In a December 2013 report, the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics announced that 16.6 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2012 with losses suffered totaling $24.7 billion dollars. In the age of the internet, identity thieves have become increasingly creative in finding personal information. They also still rely on older methods to steal identity documents, such as stealing mail and searching through trash of their targets. Identity theft remains a serious problem both in the country and in the world today. It is important that people take steps to prevent identity theft so they do not become victims.
Steps to Prevent Identity Theft
While it is impossible for anyone to make themselves identity-theft proof, simple steps can and should be taken to minimize the risk of becoming a victim. According to USA.gov, the federal government recommends Americans take the following steps to prevent identity theft:
Leave your Social Security card and number at home. You should never carry your social security card in your purse or wallet. If it is stolen, a thief can use it to open accounts in your name. Leave your card at home locked in a safe place. Do not have documents or pieces of paper with your social security number on them lying around.
Memorize and don't carry your pin numbers. If at all possible, try to memorize your pin numbers. Never write them down on slips of paper that you carry with you, as a thief can then use them to access your accounts and steal money from them.
Keep aware of your surroundings and nearby people at the ATM. Identity thieves often try to see the numbers people type in when they go to the ATM. Be aware of the people around you and shield the screen with your free hand while you input the number. Make certain the ATM you are using does not look as if it has been altered prior to using it. Some thieves install magnetic card readers to steal the information encoded on the magnetic strip of debit and credit cards.
Get your mail from the mailbox as soon as it arrives. A classic ruse employed by would-be identity thieves is to mine your mailbox for personal and account information. To prevent the likelihood of this occurring, get your mail as soon as it arrives at your home if possible. If you plan a vacation, place a holding order for your mail at your local post office for the time you will be absent.
Know when your statements normally arrive. People usually know approximately when their various account statements will arrive in the mail. If one doesn't show up when it should have, call the company immediately to make certain fraudulent activity hasn't occurred. Mailing sensitive outgoing mail should be done using mail drop boxes or at the post office as both are generally much safer.
Ask for and keep all receipts. One fraudulent practice involves service industry employees altering amounts charged to credit or debit cards after the customer has left. To protect yourself, always request a receipt for every transaction. When you receive your statements, carefully compare the receipts and the statements to look for any charges.
Invest in a shredder and use it. Old receipts, account statements and other documents containing personal information should be shredded. Shredders are inexpensive and a good way to effectively tear up sensitive information so it can't be stolen.
Store personal information safely. Your personal information should be kept locked safely up in a fire-proof safe and should never be left out whether at your workplace or home.
Ignore unsolicited requests and offers. Scam artists use both the telephone and the internet to target people. This is a common method used by identity thieves especially for the elderly. If you receive an unsolicited call or email requesting your personal information, ignore the request and promptly report the attempt to your local law enforcement department.
Have strong anti-virus software and firewalls installed. Identity thieves are increasingly using phishing viruses to steal their victims personal information over the internet. These viruses mine your computers and steal information you type into websites. Installing a good anti-virus and firewall program is vitally important. A firewall will help prevent these attempts in the first place, while an antivirus program will detect and destroy the viruses themselves. Remember to keep your software updated as the viruses change often.
Request your credit reports at least annually. Every American is entitled to get a free copy of their credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus annually. Experian, Transunion and Equifax have joined together to create a website, annualcreditreport.com, through which Americans can get their reports. The website can be accessed here. If you believe you may have already been the victim of identity theft, it is a good idea to check your credit reports more frequently even though additional requests cost money.
In addition to the federal government's recommendations, another common source for identity thieves is social media accounts such as Facebook. People often include too much information on their pages, including addresses, dates of birth and the like. Do not list your home street address or your birth date on your page and make certain your security settings are strong to prevent access.
Identity theft is a serious problem and continues to grow as the thieves get more creative. Although it is impossible to completely eradicate it, take the necessary steps needed to help prevent yourself from becoming a victim.
16.6 Million People Experienced Identity Theft in 2012, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Published Dec. 12, 2013. Accessed September 30, 2014. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub /press/vit12pr.cfm.
Prevent and Report Identity Theft, USA.gov. Accessed on September 30, 2014. http://www.usa.gov/topics/money/identity-theft/prevention.shtml.
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