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Identity Theft Defense and Protection
Overview of Identity Theft
Thanks for visiting my hub on identity theft defense and protection. Identity theft has quickly become one of the most notorious crimes in the country, with thousands of people becoming victims every day. It comes in various forms: check fraud, credit card fraud, identity fraud, bank fraud, utilities fraud, etc. (And the need for knowledge regarding this subject has become all the more evident since the Equifax breach.) Hopefully you can use the resources on this hub to beef up your own identity theft defenses, as well as recover if you are already a victim.
General Facts About Identity Theft
Every state in the Union, as well as the federal government, has a law (or several) on the books regarding identity theft. Although it may be referred to by various names - identity theft, identity fraud, criminal impersonation, etc. - the general definition is as follows:
Identity theft refers to obtaining and using another individual's personal identifying information in order to fraudulently obtain goods or services, or anything of value.
"Personal identifying information" refers to things such as name, Social Security Number, driver's license number, and bank/credit card numbers, among other things.
Generally speaking, an identity thief is much like an evil twin: they commit a lot of bad acts for which you are blamed, because everyone believes you're the culprit. Some additional facts about identity theft are as follows:
- Stopping identity theft has been hailed as the #1 priority of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regards this type of activity as the fastest-growing crime in the country.
- Approximately 2000 people become victims of identity theft every day.
- Credit card fraud is the most typical form of identity theft.
- The second- and third-most common forms of identity theft are, respectively, utility fraud (obtaining utility service via another identity) and bank fraud.
- It is estimated that the annual cost of identity theft is $500 million to $2 billion.
- Identity theft is involved in 2 out of every 5 fraud crimes.
- Recovering from identity theft can sometimes take years.
In light of these and many other factors, it is obvious that identity theft is a widespread problem for everyone in general, not just the victims.
How Criminals Get Your Personal Information
The sheer pervasiveness of identity theft now means that most people are aware of it and take at least some rudimentary precautions against it. However, criminals are nothing if not ingenious, and they continually embrace various methods - some highly sophisticated, some low-tech - in order to get their hands on your personal information. What follows are some basic strategies that criminals use to further their illicit endeavors:
Criminals are not above getting their hands dirty, so to speak, in order to obtain their victim's personal identifying information. Thus, they have no problem going through your trash in order to find what they need. That being the case, you should pay close attention to what you throw away. Things like credit card offers, bank statements and utility bills should never go in the trash. You really need to have a shredder (which is discussed further down).
The term "phishing" basically alludes to attempts to obtain confidential information from potential victims by posing as a legitimate online site or entity. By way of example, someone might receive an email saying that their bank account has been compromised in some way and they must supply certain confidential information (e.g., username, password, account number, and so on) in order to obtain access again. If the individual falls for this scam, it's like Christmas in July for the criminals.
Sometimes, in a moment of forgetfulness, people will leave their personal items (like a wallet or purse) unattended. That's a field day for criminals, allowing them to easily get their hands on your personal and confidential information, and they don't have to do anything more than simply steal it. But at least in that instance you have some sort of warning - that is, your purse/wallet is missing. Far worse is the wily thief who, rather than steal the item, merely copies your personal information - name, credit card number, driver's license number, etc. - while leaving everything physically intact. At that juncture, you are none the wiser, and they've done nothing to raise your suspicions even the slightest.
Of course, these are just a few minuscule methods which criminals employ to obtain your personal information. Needless to say, there are countless others - some simple, some complex - that make you a victim if you aren't careful.
Helpful Materials Regarding identity Theft
Strategies for Identity Theft Defense
As previously stated, identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America. Moreover, because recovering from identity theft is such a nightmare, it would behoove you to focus on avoiding being victimized at all. To that end, here are two simple strategies you can employ:
Consistently Monitor your Credit
With credit card fraud being the most pervasive incarnation of identity theft, it is critical that you remain vigilant with respect to your credit. Regular monitoring should consist not only of reviewing your monthly statements, but also obtaining and scrutinizing your credit report. You're allowed by law to get one free copy of your credit report per year from each of the three major credit-reporting agencies. Ergo, you can review your credit history for free every four months.
A Good Shredder is Worth Its Weight in Gold
The best offense is a good defense, or so the old sports adage goes. One of the best things you can do to fight identity theft is to minimize the amount of your personal information that gets out. With respect to physical documents, this means shredding any items that have your personal identifying information on them: phone bills, credit card offers, mutual fund statements, and so on. Historically, it's a lot more bothersome than most of us are used to, but the days of being able to chunk these types of things into the rubbish pile are in your review mirror. Dumpster-diving, as noted above, is on the to-do list of every determined criminal. With any luck, shredded documents will make them look for easier prey elsewhere.
In retrospect, identity theft now demands that we be proactive in terms of protecting our personal information. That means actions like shredding and credit monitoring - which are just two of the things you can do - now have to be part of your everyday routine, like your morning coffee. Waiting until there's a problem means you've waited too long.
Poll on Identity Theft
Have you or someone you know been the victim of identity theft?
Resources for Identity Theft Defense and Protection
There are a myriad of resources that you can turn to for help with identity theft defense and protection. Probably the first place to look is in your own State, as not only does every State have it's own laws governing identity theft, but many have their own individual resources and aid for victims. (For example, many states have Identity Theft Victim Kits for those who have had their identities stolen.) You can find a list of resources and points of contact for each individual state, as well as many other useful tips and information (including federal and FTC identity theft info), at Identity Theft Defense Headquarters.
Places you should contact if you are a victim of identity theft include:
- Your local police department - almost everyone you deal with in trying to sort out identity theft issues will require a police report, so reporting the crime should probably be on the first page of your identity theft victim playbook
- The State Dept. of Health and Human Services (Vital Statistics Division) - this is who you'll need to contact regarding birth certificates, death certificates and the like.
- State Dept. of Motor Vehicles - this will be in regards to your driver's license, of course.
There may be other state offices you need to contact, depending on which state you are in.
Of course, by now everyone knows that you should contact the three major credit reporting agencies if you are the victim of identity theft:
Equifax Consumer Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian Credit Fraud Center
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
There are many other resources available as well. The real task, of course, is not really to recover from identity theft, but to avoid becoming a victim in the first place.