Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information to commit identity fraud or credit fraud in your name.
Identity thieves steal various types of personal information such as credit card numbers, bank account numbers, driver’s licenses, identity cards, Social Security numbers, health insurance cards, or any other personal data.
Your stolen personal information is then used to commit crimes and fraud in your name including applying for credit cards, taking out loans, renting apartments, establishing telephone accounts, opening utility accounts, renting cars, making fraudulent purchases, and many other identity theft crimes.
The worst part is that you might not realize you are a victim of identity theft until months later when you notice inaccuracies in your credit report, discover unexpected charges on your credit card statement, or receive a notice from a debt collector.
A stolen identity can cost you thousands of dollars and months of time spent trying to repair the damage done to your good name and fixing your credit reports. You may even lose out on job opportunities, be denied loans, or be charged for crimes you didn’t commit.
Identity theft is a huge problem that is becoming increasingly more common, but there are many simple steps that you can take to avoid identity theft and prevent identity fraud.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
These are just some of the many steps you can take to avoid identity theft, but in general, the best thing you can do is to closely protect your personal data.
1. Do not provide your Social Security number to anyone or on any form unless it is required by law such as for bank records, on tax forms, or for employment. Many forms request your Social Security number, but it is not necessarily a requirement, and you should never give your social security number out over the telephone.
2. Never print your driver’s license number on your checks.
3. Never provide your credit card as a form of security at a bar/restaurant or other service provider.
4. Do not carry your Social Security card or your child’s Social Security card in your wallet.
5. Do not use easy of obvious PINs or passwords, and never carry them in your wallet or store them in public places like on your computer at work.
6. Subscribe to paperless statements for all of your accounts to avoid receiving personal information through the mail, which will reduce the chance of identity thieves committing mail fraud.
7. Shred all of your sensitive documents before recycling them or throwing them in the trash including bank statements, credit card receipts, utility bills, and pre-approved credit card offers.
8. Monitor your credit reports at least once a year, and it’s even better to review your 3 credit bureau reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion as frequently as possible.
How Your Identity Can Be Stolen by Identity Thieves
There are many ways that identity thieves can steal your identity, but here are some of the common methods that thieves use to commit identity theft.
1. Hacking into private business or government databases where your personal information is stored including the databases of banks, car dealerships, credit card companies, hospitals, universities, government agencies, and many other businesses.
2. Phishing attacks where identity thieves send fraudulent emails disguised as legitimate communications from your bank or other financial institution requesting personal information.
3. Stealing bank account statements or credit card statements from your mail.
4. Cloning your credit information at restaurants or merchants where your credit card is processed away from your view.
5. Employees stealing copies of your transaction receipts at merchants or service providers.
6. Dumpster diving in your garbage to steal documents that contain your personal information.
7. Employees at any company that has legitimate access to your personal information may steal your identity like bank employees, credit card company employees, or even library employees.
8. Data breaches from stolen laptops or computers from businesses, universities, or even from business travelers that are carrying your personal data in their computer.
9. Employees that have access to your personal information at companies where you’ve applied for employment or have previously worked may steal your identity.
How Identity Thieves Use Your Stolen Identity to Commit Fraud
Credit thieves may use your personal data to commit credit fraud and other identity theft crimes including some of these more common forms of identity fraud.
1. Open new credit card accounts in your name.
2. Take out personal loans in your name.
3. Use your credit card information to make fraudulent charges.
4. Open new telephone or utility accounts in your name.
5. Forge checks to access your bank accounts.
6. Clone your ATM or debit cards to make electronic withdrawals in your name.
7. Get a driver’s license or official ID in your name to impersonate your identity when committing various fraudulent activities.
8. Hide their criminal record by impersonating your identity.
Identity theft is a growing problem that can have a devastating effect on your life if your identity is stolen, but it’s possible to prevent identity fraud with a few simple steps and protect yourself from identity theft by closely guarding your personal data.
There are many ways to Block Identity Theft for Free as well by following simple steps to avoid becoming an identity theft victim.
Make sure you take preventative measures against identity theft and follow some basic precautions with your personal data that can help you avoid identity fraud.