Identity theft is a big crime in America. In 2003, the federal government passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. This created a new crime called "Aggravated Identity Theft" and empowered the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with the authority to track the number of incidents and dollar value of losses due to identity theft.
These FTC studies have shown that pure identity theft (taking over someone's identity) have steadily been declining but that fraud complaints (partial identity theft) are on the rise. This means that the criminal element behind ID theft has switched from assuming someone's identity entirely to merely using enough of it to perpetrate fraudulent thefts through consumer credit and similar frauds.
It's estimated that identity theft is the fastest-growing white collar crime in the U.S. and that more than 8.5 million Americans fall victim to it every year. So, are there ways to prevent identity theft?
Yes, there are lots of ways to prevent identity theft. We'll look at the "big 3" that are most recommended as minimum safeguards against becoming a victim of this crime. Most ID theft experts list these three things as the bare minimum every American should be doing to protect themselves.
#1: Watch Those Websites
The first of our top 3 ways to prevent identity theft is learning what you should and shouldn't put into a website and what to look for to make sure it's safe. Most victims of credit card fraud and identity theft are initially targeted through Internet scams and websites. While shopping online is relatively safe, there are certain things you should always look for before you enter any information into an online consumer site.
First, know what site you're dealing with. If the site is a large, reputable company like Amazon or Sears, then you're on the way to verifying it's okay. Make sure that the URL (site address) begins with what you know is the company's real address. So if you're shopping on Amazon.com, make sure the website address is something like "http://www.amazon.com" or "https://www.amazon.com" so you know that you're really on Amazon's website and not a fake.
Next, look for the security seal on the site before you enter any information. When the site asks you for a credit card, checking account, or other information for payment (or personal information about you such as your social security number or driver's license info), make sure the transmission to the site is secure. Do this in two ways: look for the "https" at the beginning of the site URL in your address bar-that "s" denotes "secure." Then look in the corner of your browser-usually to the bottom right-for a padlock that is closed, or "locked." This is the universal symbol for a secure connection.
Finally, if you have any doubts whatsoever about the website or its security, DO NOT give it any information. When in doubt, don't buy. Simple as that.
#2: Keep It Off the Phone
If you don't know who you're talking to, don't give out any useful information about your identity. That seems pretty simple, but it's amazing how many people will give out their mother's maiden name (a common "security question" for credit cards) or even Social Security number without much question.
"Fishing" is a form of building a profile for identity theft in which a criminal who has basic information (like a credit card number) will call to get enough information to take over the card and even take out new credit in the victim's name. The criminal will make phone calls pretending to be someone from the card company, one of the utilities, a bank, etc. and ask for information they need as if it were part of a customer service call. Many fall for this.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a credit card, bank, or other company and they need identifying information from you, tell them you'll call them back through their recognized corporate number (which you will get yourself from a bill or the phone book). Tell them you don't give out personal information on the phone if you can't be sure who you're talking to. They should understand and wait for you to call them back.
This simple precaution can almost totally prevent your private information from being stolen. Simply because a criminal with a stolen credit card number only has one avenue to steal from you. A criminal with a stolen credit card and your personal information can wreak havoc on your entire credit profile and empty your bank accounts faster than you might think.
#3: Keep Them Safe
When you're at the store, in the mall, or when you park your car, keep your credit cards, identification, and other valuables safe. If you carry a wallet, keep it in a wallet near your body where you can feel it rather than in a purse. This makes it harder to steal. When you use a card, cover your hand while you enter the PIN number or make sure to give ID to the clerk (whether they ask or not) to remind them that the card could be stolen.
When you park your car to go into a store or your home, DO NOT leave your personal identification and credit cards behind! Take them with you no matter what. Even a one minute into the Post Office to grab your mail can result in your wallet or purse being stolen. It takes just a couple of seconds to open the car door or break the window and take your things.
Last but not least, if you have children, protect their Social Security numbers as you do your own. Just because they're children doesn't mean their SS numbers can't be used to take out credit!
Hopefully these three ways to prevent identity theft are enough to keep you from becoming a victim. Our lives are complicated enough without having to deal with ruined credit and months of work to clear your name from stolen credit. A few simple precautions could be the ways to prevent identity theft that keep yours safe
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