Identity theft commonly begins with the loss or theft of a wallet or purse. But there are many or high-tech and low-tech ways criminals can get their hands on your personal and financial information in order to commit identity theft.
When someone uses your name or personal information, such as your credit card number, driver’s license number, Social Security number, telephone number, or other account numbers, without your permission, you become a victim of identity theft.
Thieves steal your personal information and use it to open credit accounts, bank accounts, telephone service accounts, and make major purchases in your name. These criminals use your sensitive information to take over existing accounts, or open new accounts. Their criminal activities can result in damage to your credit rating and denials to credit and job offers.
Protecting Your Identity While there are no guarantees that your identity will never be stolen or compromised, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risks. Here are a few of them:
- Before you discard your personal information that you no longer need, such as credit card receipts, billing statements, and pre-approved credit card offers, shred them using, at best, a diagonal-cut shredder.
- Create unique passwords and personal identification numbers (PINS) and avoid using easily available information such as mother’s maiden name, date of birth, or last four digits of your Social Security number.
- Do not give your Social Security number to people or companies that you do not know.
- Guard your mail from theft. Promptly remove your incoming mail from your mailbox and place outgoing mail in locked collection boxes at your local Post Office.
- As an extra measure of security, install a lock on your mailbox, even if mail theft is not an identified problem in your neighborhood.
- Before disclosing personal information, even to people you know where you shop or do business, insist on knowing the reason(s) your personal information is required and how it will be used.
Thieves can do much damage with what they remove from your mailbox.
Criminals are increasingly creative in the methods they use to get their hands or eyes on your personal information, and ultimately, your money. Here are some of the low-tech techniques they employ:
- Dumpster Diving, one of the easiest ways for them to appropriate your personal information.
- Mail Theft from unsecured residential mailboxes. According to statistics, mail theft most often takes place at unprotected and easily accessible mailboxes in public places.
- Shoulder surfing takes place when a thief watches or listens literally over your shoulder as you enter your PIN into an ATM machine. They may even follow you home or your place of work to gather additional information about you.
Data transferred across the Internet can be intercepted during its journey.
- Phishing and Pharming: While phishing is a scam in which consumers are tricked into entering their personal information via a bogus email and website form, pharming occurs where hackers steal personal information from numerous people simultaneously through something known as “domain spoofing”. They take over a DNS server and redirect user information to a new website that they use to gather, collect, “pharm” illegal information.
- Skimming: Thieves quickly and temporarily steal a credit card and run it through a skimmer, a credit card reader that has been reprogrammed to steal information off the card.
Fight Back: Reduce the Risks
Make education about the scams, schemes, and frauds criminal use to steal your identity your priority in view of the rising occurrence of this multi-million-dollar-problem. With education comes prevention. Here are some prevention tips to help reduce the risks:
- Safeguard your personal information. Never take simple things for granted.
- Carry with your only the information you need. Always keep your personal information and documents in a safe and secured place of your choosing.
- Order and review a copy of your credit report at least once a year.
- Shred documents containing your sensitive information before discarding them.
For extensive information about ways to protect your identity, visit “Protecting Your Identity” at http://www.ProtectingYourIdentity.blogspot.com.