Chapter 1: Common Practices
Your wallet is missing. Thousands of dollars have been charged to your credit cards, your checking account is empty, and loans you never took out appear on your credit report. What happened? You’ve been a victim of identity theft – an increasingly common and inventive crime.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. It may also involve computer fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and financial institution fraud.
Fortunately, there are preventative measures you can take to substantially reduce the chance of identity theft occurring, as well as steps to recover from any damage if you are a victim.
How Your Information is Obtained
Thieves use a variety of illegal techniques to obtain identity information. They may:
- Take mail from a mailbox
- Divert mail to another location by filling out a change of address form
- Go through trash to find identification and financial documents
- Access credit reports by posing as landlords or employers
- Hack into personal computers
- Pose as legitimate companies or government agencies to request personal information via email (called phishing) or text message (called smishing)
- Steal hard copy or electronic files from your workplace
- Stand close to you at the ATM to learn your Personal Identification Number
- Attach a skimmer to an ATM to capture your card number and PIN
How Your Information May Be Used
- Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it to:
- Charge on existing credit accounts
- Open new credit accounts in your name
- Use existing or open new checking accounts in your name and write bad checks
- Establish phone or wireless service in your name
- Use your debit cards or counterfeit checks to drain your checking account
- Take out loans to buy cars and other big ticket items
Identity Theft Risk Assessment
How secure is your personal information against identity theft? To find out, answer Yes or No to the following questions.
- I shred all pre-approved credit offers, account statements, and financial documents before disposing of them.
- I never carry my Social Security card.
- I have a locked, secured mailbox.
- My Social Security and driver license numbers are not printed on my checks.
- I review each of my credit reports annually.
- I only carry those credit cards that I use.
- I carefully review my monthly credit card statements before paying them.
- When shopping on the Internet, I buy only from secure websites.
- I am aware of all my creditor due dates, and know immediately if a bill is missing.
- I know the security procedures at my place of work.
- I never reveal personal information unless I initiated the contact and know exactly who I’m dealing with.
- I have up-to-date virus protection software installed on my computer.
- I never store personal and financial information on my laptop.
- I know exactly what to do and who to contact in case my wallet is stolen.
- I have complete copies of all my credit cards stored in a safe place.
- All of my account passwords are too complicated for anyone to guess.