It’s no secret that identity theft is on the rise, and while it is difficult to investigate, law enforcement authorities catch some of the thieves and are looking for ways to combine resources to increase their success rates.
The best deterrent, authorities say, is for people to guard their personal information.
ID theft often involves fraudulently using someone’s credit card information to make purchases, using someone’s identity information to open credit accounts and various schemes, usually over the Internet, to obtain money.
Identity theft is a federal crime, and if it’s carried out inter-state, federal agents become involved. Sometimes the cases are international. Local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to follow up on these cases.
How do thieves steal an identity? One of the most common is dumpster diving, in which thieves literally dig through dumpsters and garbage cans to get personal information. They also will utilize skimmers, stealing credit card numbers by using a special device when processing a card.
Others utilize a technique called phishing, which means a thief just pretends to be a financial organization or company, sending spam or pop-up messages to get personal information. Thieves also submit changes of address through the post office, diverting mail instead to their own address or another location to steal information.
Then there’s the old-fashioned way: stealing a wallet or bribing an employee who has access to personal information through employee records.
How do we protect ourselves? First of all, carry your credit cards, Social Security card, passport or birth certificate in your purse or wallet on when needed. Monitor your monthly credit card statements and order your credit report yearly to check for inaccuracies or fraudulent entries.
If your cards are lost or stolen, report it to the credit card issuer immediately. Check your cards for the expiration date, and if you don’t receive a replacement in a timely manner, contact the issuer to find out why.
Never give out credit or bank account numbers over the phone, unless you have initiated the call and are sure of the person at the other end. If shopping online, make sure the Web site is secure.
When ordering checks, don’t have your Social Security number, telephone or driver’s license number printed on them. Never leave receipts behind, at ATMs, on counters or at gasoline pumps. Shred them when you are done with them.
Keep your personal information in a safe place. Shred documents you don’t need before discarding them. When you mail bill payments in, put them in a secured post office box.
Watch out for e-mails that appear to be official messages from banks or merchants asking you to update or verify account or billing information. While they may look realistic, they are attempts to phish for your personal information. Check with the bank or merchant to be sure.
These steps take a little time, but can help prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. A little time spent now can save you a lot of time – and heartache – later.