Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, social security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information by:
- stealing your mail, wallet or purse,
- posing as legitimate companies through email or phone,
- diverting your mail by changing your address,
- searching your trash and pulling out documents that contain your personal information
There are several ways that Identity theft may affect you. Thieves may open credit cards in your name and misuse it by not paying the bills. They may notoriously obtain a phone or other utility services and open bank accounts or loans or gain access to your existing accounts and drain your savings. There is also the possibility that they could apply for jobs using your social security number or obtain official IDs or driver’s license and provide your information to police during an arrest.
The good news is that there are things you can do to deter identity thieves by safeguarding your information:
- Shred financial documents and paperwork with personal information before you discard them.
- Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet or write your Social Security number on a check.
- Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail, or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
- Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails; Use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software to protect your home computer.
- Keep your personal information in a secure place at home.
- Monitor your accounts on-line.
If your identity is stolen you must immediately contact your local law enforcement, financial institution, credit card company, your online banking provider and other service providers to notify them of the unauthorized activity. Individuals should also report the theft to the three primary credit reporting agencies; Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.