Identity Theft Is a Growing Concern for Consumers
Identity theft is a serious cause for alarm. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that more than nine million Americans have their identities stolen each year. If you’re fortunate enough to discover your identity has been stolen and report it quickly most cases are resolved quickly.
In many cases you’re not aware of the theft until contacted by officials or perhaps a bill collector. This has given the thief lots of time to do irreparable damage to your credit standing and charge thousands of dollars in your name. It could cost you several hundred dollars and weeks to repair the damage done. In some cases the harm is never completely rectified.
Identity theft is defined as a form of fraud. The thief pretends to be someone else and using that person’s identity he or she can obtain money or gain other benefits. If he steals your good name, he’s now able to access anything you could access and spend as much money that’s available in your name. As far as other people know, it’s you who’s using your name and you can be held responsible for the criminal’s actions.
Authorities have categorized identity theft into four different areas:
- Financial Identity Theft in order to obtain goods and services
- Criminal Identity Theft when the thief is apprehended for a crime while posing as you
- Business and Commercial Identity Theft, which is using another’s name to obtain credit
- Identity cloning which allows someone to assume your identity in daily life by using your information – this has been done with IDs from both the living and the dead.
With today’s high tech methods, identity theft is easier than ever before. Crooks can hack into your computer or business records to obtain the needed information. You’d be surprised how much personal information can be easily obtained from public records searches.
With high amplification hearing devices, thieves can eavesdrop on public transactions in the bank and other money lending institutions. Dispose of your old computer carefully. It’s full of valuable information about you.
Other methods are not quite so high tech. Many thieves will steal your mail or rummage through your garbage searching for credit card and social security numbers. Hang on to your purse or wallet. Pickpockets are talented and will be gone with your valuable information in an instant.
Never give out personal information on the phone unless you know your party. Identity theft is done every day on the phone by someone posing as a bank or credit card official.
Beware of someone offering you a job and asking you to fill out an application form. Don’t do it unless you know the business is legitimate.
Identity theft has become increasingly serious because of the growing problems with illegal immigration and terrorism. You may think you won’t be a victim and it only happens to someone else. You become careless and thieves spot you as an easy target.
Always be vigilant. Identity theft can happen to anyone.
Identity Theft Protection Measures You Can Take
Identity Theft is big business. It nets thieves more than 50 billion dollars each year and most of them are never caught, fined or punished. You are the one who’s punished with loss of time, money and many times your good name. Identity theft occurs several times every minute of every day. No one is safe.
Every individual is vulnerable but be extra vigilant if you’re a small business owner or heavily invested in real estate. This could easily affect your business and your livelihood. Business identity theft has caused many businesses to declare bankruptcy in a last ditch effort to resolve the problem.
What can you do to deter being a victim? Actually a lot and most of the suggested measures cost nothing. The Federal Trade Commission urges you to deter, detect and defend.
Deter by safe guarding your precious personal information. Guard your social security number and never put it online. Only reveal the last four numbers to even a known entity. Even children are becoming victims of social security number theft because the theft is likely to go unnoticed for years due to the inactivity of a child’s card.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring all financial accounts. When you receive a credit card statement in the mail check each transaction and match it with a receipt. Be watchful for any untypical or unusually large transaction. At times however, thieves will keep transactions purposely small to avoid suspicion.
Defend against identity theft by reporting it as soon as you suspect a problem.
Correcting the problem can be a long and detailed process and the sooner you get started the sooner the crime will be solved and hopefully the criminal punished.
Never throw away any bank or credit card statements. If you feel you don’t need them anymore shred them. A home shredder can be purchased inexpensively and should pay for itself with peace of mind.
Dumpster diving is quite common in all neighborhoods with crooks searching for thrown away financial statements. It’s not uncommon for thieves to steal your address and divert your mail to another location in order to receive your financial statements. By the time this is discovered, the thieves are long gone.
Beware of phishing. This is a method where someone pretends to be calling from a financial institution and asks for personal and financial information. Even if you think the call is legitimate tell them you’ll call them back. Look up the number. Don’t call the one they might give you.
Don’t use obvious passwords such as your birth date. Use a password or other safety check that only you would know. Keep valuable information in a safe place at home out of sight of visitors whether they are friends or maids.
If all this sounds like too much trouble, ask yourself how much loss and uncertainty you’re willing to accept. And remember, much of the loss, even though it’s your identity, can leave you feeling violated causing great emotional stress. At the very least take sensible precautions for yourself and your family.
Identity Theft Insurance
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. Why? Because thieves are getting smarter, electronic monitoring devices are highly sophisticated and because the victims are too trusting.
We lull ourselves into a false sense of complacency thinking it will only happen to someone else. Think again. The Justice Department estimates that almost four million households were hit last year alone. This means that more than 25,000 individuals are victimized every day of every year. Those are better odds than winning the lottery and this is one chance you don’t want to take.
Many of these cases only involve a stolen credit card number. And, that’s bad enough. But, many involve the more serious crime of stealing your identity by opening accounts and obtaining a fake ID in their name. They’re pretending to be you and you’ll be paying the bills they incur. How much damage they can do depends largely on how soon you discover the problem.
Thus, identity theft insurance companies are thriving in an effort to give you some peace of mind. Many people are willing to spend a few dollars a month to breath easier and feel their credit and good name are no longer at risk. You probably get numerous solicitations to purchase identity theft insurance in the mail and offers on the phone.
Know what you’re buying. Read the fine print and ask questions before making a decision. Most policies do not protect you from becoming a victim and won’t cover direct monetary losses you might incur if you’re a victim of identity theft.
What does it cover? Most simply cover a small percentage of expenses incurred as you make efforts to resolve the mess. The expenses incurred are usually defined as phone calls, fees for making copies and the postage for mailing these documents. Some do cover a portion of any legal fees incurred or lost wages due to time away from work while you work on the problem. Some don’t.
Keep track of your expenses while resolving the issue because your insurance deductible could range as high as $1,000 a year. Most deductibles are under $250 depending on the amount of your premium. The Federal Trade Commission says the average victim spends less than $1,500 to recover and resolve the problem.
The burden of dealing with your creditors ultimately falls on you because they refuse to deal with anyone not responsible for owing the money whether actual charges or bogus.
Another caveat on identity theft insurance: If the theft is committed by a family member, you’re usually not protected and a great percentage of ID thefts are committed by someone you know.
Check your homeowner’s policy to see if you’re already covered. Some credit card companies provide ID theft insurance for free if using their card and some will notify you if there appears to be unusual activity on your card.
Whether you purchase identity theft insurance or not, keep vigilant on ways to prevent ID theft on your own. Protect your social security and credit card numbers, shred documents before discarding them and monitor your credit reports often.
Report Identity Theft as Soon as It Occurs
If you’re one of the almost ten million people who fall victim to identity theft one of the keys in getting the situation resolved satisfactorily is to report it immediately. The problem here is that you may not be aware of the theft until you apply for credit and are turned down, yet you know you’ve always paid your bills timely. Or, a gruff bill collector informs you he’s about to repossess your car unless you pay up today. You try to explain that you’ve not bought a new car.
When you report that you’re a victim, a lot of detailed information will be required. Make copies of all credit cards and social security cards. Keep a list of the numbers to call in case of theft and keep at least two copies in different locations. If your wallet is stolen, this is not a good place to keep the list.
Different types of identity thefts require notification to different authorities. You can start with your local police department but many times they will only take the information by phone or not at all.
Be persistent because some companies require a copy of the police report to initiate action. Also be specific and notify the proper company that pertains to your theft such as check theft, credit card, social security, phone service, drivers license or passport theft.
If your credit card has been stolen, call the respective card company. Other agencies you may want to call include the Federal Trade Commission, Social Security Administration and the office of the Attorney General. It’s good to notify these agencies in an effort to establish if any pattern of theft is occurring.
Have all your information at the ready when reporting a theft. Keep complete records of your phone calls including time, date, who you spoke to and what was promised or determined. A theft report requires a lot of detail and the more you have when you make the call the faster the matter will be resolved.
Notify the fraud department of the three credit reporting companies. These are Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Usually call one of these companies and they will notify the other two for you. Note that some of these companies will take advantage of the opportunity to sell you credit management tools.
You can place a fraud alert for 90 days. During this time keep a close check on your credit reports and report any suspicious activity. You can request copies of your credit reports free and also a 7-year extension to the fraud alert.
Reporting an identity theft can be a long and involved process. Records show that victims can spend up to 40 hours getting the situation resolved in a satisfactory manner and the target age is between 35 and 44. A sad statistic is that almost half of identify thefts are perpetrated by someone you know, either a friend or family member. Because of this, many of the criminals go unpunished.
Most agencies are cooperative but if you do not receive satisfaction don’t hesitate to contact an attorney. Identity theft happens every day and we’re all potential victims.
The best deterrent is prevention.