a crime in which one person pretends to be another person by assuming their identity. The thief’s motive is usually to obtain access to the victim’s credit cards, money and other resources. The victim can suffer many adverse consequences, including being held accountable for the perpetrator’s actions, including huge debts on their credit cards, etc. It’s a crime that can leave the victim feeling violated, depressed and alone. However, they are not alone. In 2009, over eleven million Americans were victims of identity theft and that number is growing, in part due to a rise in internet surfing and shopping. Today, it’s not only a thief who steals a person’s mail, handbag or wallet, but more sophisticated means such as hacking into a person’s database and Phishing schemes.
The following are some of the best ways to help prevent identity theft:
Shred all business records of any kind. Never toss papers with credit card numbers, ATM receipts, medical statements, etc. into the trash. Shred anything with your name and address on it that comes in the mail before putting in the trash. Trash-picking, or “dumpster diving” is one of the ways thieves acquire information.
Secure all business premises with locks and alarms.
Keep all business records in locking filing cabinets or a safe.
Never give out personal information over the phone unless you are positive about the caller’s identity. No matter who they say they are (thieves over pose as government officials or creditors) do not give out the information if you have any doubts at all.
Protect your computer from hackers by installing virus protection, firewalls and keeping your operating system updated.
When shopping online, make sure the website is secure. All secured websites will have a small lock in the lower right corner of the page, or in the status bar for the page. If the lock doesn’t appear - do not use your credit card.
Watch for so-called “shoulder surfers” - people who are nearby or standing over your shoulder when you are entering a PIN number in a store or credit card number.
Next to your signature on the back of your credit card, put the letters CID, which stands for “SEE ID.” When a merchant sees this, they will ask to see your identification, rather than just verifying your signature on the receipt.
Check your bank statements each month to make sure all charges, fees and purchases match your records.
Limit the information on your checks. Some specialists recommend you put only your first initial and last name, rather than your full name, on checks. It is also advised that you do not put your driver’s license number on them, and never put your Social Security number on checks. You will be very glad you didn’t if your checks are ever lost or stolen.
Destroy all digital data on your computer when you sell, trade or dispose of a hard drive or backup takes. Use a product such as ShredXP, as simply deleting the data does not remove it completely from your hard drive. For CD, DVD or tape media, you can destroy it by breaking or shattering it before disposing of it.
Analyze your credit report annually from the big three credit reporting agencies. Report any items that are not yours‘ or any activity on the report that looks suspicious.
Last, do not carry your Social Security card with you in your purse or wallet. Also, never use any part of your Social Security number as part of a user name or password - not even the last four numbers. Never give it out to anyone over the telephone or in response to spam or any emails.