Did you know identify theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America affecting between 8 and 9 million consumers last year and causing losses of almost 50 billion dollars!
Not only is ID theft the fastest growing crime - the scary news is that identity thieves find more and more creative ways to get access to their targets' personal information, drawing information from places the public would never suspect being ‘tweaked': renewals for magazine subscriptions, warranty cards or loan applications. Your name may get taken from these documents, and added to lists that may be at the root of all kinds of unsolicited offers.
How can your personal information be distributed like that?
Many companies assume your ‘implied consent' - if you don't expressly tell them not to distribute your information, they assume that it is OK if they do so. It may be worth your time to check into the privacy terms of the companies that you are doing business with, especially if you do a lot of shopping online. You can also add your name and contact information to the Federal Trade Commission's "Do Not Call Registry" by calling 1.888.382.1222.
In addition, fake phone calls from the "Department of Revenue", "Dumpster-diving" to fish for discarded mail (with valuable information) out of the trash, or "Phishing" - trying to get information from consumers by pretending they are a business the consumer has an account with - these are all ways for identity thieves to get private information.
Identity Theft can happen every day, anywhere, doing any kind of transaction. That's where you can - and need to - be your own best protection. You can't be vigilant enough! Here are a few tips:
- Never give your Social Security number, mother's maiden name, or account numbers to solicitors who contact you over the phone, Internet or via mail. It sounds easy, but ID-thieves are skilled in making you believe they come from a trustworthy organization. Don't give in to pressure! Also, be very careful about filling out information on warranty cards, subscription or registration forms, or tickets for prize-drawings.
- Do not leave your outgoing mail in an unlocked mailbox. Use a locking mailbox, or a collection box. Track your monthly bills and the time they arrive - if you don't get a bill on time, contact the creditor immediately to follow up.
- Review your credit card statements carefully and track what you are being billed for. If it is not your expense - challenge it. The major fraud reporting lines are: Equifax 1-888-766-0008; Experian 1-888-397-3742; TransUnion 1-800-680-7289.
- Use only secure websites when buying online. They begin with "https."
- Eliminate credit cards you hardly use. The less you have, the easier it is to keep track of them. However, be aware that canceling a credit card may affect your credit score.
- Get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit offers. Call 1-888-5OPT OUT (1-888-567-8688). This is an automated service.
- Avoid carrying personal information with you, including your Social Security Card, Health Insurance cards (which often contain your Social Security Number), birth certificates, passports, PIN numbers, or any ID or Credit Cards you don't absolutely need. Lock these documents in a safe place.
- Choose complex passwords that combine letters, numbers and symbols.
- If you are a victim of ID Theft, contact your local law enforcement agency and the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Hotline 1-877-IDTHEFT immediately.
- SHRED, SHRED, SHRED, SHRED! Destroy all paperwork that contains personal information, including your name and address, phone number, e-mail, account numbers, birth dates, passwords or PINs, signatures, and social security numbers.
Coverage for identity theft expense is now offered by many insurance companies, often for free. Check your homeowners policy to make sure Identity Theft Expense Coverage is included. If you don't have this coverage you should consider adding it, especially since it could be free.