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Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Avoid Identity Fraud

Identity theft is becoming the fastest growing crime in the United States and the victims are people from all walks of life. Understanding what identity theft is and how the thieves operate is the first step to protecting yourself from becoming a target. Even though criminals are continually hatching new schemes, following a few precautions can greatly reduce your susceptibility to most methods of identity theft.

What exactly is identity theft?

Identity theft occurs when an impostor uses another individual’s name and/or personal information for fraudulent purposes. This type of crime takes on many forms as the thieves find creative ways to both gather your information and to use it for their own gain.

Traditionally, identity thieves have used the following methods:

Check fraud – just like it sounds, stealing checks, making fake checks with someone else’s name, or altering checks.

Data theft – information is stolen from consumer files at doctor’s offices, universities, banks or other institutions.

Mail theft – many types of personal information can be lifted from your incoming mail such as credit card applications and other pre-approved offers. Outgoing mail is an even better target as the thieves can get bills, credit card information or your checks. Social Security Number theft – once thieves have your SSN they use it to generate fraudulent accounts, fake ID’s and numerous other scams.

Purse or wallet theft – pickpockets and purse snatchers will use the personal information and identification for fraud or some have even developed elaborate schemes to almost immediately drain your accounts once they have access.

Trash farming – you would be surprised at the valuable information in the trash. Any document with personal information, account numbers or other private data should be shredded prior to disposal.

Account hijacking – thieves fraudulently contact your creditors and submit change of address requests to receive your documents and use them to open new accounts.

Inside jobs – employees of companies that use or store personal information are able to steal that information to sell it or use for their own scams.

New methods of identity theft

Phishing – thieves send an official looking e-mail to you asking you to confirm your personal account information. As soon as you enter the info, it goes right to the thieves for their purposes. Phishing scams can also be accomplished through phone contact.

Skimming – thieves utilize small, handheld scanning devices to copy the information imbedded on your credit card and then either sell the data or use it to make fake cards. A variation on this involves the thieves placing a scanning device over the card slot on an ATM which gathers your information while you process your ATM transaction.

Wireless access – when you use a cell phone or a non-secure wireless network at home, you leave yourself open to thieves. Non-encrypted systems give outsiders easy access to all of your personal information stored in those systems.

Be Wary

Even though you believe you are protective of your personal information, you must be ever vigilant for new scams. Never enter sensitive information online unless you know that the connection is secure. Never give your information to unknown solicitors in writing or over the phone. Make sure no-one is watching when you enter your pin numbers at the ATM. These things seem obvious, but you must not let down your guard.

It is also a good idea to regularly review your credit report. You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Spread out your requests and you can get a credit checkup every 4 months to highlight any suspicious activity.

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