Identified by the Federal Trade Commission as the fastest growing crime in the US, identity theft has proven to be very difficult to deal with. Approximately 10 million people annually have been documented as victims of identity theft. Identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal information and then uses it to commit a crime and you get blamed for it. In addition to bank and credit cards, fraudsters want you Social Security Number.
A survey conducted in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission identified that 16% of victims had $5000 or more stolen from them as a result of identity theft. Approximately 20% reported a theft of less than one hundred dollars.
It is difficult to ensure that your information is totally safe but you can take steps to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Decreasing your exposure is one way to reduce the possibility of identity theft. This means try to limit the number of credit cards you have and if you have a preferred card, use it and leave the others in a safe and secure place. When shopping or travelling take the card you plan to use then leave the rest at home. This will reduce the risk of someone snatching it.
While some people are the victims of elaborate scams, some people are careless with their personal information which leads to the diligent fraudster taking advantage of your carelessness. It can be as simple as a criminal going through your trash to find an old credit card statement.
Enterprising individuals make no bones about rummaging through your trash searching for important papers. Any trash with personal information on it such as, bank information, ATM statements, financial reports or pre-approval forms should be burned or shredded to prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. Even removing mailing labels off of magazines could prevent you from being a victim.
One scam involved energetic criminals to take mailing labels off of magazines and send ‘reminder’ notices, complete with legitimate looking credit card payment offers. Once the criminals had the names, numbers and expiration dates, they could use the cards fraudulently.
Don’t leave your mail in your mailbox for extended periods of time. Particularly if it contains sensitive personal data such as a credit card bill payment or statement. This information in the wrong hands could jeopardize your identity.
Ingenious methods are developed all in the name of getting your personal information, credit card number or worse your social security number. They pose as utility workers, with legitimate badges, they call to say they are with the fraud department of the local bank tricking you into providing them with your personal information.
How to Detect Identity Fraud
Nothing can bring on the sinking feeling after returning from your holiday and reviewing your first credit card bill only to find out that hundreds or thousands of dollars have been racked up on your card with fraudulent purchases. Being diligent in monitoring your monthly bank statements is the most common way victims discover the misuse of their accounts.
Fighting Against Identity Theft
When one of your credit cards is compromised you have to deal with one institution but when multiple accounts are compromised or new accounts are made fraudulently in your name, things get more complicated. Law enforcement may have to be involved to sort out the criminal activities.
If you suspect a fraud has been committed against you:
- Contact the card issuer immediately. Advise any and all of the financial institutions that you conduct business with that your card may be suspect. Contact the fraud department of your institution. Banks and card companies will work with you and have procedures to help you identify fraudulent activity.
- Contact your local law enforcement. It may be important for you to ‘back-up’ your incident by filing a police report with local law enforcement.