Identity theft is one of today’s most common crimes and millions of people are affected by it every year. But how much do you really know about it? Do you know how to tell if you’ve become a victim? Do you know how to protect yourself? If not, continue reading because this article will fill you in on all you need to know about this crime so you can protect yourself, both with common sense and the use of tools such as a paper shredder.
- What is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone else tries to use your name, address, Social Security Number, credit card and/or bank information to commit fraud. People who steal another person’s identity try to get things that don’t belong to them including money, credit cards, prescription drugs, government benefits, and so on. They may also write bad checks or try to get utilities in your name. Some criminals even use another person’s information to submit fraudulent tax returns, rent an apartment, buy a car, or pin the blame on someone else when they’re arrested.
- How many people are victims of this crime? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that about 9 million people in the United States have their identities stolen every year. That means there’s a very good chance that it can happen to you.
- How does this happen? Identity theft can occur when anyone gets a hold of your private information and there are countless ways they can do so. For example, a technically savvy thief could grab your information online via a botched bank transaction or through a social networking site such as Facebook or MySpace. Some people engage in “dumpster diving” to root through tossed documents such as credit card offers, bank statements, and canceled checks. People can also steal mail and go through wallets and purses in search of information.
- How will I know if it happens? One of the best ways to know if you’ve been victimized is by regularly checking your credit report for any changes. You’ll also know if it’s occurred if your credit/debit card is declined, if you see an unauthorized charge on your credit card statement, or if a debt collector tries to collect a debt that’s not really yours.
- What should I do if I become a victim? Report the crime to both the FTC and the police immediately. And be sure to notify your bank, credit card issuer, and your other creditors so they can change their records and be on the lookout for any fraud that may occur in the future.
- What’s the best way to prevent it? Don’t give out your Social Security Number unless it’s absolutely necessary. Keep track of your checks, credit/debit cards, deposit slips, and other things you may carry in your wallet. (Also, don’t place information such as your driver’s license number on your checks.) Review your credit report and bank statements regularly. Be aware of online scams, including phishing. And, of course, shredding your documents – including unsolicited credit card offers – before disposing of or recycling them is a must. Keeping a paper shredder in your home or office is perhaps the best weapon against identity theft and there are a lot of models to choose from. These machines are made by some of the best office supply manufacturers in the business, including Fellowes, GBC, and Martin Yale. You should choose a cross-cut shredder because it will reduce your papers to hundreds of minuscule pieces that can’t be reassembled. This is the best way to ensure a dumpster diver, mail thief, or other shady character can’t make off with your information.
Above all, you should use common sense. If you get a funny feeling about giving your information to someone, listen to your gut. Identity theft is a common crime that can be emotionally and financially devastating, so be smart. Stay alert, keep on track of your credit reports, and shred those documents before you toss them. If you do that, your identity should remain with its rightful owner: you.