These days it seems your personal information is printed on everything. Identity theft is a major domestic concern facing the US today. Too many people want our personal information and many times we have little choice but to comply. Just try to do something as trivial as opening up an account with your electric or phone company without giving some customer service representative your Social Security number. Some employers actually print the Social Security number of employees on personnel badges and time cards! Also, consider the tremendous amount of personal data you give people you don’t even know when you are applying for a job.
So how does a thief get his or her hands on your personal information? Well, ID thieves are very resourceful. Here are some methods they use to get at your information:
· They sift through your trash, or they go through the dumpsters of hospitals, banks, schools or businesses who do not shred documents before disposing of them. Admittedly low-tech, but a very effective method.
· Steal your mail or your wallet
· Listen in on your conversations when you are paying bills – they pay particularly close attention when you are asked for your Social Security number.
· Impersonate city workers, utility company customer service reps to convince you to email them your information or give it to them over the phone
· Buy the information from someone who collects employment applications
· Computers without firewalls are a favorite of ID thieves.
The four types of ID theft.
— Financial ID Theft: This is the sort of case where a thief has access to your name and Social Security number. With that data the thief may try to apply for credit cards, bank loans, cell telephone, lease a car, or even get himself into an apartment.
— Criminal ID Theft: This one is perhaps the most common form of ID theft. The thief pretends to be you when stopped by the police or other law enforcement agents. This can eventually lead to an arrest warrant issued in your name if the thief is cited for a crime or traffic violation and doesn’t show up in court… and they rarely show up in court.
— Identity Cloning: This is a growing concern. The thief uses your information to start a new life as you. The thief is usually an illegal immigrant, a criminal avoiding arrest, people whose lives are actually in danger, or people wanting a new start on life with a new credit history.
— Commercial Identity Theft: These cases affect businesses. Pretty much works the same way as personal ID theft. The crook applies for credit cards or checking accounts in the name of your company. The company doesn’t find out until the collection threats begin to come in. This has a negative impact on the company’s credit.
How do I protect my identity?
There are ways to minimize your chances of becoming a victim. The possibility of being ripped off will always exist, however, until such a time that our government and the businesses we have to deal with regularly decide to get serious about the problem and establish some privacy guidelines to protect us from identity thieves. The following are some tips to help you protect your identity.
1. When you apply for a job, do not write your Social Security number on the application. Instead, write “available upon request.” Let them know you will gladly give them the information if you are hired. Most companies are aware of the problem with identity theft. By not automatically giving them your Social Security number you are actually helping them avoid any legal liability which could result from an employee selling your data to ID thieves.
2. Instead of signing the back of your credit cards put “PHOTO ID REQUIRED” on the signature line. If your card falls into the hands of crooks they will not be able to charge on your card unless they also have your drivers license and they happen to look exactly like you.
3. When paying your credit card bills, do not put the complete account number on the “For” line of your checks: Only put in the last four numbers. Think about how many hands your check must pass through between the time your credit card company receives it and it is cashed by your bank. The credit card company already knows your credit card number, and there is no reason for check sorters, bank employees or anyone else to know it. By not writing down your credit card number on your check you minimize the chances that someone involved in the check handling/cashing process will lift it and sell it to a thief.
4. When you have your checks made have your work phone number printed on them instead of your home phone. Use a P.O. Box address instead of your home address. If you don’t have a P.O. Box, a good second choice is your work address. Under no circumstances should you have your Social Security number or driver’s license number printed on the checks.
5. And speaking of addresses: Never put your bills in one of those “outgoing” mailboxes at your apartment. Instead, drop it off at a US Postal Service box or office, or hand it directly to a mail carrier.
6. If you have a MySpace account, or a blog of any sort, do NOT post your real birthday on your profile. Do not say where you work, live, or what your phone number is.
7. Your bank, PayPal or any other company dealing with your finances will NEVER email you expecting you to reply with personal data such as account numbers, user names and passwords. NEVER click on a link from an email like that to log into your account since it will likely take you to a web site that may look legit to you, but in reality is a hacker’s site designed to collect user names and passwords from unsuspecting visitors.
8. When surfing the web, make sure your computer has a good firewall and spyware removal tools. This one is so obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people are on the web without any protection at all. They simply think it won’t happen to them.
9. Never write down your passwords. Memorize them or get a password management tool. Make sure that they are as long as possible and contain numbers. Also, passwords are case sensitive – make use of that.
10. Copy or scan both sides of your credit and identification cards, as well as all other important documents and place the copies in a safe place. If your wallet is lost or stolen, you will know exactly what you lost, including account numbers and the phone numbers required to cancel your credit cards. Having the phone numbers you need to cancel your credit cards is essential to reporting the theft quickly.
11. NEVER carry your Social Security number in your wallet. In fact, don’t carry the number around with you at all. Memorize it.
12. Get a crosscut paper shredder and shred all your mail – especially offers for new credit cards.
13. And here is one that no one ever thinks about: When you order pizza using your credit card, do not let the delivery driver take a rubbing of your credit card.
What should I do if I am ripped off?
· File a police report as soon as possible so that your creditors will know that you aren’t trying to pull a fast one.
· Contact the three national credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) as soon as humanly possible to place a fraud alert on your name. This way, when the thief tries to buy something using your credit, they will know that the purchases are being made with stolen information.
· Call the Social Security Office and tell them your identity may have been stolen. You can reach the Social Security fraud unit by calling this number: 800-269-0271
One Possible Solution To The Problem of Identity Theft
This is a simple method I came up with which could, if implemented countrywide, help to protect people’s identity, and would also have the benefit of generating jobs and revenue.
I am sure you are familiar with PayPal by now. Just in case you are not, let me bring you up to speed on what they do, how it works, and why they are the safest way to purchase online.
PayPal most closely resembles an escrow service. It is an Internet financial transaction broker that allows users to send money from one email address to another. During these transactions, neither party ever sees the other party’s credit card, bank account numbers or any other personal information.
The problem with identity theft could be solved by setting up a PayPal-like service on the Internet specifically designed to act as a broker of private data. For example, let’s say I have just moved into a new apartment and I call the electric company to have the power turned on. Let’s call the identity broker IdPal for this example.
I open up an account at IdPal. In the process of signing up, IdPal asks a series of questions to verify my identity. This could involve checking a Social Security number with an address, or an employer. They in return provide me with a username and password. I log into my account, and there I am presented with a drop down menu of various companies that I do business with on a regular basis. I select the electric company. The system generates a unique code identifying me as the actual person and emails it to me. When I telephone the electric company I provide them with that code, which is good, for say… two hours. They login to IdPal, and enter the unique code I have just given them, and they guarantee that I am who I say I am.
Obviously, no plan is fool proof, and nothing is 100% safe – especially on the Internet. But having your personal information stored in one place is much safer than having to dish it out every time you need to do something as trivial as speaking to someone about your electric or phone bill. One thing is for sure: Given that employees, apartment managers, and just about anyone can ask you for your personal information to run credit checks on potential employees or tenants, ID theft is sure to become the “next big thing” our society will have to deal with.
Check your credit report often!