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What is ID Theft?
“Identity theft” refers to crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data (i.e. name, date of birth, social security number, driver’s license number), and your financial identity (i.e. credit card, bank account and phone-card numbers) in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain (to obtain money or goods/services). Criminals also use identity theft to fraudulently obtain identification cards, driver licenses, birth certificates, social security numbers, travel visas and other official government papers.
Unlike your fingerprints (which are unique to you and can not easily be given to, or stolen by, someone else for their use), your personal data can be used, if it falls into the wrong hands, allowing criminals to profit at your expense.
In addition, the Federal Trade Commission indicates that on average, most victims do not even know their identity has been stolen until more than a year later.
Identity theft can have devastating consequences for you, as the victim, who may face long hours of closing bad accounts, opening new ones, and repairing your wrecked credit record. And, it may take significant out-of-pocket expenses to clear your good name. In the meantime, you may be denied jobs, loans, education, housing, and cars, or even get arrested for crimes you did not commit. Unfortunately, the experience of thousands of victims is that it often requires months, and even years, to navigate the frustrating, identity-recovery process.
How does identity theft occur?
Identity thieves only need a few pieces of personal information, such as the person’s Social Security number or name, and address to begin opening accounts in a person’s name and compromising their identity. They can obtain this information in several ways:
- By looking through the trash at home or at work to retrieve discarded bills, pieces of mail, and/or credit applications
- By going through mailboxes for bills, checks, credit applications, etc.
- By impersonating employees of a bank or credit bureau and asking for personal information such as a victim’s Social Security number over the telephone or the Internet (also termed “phishing”)
- By posing as landlords, lawyers, or other officials that would legitimately have access to personal information
- In some states, the driver’s license has the Social Security number printed on the license. An identity thief can easily copy down this information when a person uses it for identification. The same thing can occur with other identification that has the Social Security number on the card
- By stealing credit cards (or the numbers), driver’s license numbers, ATM cards, or telephone cards and using this information
What steps can I take to prevent identity theft?
Here are a few simple, every day steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Use a crosscut paper shredder on credit card bills/offers, bank checks/statements, and other documents with personal information (e.g., Social Security, credit card, and driver’s license numbers) before throwing them away to prevent thieves from gaining easy access to the information
- Use a locked, secured mailbox (or location) or United States Postal Service mailbox to receive your mail
- Whether it is over the phone, in person, or via the Internet, do not provide personal information (personal, medical, financial, mother’s maiden name, etc.) unless it is to people you know or contacted first
- When you do provide personal information, be sure you know how the requesting party plans to use, share, secure, and dispose of it
- Do not give out your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary
- Make sure that none of the identification cards you carry in your wallet or purse (e.g., medical insurance or military cards) include your Social Security number
- You can elect to stop receiving pre-approved offers for credit. Call 888-5OPTOUT to stop them
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