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Are You at Risk for Identity Theft?

 

Even though you're careful with your money, it can happen. You're at the grocery store check out, you swipe your debit card, and it's declined. That's how you discover there's no money in your account. Nearly 9 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year.

 

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Thieves use your personal information to open credit card and bank accounts, take out loans, and more. They don't pay the bills they build up in your name, damaging your credit rating and costing you money.

 

Not only can identity theft damage your financial situation and credit rating, repairing the damage done by the thieves can take months or years and cost you an average of $1,000.

 

How Thieves Steal Your Identity

  • While online identity theft gets a great deal of attention, most thieves approach to stealing personal information is fairly low tech
    They steal mail such as credit card and bank statements, credit card offers and other correspondence that includes personal information
  • They steal your wallet, which may contain your ATM card, checks, credit cards, insurance card or Social Security card
  • They go through trash looking for papers with personal information
  • They "shoulder surf," stealing your ATM PIN number or listening to a phone conversation where you give your credit card number to a car rental company or hotel, for example
  • They call pretending to be your bank or credit card company asking for information

 

Protect Your Information and Identity

There are several simple steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft:

 

At home

  • Shred financial or personal information documents before throwing them away
  • Bring in your mail as soon as possible. If you'll be out of town, have the post office hold your mail or have a trusted person pick it up daily
  • Check your bank and credit card statements carefully for transactions you didn't make. Keeping a close eye on them is your first line of defense
  • Check your credit report yearly
  • Consider a fraud alert program where creditors must notify you and get personal approval from you to set up any new accounts

 

Shopping and traveling:

  • Never carry your Social Security card in your wallet
  • Never write your ATM PIN number on your card
  • Sign credit and debit cards as soon as you get them
  • Don't discard receipts at ATMs, gas stations or stores. Take them home and shred them when you no longer need them
  • If your credit or debit card is lost or stolen, notify the issuer immediately

 

Online:

  • Don't access financial accounts from a public network like in coffee shop or hotel room
  • Don't provide personal information to anyone who calls or emails unsolicited
  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computer

 

What To Do If You're a Victim

To minimize the damage, contact your financial institutions, credit card holders, utilities and phone companies immediately and inform them you're an identity theft victim. Close any affected accounts and alert the companies in writing of unauthorized charges.

Contact the major credit bureaus' fraud departments and file a report with the local police. The FTC can also help you get in touch with the right agencies to help you fix the problems caused by identity theft.

 

This article is for informational purposes only. For personalized financial advice, you should contact a qualified financial advisor.