Despite all of the modern technologies, stealing someone's identity may be easier than you ever imagined. Using a stolen check of deposit slip, blank or filled out, a stolen credit card or social security number, may be all a criminal needs to steal your identity.
What is identity fraud? It is when a criminal uses pieces of information that belong to another person and assumes that person's identity and takes over their financial accounts. Criminals can impersonate their victims with relative ease and spend as much money as possible until the victim becomes aware and takes steps to stop the spree. The Secret Service reported $750 million in identity fraud losses in 1998.
Below are some suggestions to prevent you from falling prey to such personal invasion.
Be aware! Be cautious! Be smart! Don't let someone try to become you!
Here are some helpful ideas to consider:
- Don't carry your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport or extra credit cards. Carry only what you absolutely need.
- Make sure your mail box is secure. If it isn't, rent a P.O. Box and have your new checks and credit cards sent to that location.
- Cancel all credit cards you do not use. Keep a list or photocopy of all your credit cards so you can contact the company if the card should become lost or stolen. Remember, never give your credit card information out over the telephone unless you initiated the call and it is a company you trust.
- On the back of your credit cards write the words 'Show ID' instead of signing them.
- Order a credit report once a year. Study it! Make sure you know each company listed.
- Add security fraud alerts to your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus.
- Order your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement once a year. Review it for any fraud.
- Shield that screen when using an ATM machine. Criminals may be watching with binoculars or a camera. CAREFULLY select your PIN. Don't use obvious numbers like birthdays, social security numbers or consecutive numbers.
- Ask your financial institution for extra security on your account. Pick a special word or code that only you would know (no, not your mother's maiden name).
- Never print your Driver's License or Social Security number on your checks.
- Review credit card statements and phone bills (including cell phone bills) for any unauthorized use.
- Shred or tear into small pieces all of those pre-approved credit offers. If you fill out credit or loan applications, find out how the company disposes of those forms. You would be amazed how many businesses and banks don't shred documents that are filled with your important information.
- When filling out checks, use a fine-point permanent marker. This prevents check washing, which erases your writing and allows the criminal to write his own check that has already been signed by you.
- Pay your bills by electronic bill payment. They are assured to be paid on time without ever having to write a check.
Unfortunately the Internet's role in stealing a person's identity is ever increasing. Sensitive information about us is out there, in cyberspace, without any of us being able to secure what information anyone can have access to.
The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act has recently been passed by Congress. This new law makes it a federal crime to steal another person's identity. Not only does this carry a prison sentence of three to 25 years, it also allows the victims to seek restitution for identifiable losses as well as costs incurred to clear their credit, even attorney's fees. (Not likely to happen).
While in today's society it is impossible to completely protect all the information that is out there, it is necessary to understand the ease in which you personal information can be stolen.
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