- Personal Finance»
- Managing Credit Cards & Payment Options
Painful Truth of Identity Theft
Identity theft has become so common today many have taken steps to guard their financial and personal information from being stolen. But the shocking truth is, those committing these crimes may be someone the victim already knows. It’s a painful realization, but in many cases thieves have been relatives, coworkers, neighbors or employees working in private homes. Even seemingly nice people may have friends they are unaware have shady characters.
According to a survey nearly half of all victims had no idea how their information was stolen and only about 1 in 4 knew or suspected who did. Of course, there were also the usual hackers and dumpster divers going after financial documents and personal information.
However, it makes perfect sense. Those who knew the victims were aware of their daily patterns and unique identifiers such as a mother's maiden name.
But, regardless of whom a potential thief might be, measures should be taken to protect financial and personal information, especially against people one might know. There are things to look for concerning these individuals.
Do they have an addiction to drugs or gambling? A desperate need for money can turn even the closest friend or family member to crime. There are many internet gambling and pornography sites being charged to stolen credit cards, a large number belonging to family members.
There are countless other motivators. An adult taking care of an elderly mother might rationalize they need a new car to get her to doctor appointments. This type of rationalizing is common and often considered a "victimless" crime” by an identity thief. The rational being, lenders most often absorb the costs and most victims paying nothing. This view conveniently ignores the initial 28 hours average spent trying to restore financial security and emotional fallout. This can be especially devastating if the thief is a parent. Amazingly many parents who have stolen their children's Social Security numbers don’t think they’ve done anything wrong.
Then there’s deadbeats that have ruined their own credit and use another’s to get more rather than pay exorbitant interest rates to fix their own. This is in no way the end of the list. Swindlers, embezzlers and con artists lurk awaiting an opportunity. Fortunately, these thieves often give themselves away by living a life style obviously beyond their resources. Not so smart, considering the intellect needed to commit these crimes and their earnings are usually known to intended marks. They spend indiscriminately and impulsively. Younger thieves more frequently spend impulsively, not having the maturity to fully appreciate the consequences of stealing their parent’s credit card.
More likely suspects are nosy friends…those who make a nuisance of themselves inquiring about finances and other information clearly not their business. Many may be close enough to use a friend’s computer or go through personal files. One way they gain access to one’s trust is by employing the tactic of adding an intended victim as a beneficiary to a life insurance or retirement account. Of course, to add somebody as a beneficiary they need a social security number.
Other thieves targeting a specific victim can be someone with an axe to grind. A vengeful ex-spouse, friend or scorned lover, can cause a lot of damage very quickly as they often already have needed information. In this instance it’s wise to take precautions, even if they still appear friendly.
At present there’s not much to discourage an Identity thief. They know chances of being caught and prosecuted are slight. One study said about 1 in 700 was the average. The risk may actually be smaller since many victims are reluctant to prosecute a friend or loved one. In such cases, it’s advisable to spread the word to other friends and family because they may go from one to the next until they’ve exhausted their circle of relationships. Although it might be emotionally difficult to do it’s recommended to file a police report. Without one, most creditors won't restore bad credit.
There are other avenues identity thieves use. For instance, a party or repair crew doing maintenance where people have free access to a home can present multiple opportunities. So what can be done? Identity theft professionals offer these suggestions:
- Lock filing cabinets and keep them locked when not in use. It’s not a bad idea to toss checkbooks in there too.
- Change computer and account passwords often.
- Go paperless and switch to banking online. This keeps important data out of mail boxes that are easy targets.
- Don't let others use personal credit or debit cards or reveal PIN numbers. If this mistake has already been made, notify the issuer, request a new card and change the PIN.
- Be careful selecting babysitters, domestic help, house sitters or who to pick up mail when on vacation. The post office will hold your mail.
- Monitor online accounts regularly.