Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft: Facts and Tips on How to Minimize your Exposure
Not long ago, thieves had to actually go out to steal things. But with the advances in technology, thieves and criminals have found a new way to make a living without much risk of getting caught – by stealing someone’s identity.
According to consumer.gov, identity theft transpires when someone obtains your personal information and uses it in the absence of your knowledge for their own gain. Identity theft is a very serious crime. However, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network described identity theft as a “crime that is rarely committed as an end in itself.” Simply put, identity thieves use their victim’s information – name, Social Security number, bank account and credit card numbers, etc. – to commit crimes.
Identity Theft or Identity Fraud?
The terms “identity theft” and “identity fraud” can be used interchangeably. But the Federation of American Scientists characterized identity theft as a type of identity fraud in which the victim’s personal information is being used, while identity fraud relates to the crimes regarding the use of false identification. Whether theft or fraud, a stolen identity will certainly affect your finances and reputation.
As reported by the Federal Trade Commission, around nine million Americans have their identities taken from them every year without their consent. According to the National Science Foundation, identity thieves use your personal information to apply for auto loans, to open bank and credit card accounts, and to get access to utility services.
Types of Identity Theft Based on Motives:
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service classified identity theft by the thieves’ motives.
– Stealing someone’s identity, and then taking advantage of the weaknesses in certain technologies and information systems. The best example of this is credit card fraud. Fraudsters tamper with the victim’s credit card or make a counterfeit using the victim’s identity.
– Stealing someone’s identity through online scams. Scammers trick their victims by putting up “store fronts” on the web, and then asking them for their personal and financial information.
– Stealing someone’s identity as the motive in committing a crime. Extortion, burglary, robbery, and bribery are carried out in order to gain access to the victim’s personal and financial information.
– Stealing someone’s identity to facilitate other crimes. Examples are document theft or fraud. The illegally acquired personal information is used to make new documents such as counterfeit cards.
– Stealing someone’s identity to avoid getting arrested. Identity thieves commit crimes using someone else’s identity. That way the victim will get caught, not the thief.
How Can Identity Thieves Access Your Personal Information?
In 2001, a help desk worker named Philip Cummings sold private passwords that belonged to 30,000 customers of his company, Teledata Communications. Around 2.7 million dollars was stolen from the victims.
Today your identity can be taken from you either directly or indirectly through:
– Your mail
– Your ID cards, credit cards, and bank information from stolen wallets and purses
– Dumpster diving or combing through your trash for discarded personal data
– Filling out change of address forms
– Phishing or fake emails
– Your personal information that you share publicly on the Internet
– Clicking onto a bogus site and then sharing your personal information for a so-called gift or reward
– Spywares, viruses, and hackers
Tips on How You Will Know if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
Listed here are ways on how to detect identity theft according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
– At least once a week, check your account balances electronically. If you do not have access to the Internet, go over your credit card and bank paper statements.
– Observe if there are suspicious transactions.
– Subscribe to services that will monitor your online transactions. You will be alerted when changes in your credits and finances occur, or if there are new addresses and phone numbers listed under your name.
– Keep an eye on the time when your billing statement should arrive. Ensure that you receive your paper statements on schedule and that nothing is missing.
– Keep tabs on phone calls from collection agencies regarding unpaid bills you know nothing about. This is an indication that you are a victim of identity theft.
Tips on How to Keep Your Identity from Being Stolen
Prevention is always better than the cure. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston shared different ways on how you can avoid identity theft.
– Always keep your personal information safe. Do not write your PINs on your checkbook, ATM card, or debit card. Before disposing of papers containing any confidential information, shred them first.
– Do not put too many cards that contain your identification and personal information into your purses or wallets.
– Be cautious in giving out your information through mail, telephone, and Internet requests.
– Review your credit reports regularly.
– At work, ensure that your employer is very strict in giving out your personal information.
– Apply for identity theft insurance policies. This will ensure that you won’t be paying for fraudulent bills.
– Secure your computer from identity theft. Update and upgrade your computer’s virus protection. Do not download files if you are unsure of its origin. Never click hyperlinks shared by strangers.
Tips on What to Do if You Become a Victim of Identity Theft
The Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines on what to do in case someone steals your personal information.
– Contact your credit company immediately. Flag and request for fraud alert on your credit report.
– Keep everything that is connected to the theft.
– File an Identity Theft Report.
The Government on Identity Theft
Due to increasing cases of identity frauds and the use of the Internet as a tool in committing these crimes, legislators have passed laws that will help combat identity theft.
– Identity Theft Deterrence Act. This made identity theft a federal crime. Anyone who commits or attempts identity theft will be given penalties. In addition, the properties used or set to be used in executing the crime are subjected to forfeiture. The law also gives the Federal Trade Commission the authority to record complaints related to identity theft and to redirect these concerns to proper bureaus.
– Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act. This act further enhanced the ability of the federal government to indict identity theft. If convicted, an additional two to five years imprisonment will be given in addition to other federal crimes a person has committed.
– Identity Theft Enforcement Restitution Act. This allows indemnities to identity theft victims.
– Formation of Identity Theft Task Force. This task force was created to help federal agencies in their campaign against identity theft.