What Is Identity Theft?
One of the prime axioms in life is just when you think it couldn?t happen to you, it does. This is a sad fact, and even more so when you consider the crime of identity theft. You take years to establish your financial and individual identity and reputation, and in one moment the illegal act of another washes it all away wreaking havoc on your financial life. The reasons for identity theft are as varied as the circumstances of the unsuspecting victims. There are ways to protect yourself. Being diligent and using common sense can go a long way in preventing this troublesome event from happening in your life. Following are some steps to consider:
1. Protecting your information.
Keep your social security card separate from your other identification, leaving it at home if at all possible. Have a sheet with all of your credit card numbers and companies listed and in a safe place, so in the event of theft you can call quickly to cancel the accounts.
2. Limit preprinted check information
Checks are another potential bonanza for an identity thief. Even though it may make checking out a little harder, only put your basic information (name, address, maybe a phone number) on your checks. This will prevent an ID thief from getting your drivers license or social security number off a check left lying around.
3. Properly dispose of sensitive information after it no longer is needed.
The identity thief is not above digging in a dumpster for information that can get them something on someone else?s tab. Credit card and banking statements, applications for credit cards, phone bills and utility bills all need to be shredded to prevent anyone from getting your information. Checkbooks need to be treated the same to get rid of your account numbers on them.
4. Share sensitive information with care
Giving information out over the phone is sometimes required for security purposes, and some companies that call you might ask you to verify personal information to make sure that they are speaking to the right person. If you are unsure of the caller?s identity, erring on the side of caution is advised. This can prevent inadvertent sharing of sensitive information with someone that has misrepresented their intentions or identity. Ask for a call back number and check it out if you have any doubts at all.
5. Avoid easily decipherable passwords
When choosing a password for your sensitive accounts try to avoid any word and or number combinations that can be easily discovered. Some examples include your mother?s maiden name, your house number or birth date. If possible, place security questions, to which only you know the answers on your account.
These steps provide a good first line of defense against identity theft but, unfortunately, they do not provide a guarantee. If you follow steps and still become a victim of identity theft, take action fast.
Important actions if you are the victim of identity theft
The first step is to report it to the authorities. Most companies have to have a police report or case number before they can work with you to undo the damage. With the report or number in hand, you will need to call all of your credit card issuers and advise them of what has happened so they can flag your account with a fraud investigation flag. Utilities and phone companies must be notified as well.
Be mindful that there are three credit reporting agencies that collect and compile information about your credit history and habits. You will need to inform at least one of them so that a fraud alert can be placed on your file. Once the alert is placed the first agency will inform the other two bureaus to place alerts as well. You can choose an initial if you merely suspect identity theft and adopt a wait and watch approach or an extended alert if you are certain that you have been a victim of this crime.
You will also need to get a copy of your credit report and review its accuracy. Give particular attention to recent activity that does not seem familiar. Write and or call all of the companies that report information related to your identity theft. Most credit card companies will only hold their customers responsible for up to $50 dollars in cases of theft, and most banks will replace stolen money pending verification.
Identity theft can make securing loans for home ownership or education impossible. It may even prevent employment with agencies that require a particular credit score. If you have been the victim of identity theft it can take weeks or years and often quite a bit of time and money to undo the damage. It makes sense that victims often feel angry, overwhelmed and discouraged. If you are the victim of identity theft it?s very important to be proactive. When you act quickly you will minimize the damage and loss by limiting unauthorized access to your sensitive account information.
Be sure to keep records of all activities and contacts related to your identity theft. You may also want to make periodic checks of your credit report and sign up for an account monitoring service, which immediately alerts you when inquiries to your credit report occur. Stay alert and keep aware.
About the Author: Nicole Soltau is the President and Founder of http://CreditUnionRate.com -
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