Identity theft happens when someone gets an unauthorized access to your personal identifying information like your name, your Social Security Number (SSN), or your bank account information and uses that information to commit financial frauds or other general crimes.
By gaining control over your personal information an identity theft criminal will be able to commit crimes like applying for a credit card under your name or they might rack up unusual charges to steal your tax refund. There has been some reported cases of identity thefts where criminals are even able to assume an innocent person’s identity and gain their identification and often committing crimes as that person.
However, it is clear and known fact that identity theft can not only cost you a lot of money but it can also create confusion across the breadth of your life. But in spite of these horror stories, you must also know how ubiquitous identity theft actually are and what you can do to prevent it.
Well for some such questions we have some answers below
Frequency of Identity Thefts in Us
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that more than 9 million Americans have experienced identity thefts in some or other form every year. But, this number can fluctuate as both the technologies of fighting back crimes and the methods of stealing identities evolve over time. You would therefore be surprised to know the following facts
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network received approximately 360,000 complains related to identity-theft in 2012 and 18% of all those complaints were made in that very year.
According to the FTC about 8.6 million households experienced some form of identity theft in the year 2010,.
5% of people age 16+ (1.7 million) fell victim to identity theft in 2006 and 2007, leading to $17 billion in financial losses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In other words, each instance of identity theft carried a $10,000 price tag.
So what is the conclusion that you can derive from these statistics. Well, though it is clear that a large portion of U.S citizen are victims of identity theft each year. However, if you consider the total number of people in the U.S. then it is also obvious that incidents of identity theft are not that common.
Probable reasons behind Identity Theft
Quoting Peter Keane, dean emeritus and professor at the Golden Gate University College of Law “The human imagination and creativity are endless when it comes to stealing things,”. So, though we have listed here some of the probable reasons of Identity thefts but these are not the only ways through which crimes are committed.
- Information can be collected from the trash of your computer. There are some dumpster divers who are able to piece together enough information from your old bills, financial statements, etc. to get your personal identities.
- By stealing your mail also, criminals are also able to take advantage of a pre-approved credit card offer, open an account with your name, and go on a spending spree.
- We all receive those phishing mails from fraud financial institutions who asks for certain information for their records. These are all phishing in action.
- Skimming is another technique of identity thefts. Some thieves are able to manipulate credit card processing machines and the ATM vending. This they do by inserting a device that captures the account information of the people who used those machines.
- Address Manipulation is also a medium by which identity thefts can be committed. While you have to “verify” your identity when you change your address by providing a valid credit card or debit card that the USPS will charge $1 to as a test, that’s not an insurmountable task for identity thieves who already have access to one of your credit cards or debit cards. They might therefore be able to divert your mail and gain access to other aspects of your life.
Identity Theft Protection
As you might guess based on the ways in which identity thieves access your personal information, there are some commonsense steps that you can take to protect yourself. There are also a few measures that might not seem so obvious, so we’ll lay them all out below:
Mail & Other Documents
- Shred financial Documents:If you can make a practice of scraping financial documents and other corresponding documents that contain personal information, dumpster-diving identity thieves would not be able to use much information from your trash.
- Put a Lock on Your Mailbox: Restricting access to your mailbox especially when you go out of town. This action will reduce the likelihood that someone is able to open pre-approved credit card offers or glean personal information from letters and account statements. Forty percent of identity thieves glean personal information from people’s mail, according to Good Housekeeping magazine.
- Protect your Social Security Number (SSN): Your SSN is the most attractive and valuable piece of information to an identity thief, which means you need to safeguard it most carefully. Make it a habit of not carrying your Social Security card in your wallet, and ask the DMV to use a different number for your driver’s license only if your state uses your SSN as a default driver’s license number. Moreover you must also make sure that your SSN may be listed on your insurance card or alternative forms of identification. While organizations are gradually phasing out this practice, be proactive and make sure your cards are switched now.
- Only Enter Financial Information on Official, Secure Websites:You should not only send financial information through e-mail or a website without the “https:” prefix. Those methods of communication are vulnerable to hacking.
- Protect Your PIN:You’re more likely to be held liable for a debit card or ATM transaction if your actual PIN is used. After all, it should be harder to gain access to your PIN than a physical card. It’s your job to keep it safe and make sure that no one knows it.
- Never Respond to Unsolicited Requests for Information: Whether it’s someone showing up at your door, calling you on the phone, or sending you an e-mail asking for personal information, you shouldn’t respond if you didn’t ask to be contacted. It can be difficult to verify that the person is who they say they are, and reputable companies don’t ask you to provide sensitive information.
After you have notified all of the relevant authorities, you will need to take care of some simple safeguard measures. Let’s say you should review all of your financial accounts as well as your personal information for evidence of identity theft, which you can provide to investigators. In addition, you must5 also be very alert while setting up automatic monthly payments, like direct deposit procedures, etc., so that any potential identity theft does not cause any negative effect of headaches across your personal and financial life.With more and more consumer information readily available via the Internet and criminals engaged in a continuous game of technological one-upmanship with law enforcement, it’s fair to wonder what the future holds for our financial security. So if you want to remain safe from any kind of identity thefts you will have to safeguard yourself with the above mentioned protection.