How do you prevent identity theft?

how do you prevent identity theftHow do you prevent identity theft? With an estimated nine million Americans having their identities stolen each year this is clearly not an easy question to answer. As criminals have advanced from garbage rummaging on to hacking computers and infiltrating online social networks this is becoming one of the hardest types of computer crimes to protect against.

The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the way thieves go about stealing identities. The information they are typically after is your name, credit card details, banks data, and social security number. Identity theft is the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. The criminals use a range of techniques: dumpster diving, skimming, pretexting, phishing, address changing, bribery, and plain old stealing!

How the Criminals Operate
Dumpster diving is the traditional approach which involves thieves rummaging in your garbage for useful data. Skimming is where criminals use a storage device to make a copy of your card when they are processing a legitimate payment. Pretexting is the use of false pretenses to get your information, such as claiming that you credit card details are needed in order to claim a prize. Another tactic employed by criminals is to complete a change of address form to divert your mail to another address, and thus gain access to credit card statements. If people, such as employees, have access to your personal data then criminals may bribe them for access to the data. Finally, some thieves simply steal your wallet.

How to Protect Yourself
So now you know the tricks of the thieves, how do you prevent identity theft?

  • The first thing to do is carefully monitor your personal information so that you can quickly identify any irregularities.
  • Never give personal information without being certain of the other party. If you get an email requesting personal information and are in doubt about its legitimacy you should phone the institution to ensure that it is genuine. It is very unlikely that any company would ask you to provide information via email.
  • Be vigilant with your social security number, and never carry it around with you
  • You should shred all papers with personal information on them before you dispose of them.
  • Do not click on links in emails that you are unsure of. Even if an email looks like it comes from a known address it may be disguised, so if the body of the email (the contents, the nature of the request, the wording) seems unusual the do not click.
  • When using passwords make them as secure as possible. They should be a combination of numbers and letters, and not relate to birthdays, names etc.
  • To protect your computer use firewalls, anti-spyware, and anti-virus software.
  • Keep your personal data safe and protected.

Even with all these prevention methods in place you should keep an eye out for identity theft. If your bills are not arriving on time, your credit is being denied, you receive letters about purchases you did not make, or you receive an unexpected billing statement, these are all signs that you could be a victim of identity theft.

How do you prevent identity theft if you are already a victim? You defend it vigorously to stop things getting worse. You should immediately inform all the financial institutions you work with, file a police report, inform the major credit bureaus, and report it to the Federal Trade Commission. You should work with an attorney to prepare identity theft affidavits which inform all the financial institutions and credit bureaus that you are a victim of fraud. This affidavit will include a copy of the police report. Finally, if you are looking for more help with identity theft check this related article.

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