It seems like identity theft is the latest phrase on everyone's lips. Have you heard the murmurs too? Do you know what identity theft is?
Basically, identity theft has occurred when someone steals your personal information, such as driver's license number, social security number, credit card or bank account details, or a common identifier such as your mother's maiden name. Usually, the criminal uses the stolen information to commit fraud.
The sad part is that identity theft can happen without you even being aware of it. Depending upon how the criminal operates, you may not even know it's happened until suddenly your credit card is rejected at a store, or perhaps you apply for a loan and get knocked back because of your terrible credit record, which as far as you're aware should be spotless.
Once the theft has already occurred, it's too late to stop the consequences. First you have to prove that your identity was stolen in the first place, which isn't always easy. Then you have to deal with the results, which can include numerous unauthorized debts and transactions, a ruined credit card and more. Obviously the sensible thing to do is to try and prevent identity theft occurring in the first place - prevention is a lot easier.
So what can you do to make it much harder for your personal information to be stolen? Here are a few suggestions:
- if you have strangers in your home, whether they're roommates, trades people or other workers, keep your personal information locked away
- don't leave your mail to be collected in your mailbox - drop it off at a post office collection box or a post office
- always empty your mailbox as quickly as possible after a delivery. If that's difficult, make other arrangements such as redirecting all your mail to a post office box
- destroy anything personal that you don't need to keep for accounting purposes - bill receipts, insurance applications, prescriptions, and credit requests and so on
- try to vary the identification you give when you need to be identified. For example, give your social security number and driver's license for one account, social security number and birth certificate for another - that way it's harder to get all your major identification from one source
- always check that your personal information will be secure before handing it over to any business, such as a doctor's office
- be extra careful on the internet, particularly if you are applying online for a loan, credit card or insurance policy
- think about payment alternatives for online purchases, such as PayPal, so that you don't have to use your credit card. Or use a debit card with a low balance
- never give out your personal information over the phone, email or internet, unless you are the one who has initiated the conversation
- promotions can sound really great, but ask if they have a number you can call them back on before you give any personal information, and check the credentials of the company before ringing them back
Some companies are now offering identity theft insurance, but it's worth being a little wary of these policies. Read all the fine print to determine what exactly is covered, and what assistance the insurance company will give you if you're the victim of identity fraud. Most of these policies are very limited, although that may change in the future.
When it comes to identity theft, common sense is your best protection. Remember that your personal information is highly valuable, and treat it that way. Always make sure you understand exactly why someone needs access to that information, and that they're reputable and have information security processes in place. It may not stop you from suffering identity theft, but at least your risk will be lowered.
Timothy Gorman is a successful Webmaster who has witnessed first hand the effects of identity theft when one of his family members became a victim. He is the publisher of StopIdentityTheftResources.info. A website that provides a quick and easy guide to preventing identity theft that teaches you how to safeguard your own personal and private information in order to keep from becoming a victim of identity theft.