How can someone steal your identity? All that is needed is your social security number, birth date, and address. With this information, criminals can apply for credit and begin running up debts—in your name. According to information compiled by Javelin Strategy &Research, identity theft affected nearly 10 million American adults in 2009, causing anguish, financial loss and general distrust of those around us. Adding insult to injury, a large percentage of these thefts are perpetrated by someone close to us—family members or coworkers. Some forms of identity theft are very sophisticated, while others are carried out by opportunists with only a little technical know-how.
Examples of some frauds and tips for avoiding them:
- Dumpster Diving: Criminals steal mail or thrown-away items including confidential information, utility bills, account statements and credit card solicitations. Shred all mailreceive account statements onlinesign up for online bankingopt-out of some unwanted credit cards solicitations at www.optoutprescreen.com
- Skimming: Credit/debit card numbers are stolen with a special storage device as your card is processed. Keep credit cards in sight if possible (this often occurs in restaurants)keep credit card receipts and compare to monthly account statements.
- Phishing: Perpetrators pretend to be your bank or financial institution and, in an email to you, ask you to verify personal information. Never answer an email from your bank that asks for personal information. Always call your bank for verification before sending any proprietary personal information by email.
Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service. Some of the larger players include freecreditreport.com, lifelock.com and identityguard.com. It is important to understand what each service offers. Always read the fine print to understand the terms and conditions. To be proactive in your own credit monitoring, obtain a free credit report annually from each of the three credit bureaus through annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
If you suspect you are the victim of identity theft or there is inaccurate information circulating about you, it is very important that you contact the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax) by phone and letter. Place a fraud alert on your credit profile or ask them to correct the inaccurate information. If fraud has occurred, insist the police take an Identity Theft Report, which entitles you to certain legal rights. Changing your social security number or canceling all your credit cards tends to raise more red flags and may adversely affect your credit score. Be proactive to ensure you are not the next victim.
A more detailed blog of this article is available in the ‘Only for our Clients’ section of our Website, www.monetagroup.com. For a comparison of the various monitoring services, including costs, visit: http://www.consumercompare.org/identity_theft_protection_services/compare.php
This company, Next Advisor, bills itself as “The trusted, independent source for comparing the most valuable new services.” This list is very comprehensive and may assist you as you consider your options.