Identity theft – the misuse of personal identifying information to obtain goods and services, gain employment, commit a crime or obtain a benefit – is considered by many the fastest-growing white collar crime in America, if not the world. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that 9 million Americans annually are victimized by identity theft.
While there are no foolproof ways to prevent your identity from being stolen, there are a number of precautions you can take to minimize your odds of becoming a victim:
Don’t give out personal information indiscriminately. Before providing personal information by mail, Internet or telephone, confirm that you’re dealing with a legitimate organization.
Share your Social Security number only when absolutely necessary. There are legitimate reasons to be asked for your Social Security number: your employer and financial institution might need it for wage or tax reporting, and it’s usually necessary whenever a credit check is required. A good practice is to ask why before sharing it.
Monitor your credit report. Many consumers don’t even realize their identity has been stolen until they’re denied credit due to information provided on their credit reports.
Pay attention to billing cycles. If your bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with creditors. A missing statement could mean an identity thief has taken over your account and changed the billing address.
Be careful with your mail. Use a secure mailbox when mailing anything that contains financial or other sensitive information. Remove mail from your own mailbox promptly, and if you’re planning to be away from home, put a hold on your mail until you return.
Guard your trash. Identity thieves have been known to gather personal information from trash. Be sure to tear or shred your charge receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, bank statements and the credit card applications you get in the mail before throwing them away.
Exercise caution online. Before making purchases online, look for the icon of a lock in the lower right-hand corner of your browser window. If it’s there, you’re dealing with a secure site. If not, you’ll be safer finding a different merchant.
Remove personal information from old computers. If you delete personal files using your keyboard or mouse, the files might remain on your computer’s hard drive, where they can be easily retrieved. To make sure your files are unrecoverable, use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
In the event of a security breach, not all identity theft solutions provide complete restoration of your identity to pre-theft status. Ask questions and research the best solution for your family or business.
– Contributed by Lisa Bass, courtesy of www.thewholeskinny.com. To reach Lisa, e-mail www.llbass.legalshield.com.