Identity Theft Can Happen To Anyone
It is not a question of if you become a victim of identity theft, it is more about when you become a victim.
What Is Identity Theft?
Before you can understand why everyone fears identity theft you need to first understand what identity theft is. Simply put, it means that the security of your personal information was breached. This can be that your social security number, driver license number, credit card numbers, and, or insurance information has been stolen and misused. After identity thieves steal your personal information, they use it to commit fraud or some other crime. The result is your reputation and finances are altered, tarnished and in many cases destroyed.
The damages that identity thieves can inflict upon their victims is astronomical, hence the deep fear of identity theft. These thieves become you. They rack up huge credit card bills in your name; open up new bank accounts to take out loans, again in your name. And they even file your tax returns to collect the refunds. If a thief gets ahold of your debit card they can wipe your accounts out.
Does Identity Theft Protection Help?
Yes, to a certain extent. Identity theft protection only helps to clean up after the fact. Identity theft protection does not stop thieves from stealing your personal information to use for their own benefit or sell on the internet. Nor can it stop thieves from hacking large national databases such as the U.S Government Office of Personnel Management, health insurance companies (ie) Anthem and Blue Cross or retail stores such as Home Depot, Target and Neiman Marcus. By the way all of which have been hacked over the last few years.
Identity theft protection services will help you rebuild your tarnished reputation. It assists you in making calls to your creditors. It arranges to have credit freezes placed on your credit cards. These protection services will help speed up the time it takes to put you back where you started before your identity was stolen. And it does take many, many hours to rebuild, so in that respect identity theft protection services are a good thing.
Ways To Avoid Becoming A Victim
- Protect your personal information (your social security number, credit card and debit card numbers, PIN’s, passwords and your driver’s license). Never give it over the phone to an unknown caller. Regardless of how friendly the caller is do not fax, text or email your personal information to someone you do not know and trust.
- The only personal information in your purse or wallet should be your driver’s license, and a credit card or debit card. Leave your social security card at home. Do not carry your check book with you.
- Watch your mail. Promptly remove incoming mail from your mailbox on a daily basis. As far as outgoing mail goes, if you are sending a personal check, avoid putting it in your mailbox. Instead hand deliver it to the post office or hand it directly to the mail carrier.
- Use direct deposit for payroll checks, social security checks or retirement benefits
- Monitor your credit card bills and bank account statements. Contact your financial institution immediately if you notice any type of discrepancy.
- Be aware of providing your personal information over the internet, especially if the correspondence was unsolicited.
- Take advantage of your free annual credit report
How To Report Identity Theft
If you have been a victim of identity theft you need to take the necessary steps to notify your financial institutions. First, place a fraud alert. When you notify one credit reporting agency, that credit reporting agencies notifies the other two. A fraud alert is good for 90 days. You will have to keep renewing that alert every 90 days. Or you could place an extended fraud alert. This alert lasts up to 7 years; however it will take a few more steps to get it started.
Next, order new credit reports. If you have been a victim of identity theft your credit report is free, even if you have already received your annual free credit report.
Examples of Identity Theft
- Credit Cards – If your credit or debit card has been stolen, notify your card issuer and bank. Then file an identity theft police report..
- Medical – Identity theft is not only the theft of your finances. It can also be the theft of your medical identity. One study estimates that almost 1.5 million adults become victims of medical identity theft every year. If your health insurance has been fraudulently used contact your health insurance company, notify the credit bureaus, file a police report, get copies of your records from your medical providers, work with your insurance company and medical provider.
- Taxes – If the IRS notifies you that you have already filed and received your tax refund, do not delay, contact the IRS immediately.
Identity theft should not be taken lightly, it has become a serious problem. Based on the time, effort and frustration that identity theft victims experience if anyone were to make an identity theft movie, it would be a horror movie, and that’s for real.