Identity theft occurs when someone obtains your personal information to commit fraud or other terrible crime. By personal information we mean your credit card data or social security number.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can be disastrous to your finances and credit score.
Even if you nip the situation in the bud quickly resolving the damage may not be as easy as it seems. It can be costly and very time-consuming to recover from identity fraud.
Common Identity Theft Schemes
No one is safe about identity theft. It can happen to anyone. But there are some things you can do to reduce your risk, which we’ve outlined below.
This scheme can occur any time you use a password or a device that stores PIN numbers, such as at an ATM. The identity thief will try to get closer to you, close enough to record your information when you enter password information. This typically occurs in a public place where the personal information of the victim is easily visible. It may also occur with the help of a video camera previously installed by the fraudster.
Always be aware of your surroundings, especially when you are accessing any accounts that require you to enter a password or PIN in a public place. Such measures will prevent identity theft from happening. If you feel someone standing too close to you invade your personal space, do not hesitate to ask the person to move back.
Theft of Personal Items
Stealing your wallet or purse is another method the identity thieves can obtain your personal information. Contact your credit card companies, bank, and credit bureaus immediately to let them know of your situation if this happens.
Pretexting happens when a thief has done prior research on you and uses this information to bait you to release more sensitive information such as a credit card number or Social Security Number. The thief will then call you on the telephone, and lead you to believe they are a business that requires this information.
Identity Theft Preventative Measures
Always shred your documents. Don’t toss bank statements and credit card receipts in the garbage, buy a shredder or utilize a service to regularly shred outdated bank statements, credit card applications, bills, and anything with your personal information before throwing it away. Junk mail can often include some of your details as well.
Strengthen your online passwords. Make sure to create different passwords for each account and change them often. It’s always best to use random combinations of letters, numbers and special characters. Also clear your logins and passwords regularly, this is important if you’ve been using a public computer.
Regularly check your credit reports. You’re entitled to one free credit report every year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus. Request one report every four months and scan it for abnormal activity or incorrect information.
Make sure to secure your phone when you’re not using it. Lock your device with a password, turn off Bluetooth when it’s not in use as a safety precaution. It makes sense also to be careful when downloading apps, free versions of popular apps may contain malware.
Take care with guarding your social security number. Avoid sharing it unless it’s necessary. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet either. It’s best to keep it safe at home until it is needed. This will also make replacing any identification easier in case of loss or theft.
Be parsimonious about your social media. It’s best to leave extensive personal details such as your birthday or address off of your profiles. Strengthen your privacy settings and be careful about whom you accept as a connection.
Recognize the signs of phishing. This is a trick in which spam or pop-ups mimic legitimate banks or businesses to obtain your personal information. This information will then be used to access your accounts. Always verify that you’re on a secure web site with controls in place before entering personal information.
Take care to monitor all your financial statements. Always report any activity that looks suspicious in your bank and credit card accounts as soon as you notice it.
Always keep your mail safe. Snatching your mail is one of the easiest ways for an identity thief to obtain your details. Consider using a locked mailbox or P.O. box, and have the post office hold your mail if you go away.
Fraud alerts and credit freezes. These are additional safety options. Some identity-theft protectors will immediately place fraud alerts on your files with the three main credit bureaus, whether you’ve been victimized or it seems like suspicious activity has happened. Freezes are far more effective than credit alerts; this prevents any company from accessing your credit unless you already do business with them. Freezes can be problematic if you’re seeking any form of credit and a hiccup happens. You’ll have to contact the bureaus to unfreeze your records, which can take up to three days.
As the concern for identity theft grows, numerous companies and financial institutions have created products that monitor your credit, reimburse you for lost wages or funds and guard your identity against fraud. Some employers also now offer ID theft insurance to help you reduce the amount of time and money spent resolving identity theft crime, definitely check with your company’s benefits package specialist to see if they offer this service.