Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft
Few financial crimes have been rising as quickly as identity theft, and few financial crimes can be as devastating as identity theft. While the simple theft of a credit card can be simple to rectify, the theft of your financial identity can take hundreds of hours, and lots of money, to put right.
Identity theft consists of a number of distinct fraudulent activities, such as:
- Opening credit cards in the victim’s name
- Opening fraudulent bank accounts
- Obtaining cell phones based on fraudulent information
- Getting a loan in another person’s name
The results of these actions by nefarious individuals can be quite serious, and identity theft victims spend on average $800 and 175 hours of hard work to clear their good names. Even after all this hard work, the results of identity theft can linger for years, and the victims often find it more difficult to obtain the loans they need in the future.
There are fortunately a number of steps every individual can take to avoid becoming a victim of this growing crime. These important steps include:
- Scrutinize your credit card statements and bank statements carefully. If you see any transactions you do not recognize, notify your bank or credit card company immediately.
- Pay attention to when your credit card and bank statements are due. If they are more than a few days late, it could indicate that an identity thief has changed the billing address without your knowledge.
- Never give out personal information, such as bank account numbers, Social Security numbers or credit card numbers on the phone unless you made the call. There are a number of scams in which criminals pose as bank officials or other authority figures in an attempt to steal personal information. Do not fall victim to such scams.
- When mailing credit card bills and other personal information, place them in the mailbox at the post office instead of putting them in your own mailbox. Outgoing mail can be a treasure trove of personal information for criminals.
- When you are going on vacation, be sure to put a hold on your mail with the post office. Thieves often look for credit cards, bank statements and other such information in the mail boxes of those who are away.
- Consider getting an unlisted telephone number. In some cases, clever criminals can obtain highly personal information about you using just your name, address and telephone number.
- Consider buying a personal shredder for your confidential information. Identity thieves often “dumpster dive” for personal information. The harder you make it for these thieves to get that information, the slimmer your chances of falling victim to identity theft.
- Check your credit reports once a year. Checking your credit reports regularly for unauthorized activity is one of the best ways to spot identity theft early, before significant damage can be done.