Identity theft is a growing national epidemic. Estimates by government and consumer affairs organizations place the number of victims of identity theft in the U.S. 1,000,000 per year—and still climbing. The statistics on identity theft should be quite sobering to the ‘cyber Monday’ crowd as more and more of the scams are internet based.
The sad truth is that the Internet and its vast collections of easily accessible personal data make identity theft a simple and tantalizing endeavor for the criminally inclined. Contributing to the problem are businesses that lack stringent privacy policies and corporate mistakes in handling sensitive customer information.
Incidents of large corporations being hacked and sensitive consumer files being left unsecured in garbage bins and credit slips left unshredded are common—and even the unsavvy thieves know it.
Unfortunately, government and police agencies are not equipped to handle these sophisticated crimes which often cross state borders. From a police perspective, identity theft is a stealth crime. It just doesn’t merit the priority of crimes like murder, robbery and other violent crimes more easily reported and televised.
How Easy Is It To Steal An Identity…
To put it mildly— way too easy.
Here are some typical ways in which thieves gather information about you:
• stealing wallets
• sabotage – former friend, lover, roommate or co-worker with a grudge gathers sensitive information and uses it in an attempt to extract revenge (a more common occurrence than most people realize)
• filling out a change of address form for you and collecting your mail
• snatching pre-approved credit offers from the trash or recycling bin
• ordering unauthorized credit reports on you by posing as a potential employer, landlord or even you
• illegal computer tapping by a dishonest employee at a business where you have provided information or been granted credit
• looking over your shoulder at phones and ATMs to gather PIN numbers, sometimes with binoculars or listening devices
• breaking into computer systems and searching for people with good credit
• using phony telemarketing schemes to con you into giving them your personal data, and
• using personal information you shared on the Internet.
But perhaps the most disturbing method to steal your identity is by purchasing your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, home and employment address, previous addresses, credit history and more for just a few dollars from one of the new identity search companies taking over your email folders online.
FIGHT BACK AND PROTECT YOUR ID ONLINE
You must guard your personal information 24/7. Here are some basics for keeping your private information secure:
• Always change your passwords and PIN code numbers.
Don’t use obvious codes such as birthdays or spouse’s, children’s or pet’s names.
Memorize them and shred any piece of paper where they are written.
• Monitor & review credit card statements and phone and utility bills.
Get a copy of your credit report at least once a year. Promptly respond to any inaccurate information.
• Keep all your credit card receipts and don’t throw them away in public.
• Tear up or shred any offers of pre-approved credit cards you don’t intend to use.