Identity Theft: Causes & Solutions
By Tiffany Sorensen
Transunion estimates that 19 people’s identities are stolen each minute. The first step to avert becoming another victim of identity theft is to educate yourself. Read on to find out what identity theft is about, how it can be avoided, and what to do if you’re a victim.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is the illegal, unconsented use of another person’s identity, which may include the use of the victim’s personal data, social security number, credit card information, etc., for the thief’s personal and/or financial gain. Identity thieves may pose as the victim to take out loans, withdraw money from bank accounts, charge purchases, receive medical benefits and tax refunds, evade the law, migrate illegally, and more. In other cases, thieves may steal an identity to pose as someone else on social networking sites.
There are a variety of ways through which an identity thief can find out your personal information: hacking webpages, rummaging through garbage, browsing social networking sites, stealing mail, wallets, and pocketbooks, breaking into homes, looking through public records, observing others at ATMs, and so forth.
Who can become a victim of identity theft?
While anyone can become a victim of identity theft, certain populations are more at risk than others: children, college students, the elderly, and the deceased are most often targeted for identity theft.
To fraudsters, children’s identities are desirable because of their lack of established consumer history. Many parents don’t think to check their children’s credit reports, so the identity theft can go undetected until the child is old enough to apply for a credit card or student loan. College students are targeted because they do not habitually monitor their bank accounts and credit reports, nor are they likely to invest in identity theft prevention services. The elderly may be targeted for their insurance and government benefits, such as Medicare and social security payments. Finally, the diseased can become victims of identity theft since, for obvious reasons, the theft is likely to pass unnoticed.
How can I prevent myself from becoming a victim of identity theft?
Even if you’re careful about protecting your personal information, it’s possible to have your identity stolen. Nowadays, crooks are finding more creative ways to access your data for their benefit. The good news is there are measures you can take to decrease your chances of being targeted:
- On online websites, create complex, impersonal passwords that would be difficult for thieves to guess. Also, use a unique password for each website.
- Set up your cell phone with a home screen passcode, don’t save your login credentials, and avoid surfing the net on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
- When you don’t need them, leave personal documents like your passport and social security card at home. In the case you’re robbed or lose these items while out, it will be less of a headache for you later.
- Use a shredder or rip up account statements, checks, and other important documents when they’re no longer of use to you. Thieves are known to look through trash, a practice called “dumpster diving,” for any information they can steal.
- Exercise caution when you receive phone calls from supposed government agencies, creditors, and banks, especially if they ask you for personal information. Thieves will pretend to be lenders and government workers to win your trust and then convince you to supply or “verify” sensitive data. Instead, only provide such information if you made the call.
- Don’t share personal details with users on social networking sites. Some thieves will befriend you so you eventually feel comfortable enough to disclose personal information to them.
- Look over your credit reports on a semi-regular basis, making sure there’s nothing suspicious on them. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus; just go to annualcreditreport.com to access them.
- Monitor your credit card billing cycles. If you do not always receive your bills or they stop arriving altogether, it could mean that an identity thief has changed your billing address.
What should I do if my identity is stolen?
In the unfortunate event that your identity is stolen, you must take immediate action. A quick response will help prevent further fraud, and it will get you on the road to repairing the harm that’s been done. While you have the option of battling identity theft yourself, Secure Credit Advisors could take care of this tiring process for you. Here is a non-exhaustive list of actions to be taken after identity theft has occurred:
- Place a fraud alert.
This involves contacting any one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. Once a fraud alert is placed, you will be notified if anyone tries to open a credit account in your name.
- Notify your bank and creditors.
Your bank, creditors, and others should be aware of the situation. They’ll be on the lookout for suspicious activity and might ask you to authorize future transactions before they’re finalized. Also, your bank should issue you new credit/debit cards.
- Change your passwords.
To prevent further abuse of your identity, change all your account passwords right away. Remember that the strongest passwords are a random combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. In order to keep your information private, Secure Credit Advisors would ask you to complete this step on your own.
- Go to the police.
While the police is often unable to respond to identity theft cases, an official police report should be filed. This document will act as an important piece of evidence in your favor. Also, police reports will be requested by creditors who investigate the identity theft.
- Inspect and dispute your credit report.
Order your credit reports and highlight any activity you wish to dispute, or have Secure Credit Advisors do it for you. The unfamiliar activity may be due to error or unwarranted use of your identity. Disputing items on your credit report can be an arduous process. Records of everything must be kept, including police reports, letters sent, details of phone conversations, etc.
Being a victim of identity theft is a traumatic experience, and the procedures to correct the damage can be complicated. Find out what you have to gain from asking Secure Credit Advisors to take this burden off your shoulders. You can reach us today at (516 )597 -5400 .