Identity theft/fraud is the fastest growing crime in the nation. Younger aged groups, especially children are most vulnerable and consequently, in recent years have become most targeted.
Identity theft and identity fraud occurs when someone obtains and uses another person’s personal information in a deceptive or fraudulent manner, typically for economic gain (U.S. Department of Justice, www.justice.gov). A majority of theses cases involve the fraudulent use of debit/credit cards to take funds out of a victim’s bank or financial accounts or to make unauthorized purchases. However, in the worst cases, when someone’s social security number falls into the wrong hands, the victim’s identity can be taken over altogether, oftentimes leaving them with vast debt and severe and long lasting damage to their credit.
Unfortunately, in many cases, the immediate costs associated with this growing crime are minimal compared to the additional financial costs incurred with restoring your credit, reputation and correcting invalid information. However, instead of focusing on what you should do if you become a victim of identity theft, it is wiser to know what you can do to prevent it in the first place.
Steps to take to prevent identity theft/fraud:
- Memorize your social security number and all passwords – don’t carry these with you or keep them where someone can easily find them.
- Don’t use your birth date as a password.
- Shred any information/documentation containing personal or financial information – especially “preapproved” credit cards that come in the mail.
- Keep your personal information on a “need to know” basis. Be extremely cautious about giving your personal information out over the phone or Internet.
- Check your financial information regularly for unusual activity – bank and financial statements and credit card statements.
- Report lost or stolen credit/debit cards immediately.
- Use a firewall program on your computer.
- Be careful about sharing personal on social media sites (e.g. address, birth date, phone number, etc.).
- Don’t download files or click on hyperlinks from people you don’t know.
- Order your credit report from all 3 bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) at least once a year and review thoroughly for accuracy.
- When traveling have all mail held at the post office or ask someone you know well to collect your mail and hold it for you until you return.
- When traveling don’t give out your personal or financial information on the phone in a public place or where you can easily be overheard.
Every year, an estimated 9 million U.S. residents are victims of identity theft. However, the overall monetary loses are decreasing due to early detection (www.creditinfocenter.com, July 10, 2011). However, preventative measures remain the best tool for reducing the number of cases as well as costs – financial and personal – associated with this crime. Don’t become a victim – take these necessary precautions to protect your identity.
For more information on protection, early detection or to report a lost or stolen debit card, please contact us at 386-447-1662