Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information against your knowledge of goods and services, including lines of credit, credit cards, and loans. According to the Federal Trade Commission, over 27 million Americans have been victimized by identity theft.
Identity theft can lead to major problems including loss of money when funds are fraudulently taken from your banking account, a lower credit score, and may even lead to a fraudulent criminal record.
The best way to prevent someone from misusing your identity is to protect yourself. By following the tips below, you can lower your chances of identity theft and better secure your reputation, credit, and good name.
The first thing you need to do is secure your personal identifying information.
This means only provide your social security number when absolutely necessary, leave your card and number in a secure place and shred all documents that have your social security number on them.
Secondly, you will want to pick up your mail on a routine basis. If possible, place a lock on your mailbox and shred rather than discard any mail that has any of your personal information on it, such as pre-approved credit card offers, bills, and similar mail items. You should also mail your bills via the local post office rather than using the drop boxes.
Thirdly, you will also want to secure any documents that you need in a safe or lockbox that contains account information, PIN numbers, and the like.
This includes bank statements, credit card statements, and personal checks.
Lastly, you will need to safeguard your computer. Although computer hacking represents the smallest amount of identity theft, it still occurs on a daily basis.
To protect yourself, you will want to always maintain an anti-virus program and keep it updated and running on a continual basis. Never open an unsolicited email or any email that asks for account validation of information unless it was specifically initiated by you.
Many hackers and thieves set up websites identical to the true Web sites which you may conduct business with.
You must pay attention to the URL or website address of the site you are utilizing to ensure the protection of your information. It is also best not to save your passwords on your computer as your computer may be stolen.
To help you identify if you have been the victim of identity theft and to minimize your exposure, there are several things you can do:
- Check your credit card and bank account balances often to ensure there are no suspicious or unknown transactions that have occurred.
- Consider subscribing to a credit monitoring service. All of the major credit reporting agencies provide this service for a nominal fee.
- Check your credit reports, monitor your account statements, and become suspicious if you receive any phone calls from a collection agency regarding an account you are unaware of. By doing these things, you will minimize and protect yourself from identity theft.