Identity theft is a horrendous crime that destroys an individual’s personal information and causes lasting troubles that could follow a person for years. This type of theft encompasses the stealing of your name, social security number, credit card number, or other identifying information taken without your knowledge or permission to commit fraud and other crimes. Many times, a thief doesn’t actually steal your identity. They won’t walk around telling people that they are you, and begin living in your house. It’s more “borrowing” your identity. The thief will access your credit and start to rack up huge bills in your name, damaging your credit and costing you time and money to restore your status.


Common Types of Identity Theft


Tax Theft
A thief uses your social security number to falsely file tax returns
Social Theft
A thief uses your name, photos, and other personal information to create a fake social media account
Child Theft
A thief uses a child’s identity because it will most likely go undetected until they are adults
Senior Theft
Thieves targeting senior citizens due to them frequently giving out medical insurance information
Medical Theft
When a thief uses an individual’s personal information to get medical services or create fraudulent billing to your health insurance provider

Ways Identity Theft Can Occur


Thieves rely on many different methods of gaining your personal information and stealing your identity. With advanced technology, unfortunately, these criminals will continue to learn new ways to steal from us; however, there are several general ways that are common among thieves that being aware of can help prevent and protect us.

  • Stealing mail: Identity thieves may take mail from your mailbox that contains documents that they can easily use to take your identity, such as pre-approved credit card offers.

  • Dumpster diving: Identity thieves may go through your trash to look for unshredded credit card offers, bank statements, and other documents containing personal information

  • Watching you: Thieves may try to look over your shoulder as you enter your PIN at an ATM or during checkout at a store
  • Internet crimes: Thieves may email spam to get you to respond and provide personal information
  • Skimming: Using small devices that scan credit cards and store the information to download and record onto blank credit cards

  • Businesses: Some business keep databases of employee and customer information that can be used by computer hackers

Preventing Identity Theft


You may not even realize that your identity has been stolen until you attempt to get a new credit card or are denied credit. There are many different preventative measures that we should be taking on a regular basis to ensure that our identity remains secure. Identity theft can happen extremely fast, quickly wiping away so much of what you have worked to acquire, so it is crucial to be constantly checking your accounts and keeping track of your expenses. Incorporating daily checks into your routine can aid in preventing a criminal attack.

  • Check your credit report at least once a year. Pay close attention to any changes you are unaware of.

  • Review your monthly credit card and bank statements as soon as they become available. If you notice any unauthorized charges, report it to your bank immediately.

Waiting to report a discrepancy can only affect you negatively. If more than 2 days has gone by without making a report can raise the amount your are responsible for from $50 to $500 or more.

      • Review privacy policies when making purchases or when asked to provide information. Make sure the policy states that your personal information won’t be shared or distributed to anyone else.
      • When asked to provide your social security number or driver’s license number, ask salespeople if it is required. Many times, the salesperson is prompted to input this information during a transaction; however, it is not always necessary and has the option to be skipped.
      • Limit the number of credit cards you carry with you. If you have credit cards in your wallet that you never use, take them out and leave them in a safe place.

      • Shred all documents and receipts that have your personal or financial information on them.

      • Never carry your social security card in your wallet or purse.
      • When entering your PIN at an ATM or store, cover the keypad with your hand to prevent anyone in your vacinity from seeing.

      • Always take receipts made from purchases at ATM’s, stores or restaurants to prevent employees or other customers from gaining your information or making alterations to your receipts and forging your signature.

      • Create complex passwords that cannot be easily guessed and change them on a regular basis.
      • Check your mailbox regularly. If you are going to be out of town, you can request that the post office do not deliver your incoming mail until you return.
      • If you are mailing documents that has personal information that you wish to keep secure, deliver your mail to a Post Office Collection Box or the Post Office itself instead of leaving them in your personal mailbox for pickup.

If you ever receive communications claiming to be be the IRS, do not reply or click on any links. Immediately report it to the IRS.
    • Be cautious with promotional solicitations that claim you have won an instant prize that require your information to receive the award.
    • When making an online purchase, double check that the website is secure.

Check the format of the website in the browser to ensure the website is secure. The website should begin with “https” instead of “http”. The “S” at the end of “http” stands for secure and means that communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
  • If you are suspicious that a payment device has been tampered with to allow for skimming, or are worried about a business misusing your credit card information, pay with cash.


What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen


Discovering that your identity has been stolen or your personal information has been used without your permission can be devastating. Many times, a person will notice unusual activity when checking their bank statement or their credit has a major change. Looking through transactions, they may realize that their credit card has been charged in places where they never even went, sometimes in a totally different state that they live in. As soon as the suspicious activity is recognized, proper steps should be taken to work to resolve the issue. The most important thing is to report, report, report. You will have to make several phone calls to different agencies and companies to advise of the misuse of your identity.

  • Report the incident to the fraud department of the 3 major credit bureaus. Ask the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will allow your to see if any additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or there are other charges that you are unaware of.

The Three Major Credit Bureaus

Equifax www.equifax.com 1-800-685-1111

Experian www.experian.com 1-888-397-3742

Transunion www.transunion.com 1-800-916-8800

  • Notify the fraud department of your creditors. Even if you have an account with a different creditor that has not been compromised, it is recommended to notify all of your creditors anyway to let them know that there may be unauthorized activity.
  • Call your bank. As soon as you notice charges that you did not make on your credit card statement or see that your checks or credit card have been stolen, notify your financial institution. Request to have your funds frozen or your credit card cancelled.
  • Contact the police. File a report with your local law enforcement to document the incident. Provide as much information as possible and once the report is complete, ask to obtain a copy of it for your records.
    • Many creditors will request to see a police report before they remove unauthorized charges from your account to protect themselves from fraud.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC compiles a database of identity theft cases to assist local law enforcement with the investigation.
For more information on protecting your finances, check out Wealth Management: Are You Protecting and Growing?

Sources: Identity Theft, A Citizen’s Guide to Identity Theft

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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