If you spend any time watching the TV news or reading the newspapers, most people have heard of identity theft. But do you really know what identity theft is? Or even more importantly, did you realize that if you are not proactively taking steps to change the way you handle your personal information, that you could easily become the next victim of identity theft? |
Identity theft is sometimes also known as identity fraud. The thief has managed somehow to get enough of the victim's personal information to enable him to open new accounts in the name of the victim. There are thousands of reported cases each year where the victim has discovered bank accounts, credit cards, department store cards, and even car purchases done in the name of the victim. Meanwhile, the thief has a ton of merchandise and a new car, and is never seen again. The first time that the victim becomes aware that his identity has been compromised is when he gets a call from a lender asking what he plans to do about that overdue payment.
By the time that phone call or threatening letter is received by the victim, it is typically at least 30 days later or more since the crime occurred, and by that time, any leads that may enable authorities to track down the thief have long since grown ice cold. In fact, some identity thieves actually make payments on the account for the first few months to establish a good credit history with the credit card issuer, then they drop the axe with a huge purchase, after which they seem to disappear from the face of the planet. And all being done without your knowledge until it is far too late.
How can this happen? There are a number of ways this can happen, and much of it revolves around the way you handle your personal information. For example, you regularly get credit card offers in the mail, right? What do you do with them? Typically you throw them in the trash, perhaps taking time to rip them in half first. Identity thieves regularly engage in an activity known as "dumpster diving", where they will sort through mountains of trash to find that information that you discarded, then piecing it back together and actually taking up the lender on his offer for that pre-approved credit card. What SHOULD you do with trash items that contain your personal information? Run them through a shredder first, which makes it virtually impossible to piece the data back together. Any office supply store has shredders readily available starting at under $30.
How do you pay your bills? Do you fill out the check and the envelope and then put it in your mailbox with the flag up so the postman will take it when he makes his rounds? Did you ever stop to think what could happen if somebody took those bill payments out of your mailbox before the postman got there? You should always mail financial information like bill payments from the post office, or even better, most banks have an online bill paying service with no fee, so you don't even pay for the stamps!
A would-be identity thief really only needs a minimum of information about you to do some major damage to your credit history and credit score. They typically needs your social security number, your date of birth, name, address, and they can be off to the races. Think about it – how much places have that minimal amount of information about you? Are you comfortable that they are safeguarding that information appropriately?
Get a copy of your credit report regularly and go over it with a fine tooth comb. Look for any strange accounts that you never opened or strange credit inquiries. Be vigilant about your personal information and who you give it to, and in doing so, you will lessen the chances of having yourself be the next easy victim of identity theft. For more insights and additional information about Identity Theft Protection please visit our web site at http://www.idtheftprotectiontips.com
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