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Identity Theft Protection

Learn to prevent identity theft using identity theft protection methods.

Storing credit cards and other identifying information in secure locations is one way to prevent identity theft. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Storing credit cards and other identifying information in secure locations is one way to prevent identity theft.

With an estimated 9 million Americans falling victim to identity thieves each year, it is critical for individuals to fully understand the importance of identity theft protection. Identity theft is a crime that occurs when a criminal takes on another person's identity by stealing that individual's personal information. The criminal uses the individual's personal information to obtain credit cards, mortgages, loans, employment and other services, leaving the victim responsible for the charges or other consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Education, identity theft costs victims more than $5 billion per year and is one of the country's fastest growing crimes. As a result of the Identity Theft and Assumption Act of 1998, identity theft is a federal crime.

An individual who has his or her identity stolen could spend months or even years trying to undo credit damages caused by identity thieves. Individuals can minimize the risk of identity theft by using various methods of identity theft protection to make it more difficult for thieves to access their personal information.

Store Information in Safe Locations

Individuals who store their personal information in safe places and properly discard important documents make it harder for criminals to steal their information. Because there have been instances where thieves have picked through an individual's trash to access information, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that individuals shred charge slips, credit application copies, insurance documents, checks and bank statements, expired credit cards, charge card offers obtained in the mail and any other document that may contain identifiable information.

Mailboxes are another place from which criminals can obtain personal information. It is recommended that individuals use the post office to send outgoing mail containing confidential information rather than unsecured mailboxes. It is also suggested that individuals always promptly remove their mail from their mailboxes and make arrangements to have mail held at the post office during vacations.

Individuals should also take the necessary steps to protect their Social Security numbers to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. To do this, it is suggested that individuals carry their Social Security cards only when necessary and always inquire about using other types of indentifying information when speaking with financial institutions or other businesses with which they have relationships. If the business still insists on obtaining the Social Security number as an identifier, individuals should ask a series of questions to ensure their information is properly protected. These questions include:

  • Why does the company need to obtain a Social Security number?
  • How will company use the Social Security number?
  • What steps does the business take to protect Social Security numbers?
  • What are the consequences for individuals who choose not to share their Social Security numbers?

Take Proper Precautions When Using the Internet

While the Internet provides individuals access to various financial offers and a range of other services, it can also leave individuals open to online scams and identity theft. Phishing is an online scam in which criminals lie about their identities in an effort to convince individuals to share their personal information. This is often accomplished through fraudulent e-mails and text messages that appear to originate from a financial institution, business or nonprofit organization with which the individual has a business relationship. The messages typically ask individuals to click to open a Web site or call a phone number to update their personal information when, in fact, the sender has no actual affiliation with the company.

Individuals can avoid falling victim to phishing scams by not replying to e-mails, texts or other messages that request personal information and not responding to e-mails claiming that the individual must call a phone number to update his or her personal information or to obtain a refund of some sort.

According to OnGuard Online, thieves have also been successful in stealing personal information from a large number of individuals by hacking into business or governmental databases. It is recommended that while shopping online, individuals only conduct transactions with organizations that they know and trust. It is also suggested that individuals avoid providing any personal information until after they have read Web site privacy policies and have confirmed that the Web site is secure. If individuals are unable to verify this information, then OnGuard Online recommends conducting transactions with another service provider.

Individuals should take the necessary precautions to protect the security of their computers by using firewalls and anti-virus, anti-spyware and other security software that updates regularly. Individuals should also safeguard passwords and back up important files saved on their computers.

Verify Sources before Sharing Information

According to the FTC, identity thieves can easily pose as bank representatives or governmental agency officials to convince individuals to share their Social Security numbers, account numbers or other key pieces of information. Individuals can safeguard their personal information by not sharing information via phone, mail or e-mail with unknown entities.

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