forget all about your credit report until it is time to take out a loan. This is often the point where most identity theft victims discover that their information has been stolen.
You are permitted one free credit report per calendar year from Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian, the nation’s three primary credit bureaus. These credit reports offer you the peace of mind that all accounts listed are yours. If you see any suspicious activity or accounts you do not recognize, contact the credit bureau right away.
What to Do if You Become a Victim
If your information does fall into the wrong hands, report fraud immediately. Make sure you call all of your credit card companies, contact the bank, and report suspicious activity to the police. The quicker you act upon fraudulent activity, the less liable you will be for any debts. You might also consider consulting various books and first-hand accounts for examples of identity theft, methods to detect spurious activity, and advice for coping with identity theft if you become a victim.
This article was written by banker and credit counselor Anne Lim. She also recommends protecting your identity with Protect Your Bubble ID Theft services.