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How to protect yourself from identity theft and fraud?

Updated on March 26, 2014

Also known as impersonation or identity fraud, identity theft is a kind of fraud wherein an individual pretends to be another person for getting illegal benefits. The impostor may use different types of personal data such as credit card information, social security number, etc for different purposes such as renting a house, getting a new phone connection, or taking loans and credits. Such fraud usually gets detected when a collection agency comes visiting, or after your credit report review.

Types of identity theft

Identity theft can be classified into five main categories:

  • Criminal identity theft, wherein a person identifies himself/herself as someone else when booked for any crime.

  • Commercial or business identity theft, wherein credit is obtained by using the name of others’ business.

  • Financial identity theft, wherein goods and services are obtained by using others’ identity.

  • Identity cloning, wherein someone else’s identity is assumed in daily life.

  • Medical identity theft, wherein medications or health care is availed by using others’ identity.

All the above types of identity theft are conducted in different ways such as checking through the dumpster, stealing mail, eavesdropping, checking disposed computer or mobile phones, data breech, phishing, pickpocketing, fake offers for jobs, hacking computers, Trojan horses, or via social networking sites.

Protecting yourself from identity theft

Identity theft protection is a form of insurance which covers the liabilities incurred due to identity theft. It is typically offered by credit card companies and banks. You may verify the below listed aspects before opting for a protection plan:

  • Security: It can include varied features such as fraud alerts, fraud monitoring, voice or pin verification, and credit freeze, etc.

  • Reputation: Check for the history of the company and its customer satisfaction index. You may also check for how the staff behaves with its customers.

  • Assistance: The type of guidance, the promptness of response, and the helpfulness of the company in case of a fraud, need to be checked.

  • Recovery: Does the company assist in legal matters like dispute of unauthorized deals, filing reports, recovery of stolen information from your computer, etc.

Some well-known identity theft protection companies in the United States include Identity Guard, TrustedID, IDWatchdog, LifeLock, and Debix.

Freezing your credit account: It is another great way to stop identity thefts. It prevents even you from withdrawing money without proper authorization. You need to unfreeze the account whenever you want to borrow, and later freeze it again. A small fee is applicable every time you unfreeze and re-freeze your account. This option also includes all the three major credit bureaus, i.e. TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

If a fraud has occurred take the following steps:

  • Contact the fraud departments of the 3 main credit bureaus.

  • Ask your creditors to call you before opening a new account or making changes to the old one.

  • Contact the creditor of the fraudulent account as well as write a letter to them.

  • File a police report and keep a copy.

  • Keep a record of all correspondence with regards to the fraud, till your credit history has become clean.

Prevention of identity theft

It may be noted that a majority of identity thefts occur because of some negligence on our part. You can follow the below listed measures on a daily basis and prevent or minimize the chances of identity theft:

  • Destroy all documents that have private financial data by tearing or shredding them. For example, credit card statements, phone bills, etc.

  • Take great care to guard your SSN. Do not put it on forms, checks, etc. Also take precautionary measures to protect your cards that have personal data while carrying them.

  • All your personal information such as the credit card number, date of birth, etc. should be kept safe. Do not share its details with anyone.

  • Ensure that ATM receipts, or receipts or your credits cards, or other such things are not left behind. It can offer your information to others.

  • Ensure that your credit card remains within your sight at all times when making a payment. If that is not a feasible option, then you should try and pay by cash.

  • Lock your mailbox and keep it secure. Avoid mailing your outgoing bill payments from your home. You may use the post office or other similar secure areas.

  • Get registered in the nationwide 'Do-Not-Call' registry. This will ensure that your number does not show up in the telemarketers list. You should also cut down on credit card solicitations and junk mail.

  • Review and verify all your credit card statements. Close all your accounts that you do not need or are not using.

  • Check through the privacy policy followed by your insurance company, the credit card company, and other similar organizations with whom you have shared your personal and confidential data.

  • Never give out any part of your personal information via phone without confirming the caller’s identity, the company that they are representing, and the reason for the call. In case you do not find their reply acceptable, then you may call up the company to confirm.

  • Monitor and check your credit report at least once per year. This will allow you to affirm if there is any discrepancy and subsequently take corrective actions, such as immediately alerting your creditor or card company to prevent further damages.

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