Are you aware of the risk of identity theft?
Margaret checked her purse and her wallet was gone. At some point between leaving the grocery store and entering the bakery next door, someone had reached deep into her purse and stolen her wallet.
Shocked, Margaret left the fresh rolls on the counter, offered an embarrassed apology and returned to the the grocery store. She checked with the grocery staff, she checked the sidewalk and even the nearby trash cans, but the wallet was gone.
The theft of a wallet is an obvious way to steal cash and credit cards. It would be natural to feel shock, disbelief and anger, perhaps even annoyance at yourself. But what if your identity was stolen and it took many weeks to notice? How angry and victimized would this leave you feeling?
Identity theft now costs more
The good news is, identity theft cases are decreasing. The 2011 Identity Fraud Survey report from Javelin Strategy & Research cites the lowest number of ID theft cases since 2003. The bad news is, the time taken to repair the damaged reputation and the personal out of pocket expense experienced by each victim, is increasing. If your identity is stolen, you will have to pay out of pocket an average of $631. So how exactly does it happen?
How your identity is stolen
Thieves can acquire your personal information by:
- Stealing documents from your trash
- Stealing or intercepting your mail
- "Skimming" the numbers from your debit or credit cards
- Asking you directly for your personal information by pretending to be a legitimate organization
- Acquiring discarded IT equipped such as PCs and cell phones
Timing is everything with ID theft
Margaret was shocked and angry when her wallet was stolen, but she noticed and was aware of the incident minutes after it had happened. Her cash was gone, but she did have to time to cancel her credit and debit cards and limit the damage by preventing unauthorized spending.
When identity theft goes unnoticed it can affect your personal finances and reputation. Though it may take only minutes to occur, repairing the damage caused by identity theft can, in many instances, take months. During this period and until the matter is resolved, you might find it difficult to gain approval for a new loan, credit cards or mortgage.
Identity theft protection
Prevention is always better than cure and there are steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft.
- Monitor your personal credit file
- Dispose of personal documents securely, preferably by shredding
- Be vigilant with your mail, especially when your mail is held in communal areas
- When you move into a new home, remember to have your mail redirected
- Check bank and credit card statements immediately and look out for unusual transactions
- Don't give out PINs or other sensitive information. If this information is requested by phone, take the caller's number and call them back to verify their identity
- Be cautious when responding to emails that appear to be from your bank or credit card company; these institutions do not ask for your personal information in emails.
- Dispose of unwanted IT equipment safely by deleting all personal information first and destroying your hard drive. (There are companies that provide this service.)
Signs that your identity has been stolen
There are several signs that your identity has been stolen, including:
- If you are using a credit monitoring service you may notice entries on your personal file from financial organizations that you don't recognize and have no relationship with.
- You might begin to notice items on your bank and credit card statements that you did not purchase.
- You begin to get calls from debt collectors for debt that is not yours.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers guidance on the steps that you can take to recover from identity theft and fraud.
Margaret was shaken, but in a sense lucky, because she came to no harm and was able to act quickly to prevent any misuse of her personal information. Identity theft can happen to anyone at anytime and, much like in the fight against pick pocketing, vigilance and awareness are the key tools in identity theft protection.
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