Avoiding Identity Theft
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information without your permission.
Thieves may rent an apartment, establish credit cards, collect your Social Security benefits, etc. Victims of identify theft can spend years repairing their credit scores and are often denied loan applications and job opportunities. The Federal Trade Commission reports that up to 9 million people living in the US have their identities stolen each year.
Identity thieves use many creative methods to find personal information, including:
- Phony job postings: Used to collect resumes containing applicants’ names, home and email addresses and phone numbers.
- Dumpster Diving: Identity thieves rifle through garbage to retrieve (i) banking statements and other financial data; (ii) electronic equipment (computers, servers, phones, USB sticks, and hard drives) hoping it has not been properly cleaned or discarded.
- Spying: Identity thieves observe unsuspecting individuals entering usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, or other login information in public places, such as Internet cafes and ATM machines.
- Cracking: If identity thieves can guess your password for an important account, they may find all the information they need. (See also Phishing.)
- Social Engineering: Identity thieves can easily find key personal information, such as birth date, addresses, phone numbers, etc. on social networking sites. They may follow up with a personalized phone call or email pretending to be a trusted source to obtain more information. Identity thieves also attempt to trick employees into divulging customers information.
How to protect yourself from identity theft
- Reconcile your bank account and check your credit card statements at least once per month. Cards and accounts that you use most frequently should be monitored daily.
- Review your credit report at least annually.
- Immediately report unauthorized transactions to your bank and credit card company.
- DO NOT respond to emails that ask for personal information. Legitimate financial institutions or companies will never ask you to reveal financial or other sensitive information via email.