In the movie “The Net, ” Sandra Bullock played the role of a victim of identity theft. In fact, she was basically erased from the community. Another woman consumed her identity, taking with it everything Sandra Bullock’s character had - including her bank accounts, license and social security number, and even her home. It seems crazy to think this could happen; after all it’s only a movie. But just as fairy tales can come true, so can your worst nightmare. Theft of identity is happening at an alarming rate. Over 100,000 identity theft complaints are filed each year.
Identity thieves work in various ways. One of the most common is to open up a new credit card in your name, using your date of birth and social security number. They rack up charges, don’t pay the bill and the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. They can also change the mailing address so that your credit card will be sent to a false address, giving them more time to make purchases, until you realize there is a problem. They may also establish cellular phone services and bank accounts in your name, making costly phone calls and writing bad checks.
Identity theft today is much more than losing your wallet full of cash. You could lose your entire savings account. Some victims are stuck paying false loans and huge credit card debt. At the very least victims will lose their good credit rating. Most people spend endless hours trying to clear up security and financial problems that arise. This can be costly, time consuming and causes enormous stress to the victim and their family.
Don’t wait to take actions to prevent identity theft. You can be proactive in reducing your chances of becoming a victim using some simple strategies. Don’t put this off – you can do it a little at a time and it’s easier than you think – and the irony, is that other areas of managing your life will be more organized as well! Here are some tips you can do right away.
It is helpful to check your credit report annually as well. You should request this information from all three credit agencies (TransUnion (800) 888-4213; Experian (888) 397-3742; Equifax (800) 685-1111) and verify that the information they give you is correct. In addition, ask these agencies to put a “Fraud Alert” on your account, so that before anyone can borrow money they have to contact you in person.
Unfortunately, even with extra effort, identity theft can still happen. We trust total strangers with our personal information everyday – applying for a car loan or mortgage – writing a check – patient care at a hospital – even stamped on our children’s back pack! It would be ludicrous for us not to give out this information from time to time, but knowing where we give it out and to whom is helpful. The key to quick recovery from such a disaster is to notice it quickly and take immediate action. Here’s what to do if you think you may be a victim of this crime:
Staying proactive and organized will pay off in the long run, for life in general and particularly in trying to avert identify theft. Keeping accurate accounting records, personal files and paper management is key to a calmer, safer existence. If you find it difficult to do on your own, consider hiring a professional organizer who specializes in this expertise. Regardless of the stage of life you are in, get your affairs in order. You are a unique individual with your own identity. No one should be able to take that away from you!
© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com