Millions of Americans use credit cards, take out money from savings and checking accounts, write checks, and open new bank accounts everyday. By completing these everyday tasks, many Americans put themselves at risk for identity theft. However, there are many steps that one can take to protect oneself from being an identity theft victim. In addition, knowing how an identity thief gets his or her information will allow a person to be safer.
How Do Thieves Get Their Information?
An identity thief can do many things to retrieve things like your Social Security Number, and credit card number. Some thieves steal mail, which often has bank statements and credit card numbers. Thieves may get information from an institution or business by stealing records while they are on the job. Some thieves use false advertising to get victims to give out their credit card numbers over the phone. Thieves can also implement a process known as “skimming,” This process is where a thief uses a computer to track what buttons you pushed at an ATM machine.
How Do They Use the Information?
How an identity thief uses the personal information is a whole different ballgame. Identity thieves may change account numbers, or access all the money in your account electronically or otherwise. Identity thieves may also open up various credit card accounts and run up charges. Some identity thieves go so far as top change the billing address for a credit card account, so they can run up the bill, and it will be some time before you realize it because the bills are being sent to a different address. Some thieves get jobs, or file false tax returns using someone else’s name and Social Security Number.
How To Protect Yourself
Now, all this identity theft seems mighty scary, but there are many ways to protect yourself. It is very important to get rid of all unnecessary documents. When throwing out bank statements, or anything with personal information on it, many people make use of paper shredders. This is a very good idea. Rarely give your credit card number out over the phone unless you are positive that it is a trustworthy business, and even in that case, exercise caution. Finally, keeping track of wallets, purses, and any important documents is key to successfully defending yourself from identity theft.
If identity theft does occur, there are many steps you can take to make sure you are not harmed financially. Canceling a credit card is the obvious choice. However, you can also put out a “Fraud Alert” on your credit card. This will allow you to review your credit card statements as much as you like. You can look for any strange purchases, or account openings, or anything out of the ordinary. The two types of alert are “initial alert” (90 days) and “extended alert” (seven years). Other steps you can take are closing accounts that you believe have been tampered with. You can also notify the police.
Identity Theft is a serious crime, with serious consequences. However, if you take precautions, and know what to do in the event of identity theft, you will be safer. The key to protecting yourself is knowing what you’re up against.