Identity theft is a tragic by product of the technology age. Social security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, etc. can be obtained by computer hackers or thieves stealing or finding a lost wallet. Since 2003, 11.7 million Americans have become victim of identity theft of some form, or roughly 1 in 20 adults.
Some ways identity thieves work is to obtain your credit card information and send goods to their or a nearby address that isn’t your own. This is the most common type of identity theft and one of the most damaging. Criminals rack up debt without the victim knowing it, resulting in mountainous debt that the true identity holder is ultimately responsible for. Other forms of identity theft include providing false identification at the time of a criminal’s arrest, resulting in the victim collecting a criminal record. Additionally a non-US citizen can obtain a false social security number and name for the purposes of getting work. The IRS then assumes the true social security holder neglected to claim additional earnings and charge back taxes to the identity holder.
Regardless of how careful you are in your day-to-day life, crime may happen of any form. However you can decrease your chances of having your identity stolen with a few simple rules.
First and foremost, it’s completely OK to be paranoid about whom you provide personal information to. Don’t hand out your driver’s license number, date of birth (DOB), social security number, address, etc. over the phone or even in person to persons you don’t know. Ask twice when companies ask for this information – they like to have as much information about you for obvious reasons, but many times they don’t need to know absolutely everything about you.
Another idea is to look into identity theft insurance. Victims of identity theft spend an average of $800 dollars in out-of-pocket costs and 175 hours of their own personal time clearing up identity theft. This does not include expenses on attorneys or other professionals who may need to get involved. Identity theft insurance means that if identity theft happens to you, you will have an appointed person who will handle untangling the mess. Identity theft insurance is cheap – often less than $10 a month – and can be well worth it.
All that said, the primary way to protect yourself is simple – pay attention!
- Check your bank accounts and credit card accounts regularly. There are secure financial software services that can help you manage all of your accounts in one place, one example being Mint.com.
- Know your credit score and yes, it’s ok to be alarmed if you see any sudden changes not of your doing.
- Shred bank statements, old checks, and any paperwork including your personal identification information. For example it would be a bad idea to throw away an old ID card or credit card fully intact.
- Know what is going on with your accounts, credit, and tax information.
While you can’t always prevent identity theft, taking these steps will significantly reduce your chances of becoming a victim.