Identity Theft in the United States
New technology is a wonder, isn’t it? For example: you can now get a credit card with an EMV chip built into it that allows you to purchase items using a specialized card reader, all without even removing your credit card from your wallet.
Of course, with each new innovation in technology, identity thieves will create and implement a counter-measure. For example: thieves now have a simple pocket-sized tool that allows them to read all the vital data off of a credit card with an EMV-chip built into it, allowing them to purchase items at a specialized card reader using your money, all without even having to steal your credit card from your wallet.
With roughly 8.6 million households suffering from identity theft or identity fraud in 2010, and with the increase in availability of simple tools used in identity theft, there’s no doubt that it’s on the rise. Information that is legally obtained by companies for customer tracking, advertising, and other general necessities can also be obtained illegally via a simple web search or a clever virus, and, in some cases, someone can steal your entire identity just by having the know-how, a computer, some luck, and a phone number.
And that’s only for those who wish to work small-time. What about the thieves who want to make a lot of money with considerably less effort? Well, for them there are hundreds of companies such as banks, credit card companies, stores, hotels, etc., that have security flaws or loopholes that will allow thieves to steal all saved information about customers. That means a customer’s name, email, address, credit card numbers, purchase preferences, and everything else you can think of could now be in the hands of someone who means to use it for his/her own gain.
But with so many ways to lose your information to thieves, what can you do to keep it from happening?
How You Can Avoid It
It is nearly impossible to tell how much information companies have legally obtained about you and how they’re using it. Information is big business, even in the legal world, but there’s always one thing you can do to help curtail any problems that may arise, and that is:
By simply paying attention to your information, where you enter it, how it’s being used, you can stop the majority of identity thefts from happening to you. Using variants of your name for signing up for things you may already be wary of is always a good way to keep unwanted attention at bay. A woman who goes by Kristy may sign up for a giveaway using the name Kristina instead, for example, so that she knows any future mail with “Kristina” as her name can be safely ignored.
Keep A Close Eye On Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
Go through your account statements with a fine-toothed comb. Check for any unusual or bizarre transactions, such as transactions you don’t remember making, or transactions from places you simply were not at. If you find any, contact your bank or credit card company’s fraud department and report it. That way, you can keep any fraudulent activity from affecting you and your pocket book.
Do Not Give Out Personal Information Via Phone/Email
To some, this may seem like a no-brainer, but it bears repeating. Here’s the scenario: you’re sitting at home, relaxing, when suddenly the phone rings. You answer it, and the man on the other end tells you that he’s from a reliable, trustworthy company, a company you may actually have accounts with, and that they are having trouble with something on your account. He goes on to tell you that he just wants to verify some information with you. Do not give him any information. This is a classic con, dressed in a new hat for the modern era.
Most companies have a policy against cold-calling customers and asking them for personal information for this very reason. It’s simply too easy for identity thieves to do exactly that. If the person on the phone insists that he’s from the company, tell him to mail you the request in writing, but under no circumstances give him your address. If you do get something in the mail, look up the phone number to that company (do not use the number listed on the mail, itself) and call them to verify that they are actually looking for something from you.
What To Do if it Happens to You
If you are skeptical, contact your banks and credit card companies and let them know that you suspect your identity has been stolen. They will send you to their fraud department, who will ask you a series of questions about your suspicions. From there, they will move on to canceling your old cards, sending out new ones, and often sending permissions to your local bank branches allowing them to grant you a temporary card until the new one arrives. That way, your money will be safe while you do what else needs to be done.
Contact the big-three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Let them know that you suspect fraudulent activity. They will instantly freeze all credit transactions to prevent any further damage.
Contact the police. Some police departments have an entire identity fraud department these days, and they will be more than happy to take down your information and to point you in the right direction.
Consider contacting your state government. This can be a difficult process because the government designed it that way to prevent people from stealing identities. If at all possible, go to your state building in person and bring with you your state-issued photo ID, your social security card, passport, birth certificate, official US mail, and other items that identify yourself.
Identity Theft Resource Center
Identity Theft – Facts and Figures