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Identity Theft Happens To Other People Doesn't It?

Updated on April 5, 2010

Avoid the ATM Paper Trail

Never leave your receipts at the ATM
Never leave your receipts at the ATM

Anyone Can Be A Victim of Identity Fraud

Identity theft is continuing to increase. It is hardly surprising. In a recession, credit becomes harder to obtain and unfortunately the less honest amongst us can turn to identity crime. It is sad but true that stealing some one else’s credit or bank information is much easier than trying to jump through the hoops to obtain credit legally.

It's estimated that over 750,000 Americans become victims of identity fraud each year. Recent figures published by Cifas in the UK estimated that around 100,000 people were victims of identity crime last year. Of those, 24,000 were credit or debit card frauds.

It is likely that the actual crime numbers are a lot higher. Many people do not report crimes and many are not even aware that they are victims of identity fraud.

Identity theft is made so much easier for the criminals because we, the unsuspecting public, make their crime almost too simple. We rarely protect our identity, either online or offline. Identity fraud is a huge global business now.

I'll give you a personal example.

A couple, neighbours of mine, recently had several hundred pounds moved from their savings and spent using their debit card. The man is very ill; he has a terminal illness and is in and out of the hospital. He, like me, is an internet nut. He has been online since the internet became available to the public. You would think he would be aware of safeguarding his identity and computer...

His wife is a technophobe. She won't even switch the computer on to play solitaire. Similarly, if the computer is left on, she won't turn it off...

Back to the point of identity theft and just how easy it is. The man was rushed into hospital. The computer and wireless internet was left on - for over a week. It came to light when a friend visited with her laptop and was picking up an unencrypted wireless signal.

I think you can guess where I am going with this now...

Yes, it was their wireless internet she was tapping into. Not only that, but she had easy access to his computer where he had clicked the "remember me" buttons on his internet banking.

It was only after this surprising discovery that my neighbour checked her savings statements, and unfortunately she was in for a shock. Was their debit card used because of the availability of their computer and all the identifying information it held? Who knows? It probably will never be tracked down.

I gave this example just to show that we leave ourselves wide open for easily stealing our personal information.

Our personal information can be gained so many ways. From phishing sites, to spyware, to telephone enquiries, to credit card skimming, to people routing through the trash; identity theft is not just confined to the internet.

Tips to Prevent Identity Theft

Identity theft is not something that just happens online. There are people who will quite happily wade through trash to gain information. We have all heard stories of waiters in restaurants “skimming" credit card details or of cameras used at ATMs to gain card numbers. These situations can and do happen.

Preventing identity theft is much simpler than trying to fix the damage after the crime. Protecting your identity is as easy as making a few simple changes to your daily routine. There is never any 100% guarantee that your personal information will not be stolen. You can make yourself less likely to be an identity theft victim by following these simple tips.

  1. Always tear up or shred personal documents before throwing them away. This includes unsolicited offers of credit cards and loans. Any documentation with personal information can be used to try and steal your identity. Take particular care with social security numbers, driving license and bank details.
  2. Don't carry your social security card or number with you. Your address and social security number is often all that is needed to open up bank accounts or credit cards in your name.
  3. Don't let your credit or debit card out of your sight when paying for shopping or services. If the cashier needs to take your card to another area to pay then go with them.
  4. If you request a receipt when using an ATM, always take it with you.
  5. Opt out of marketing schemes. Not only will it cut down on junk mail and cold calls but your personal information will not be passed on as much.
  6. Never give your personal information over the phone unless you are 100% sure of who is calling. This includes your social security number, bank details, full name and address.
  7. Keep your computer spyware checker up to date and run it often. Spyware is not always picked up by anti-virus programs; it is worth having an additional spyware scan.
  8. Use up to date browsers with encryption for personal details. If you use wireless, ensure it is encrypted.  Ensure your firewall is up to date and turned ON.
  9. Never click on links directly from emails received. Cut and paste this links to prevent phishing.
  10. Review your credit card and bank statements regularly. Report any suspicious transactions immediately.
  11. Check your credit status regularly. Identity fraud can happen without your knowledge and sometimes is only detected when you are refused credit.

Did You Apply For That Credit Card?

Identity theives can apply for credit cards in your name with your personal information.
Identity theives can apply for credit cards in your name with your personal information.

What If I Am An Identity Theft Victim?

No matter how careful you are, there are no guarantees that you will not fall victim to identity theft. Unfortunately, identity fraud seems to be one of the few cases where the victim can be presumed guilty until proven innocent.

Identity theft is used to obtain details of your credit or debit cards. It can also be used to set up new credit card, bank or loan accounts in your name. You will not always immediately know that you have been a victim of identity fraud.

Not only is it very upsetting and stressful when you have discovered that you are a victim of identity theft; but the aftermath, while you try to sort everything out, is stressful too.

Identity theft is disruptive both financially and emotionally. More long term, it can affect your credit status if not handled correctly. Actual guidelines for dealing with identity fraud crimes will vary from country to country. But, as a minimum you should do the following:

  1. Notify the bank or Credit Card Company immediately by phone. Keep a record of who you spoke to and notes of what was said. Make sure the company put a block on all further uses of the card/account. Get the address of which department to write to with your information.
  2. Notify the bank or Credit Card Company in writing too. Send the letter by recorded or certified mail so the company needs to sign to say they have received the letter. Keep a copy and your posting certificate.
  3. Never send original documents by post. Always send copies. If necessary, take original documents to a local bank or company branch to be photocopied there and signed by a member of staff as proof they have seen the original.
  4. Notify the police and get a crime number.
  5. Do not let any debt collectors or bailiffs into your home - even to discuss the problem. Write to them explaining that you have been a victim of identity theft and that you dispute the debt. It is down to the debt collection agency to prove that you are the debtor.
  6. Keep a record of all correspondence, even after the case has been closed. You may need this if your credit status has been affected.


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