The Importance of Protecting your Identity and How To Overcome Identity Theft

by Hank

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that about nine million Americans are victimized by identity theft on a yearly basis. That is almost one in every four seconds. Therefore, it is highly probable that you or someone close to you has experienced this form of thievery. People who steal identities take personal information, such as an individual’s name and billing address along with their social security number or credit card numbers in order to assume their identity. Once they have this information, they use it to do one of a number of things, such as: rent an apartment, obtain a loan, apply for credit, counterfeit checks, make fraudulent purchases, or apply for government benefits.

In other words, they use the information to gain a personal, albeit fraudulent, advantage financially. So, how do they steal your identity and what can you do in order to fight back? Actually, thieves use a number of ways to obtain your personal details. They gain information by:

  • Stealing wallets and purses, and items in the mail, such as credit card and bank statements or new checks;
  • Skimming, or stealing debit and credit card numbers by using a type of storage device when processing your credit or debit card online;
  • Phishing, or representing themselves as a financial institution, either by using a pop-up message or spam to gain your personal and financial data;
  • Completing a change-of-address form at the post office in order to direct your billing statements to another address; or
  • Rummaging through dumpsters for financial data and related materials.

By using any of the foregoing methods, they can prevent you from obtaining employment, securing a mortgage, or buying a car. Therefore, for your protection, it is important for you to set up a regular routine of:

  • Checking your credit report;
  • Installing the latest versions of security, encryption or firewall software to protect you from hackers and guard your privacy;
  • Shredding all documents that contain your personal information; and
  • Placing your mail on hold whenever you’re away from home for a while or go on vacation. Also, having a secured mailbox installed that can only be opened with a key is a good way to help protect your privacy. 

If you do find that you are a victim of identity theft, then you’ll need to immediately contact each of the credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) and have them place a “fraud alert” on your files. As soon as you do so, you can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each company. You can also request that only the last four digits of your social security number appear on the report. Once you receive the reports, you can check for any kind of duplicitous activity. If you do find unexplained charges or unfounded activity on any report, you will have to follow up with someone in the fraud department at the credit bureau. You will also have to close all the accounts that you believe may have been jeopardized. Follow up with banks and card companies in writing, sending the documentation via certified mail and keep a copy of all of your correspondence. You will also have to place a report on file with the local police. Use it when resolving issues with regards to any disparate credit activity.

Minimize or eliminate the hassles that are involved in resolving identity theft issues. Make it a habit to follow the proper precautions to discourage identity theft so you can also avoid its repercussions.

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