A growing global problem, identity crime is the illegal use of another’s personal information, such as credit card numbers, Social Security number, or driver’s license number, to commit fraud or other crimes.
This crime can devastate the victim’s credit for years. Identity crime knows no boundaries; victims and criminals can be on opposite sides of the world, making it difficult for local law enforcement agencies to investigate the crime, catch the perpetrator, or help the victim.
How Thieves Get Your Information
- It is quite easy for criminals to get the personal information they need. They do not need to be computer savvy or break into homes or offices. A criminal can simply “shoulder surf”—watching a victim enter a calling or credit card number into a phone keypad or eavesdropping while the victim slowly reads a credit card number aloud while making a hotel or car rental reservation.
- The simplest type of identity crime is the theft of a credit card or a credit card number. The perpetrator uses the card to purchase items.
- If a criminal gathers enough personal information, he or she may apply for new loans and credit cards, sometimes even purchasing big-ticket items like cars and houses. Criminals get away with this by having bills and statements sent to an address that does not belong to the victim, keeping the victim in the dark.
- Sometimes criminals scrounge through garbage cans or dumpsters to get copies of checks, credit card or bank statements, discarded applications for pre-approved credit cards, and other records.
- Still other criminals steal outgoing mail from home mailboxes, hoping to find credit card payments and checks.
- Criminals use the internet and e-mail to obtain personal data, including banking information and passwords. Victims unwittingly respond to phishing e-mails that ask for identifying data like account numbers and pass codes.
Identity Crime Consumer IQ Test
- True or False. Identity fraud is the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America today.
- What is the average amount of money stolen from a victim of identity fraud?
a. More than $5,000
b. $1,000 to $5,000
c. $501 to $1,000
d. $1 to $500
- Which age group has the highest rate of identity fraud?
a. 25 to 34
b. 35 to 54
c. 55 to 64
d. 65 plus
- True or False. Internet usage can increase your chances of being a victim of identity fraud.
- If you are a victim of identity fraud, to whom should you report the incidence?
a. Your local law enforcement
b. The Federal Trade Commission
c. Credit reporting agencies
d. Your financial institution(s)
e. All of the Above
Answers: 1, b. False; 2, e. $0 (more than 2/3 ID theft victims don’t lose money); 3, a. 25-34; 4, b. False; 5, e. All of the Above.
Data compiled from the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and Javelin Strategy & Research.
How Can I Protect Myself?
Protecting yourself from identity crime starts with controlling and protecting your personal information. Your personal information can be found on mail, credit cards, identification, and on other documents. Identity thieves steal information a number ways.
This is why it is critical that you:
Protect Your Personal Information
Keep anything with personal or account information in a safe, secure place. Do not leave personal information in your car.
Cards & IDs
- Carry only necessary identification with you.
- Do not carry your Social Security card.
- Treat your credit cards and check (debit) cards like cash.
- Do not carry any personal identification numbers (PINs). Memorize them.
Paper copies & mail
- Make copies of all of the financial information that you carry with you daily and store the copies in a safe place.
- Retrieve incoming mail from your mailbox quickly, and do not leave outgoing mail, like bill payments with checks, in an unsecured mailbox or any other location.
Share Your Personal Information Prudently
- If you can not verify the identity of the person or business asking for your personal information, be very cautious about the transaction.
- If you do not understand why a certain piece of information is needed, think twice about the transaction.
- Be cautious of telephone and door-to-door solicitations.
- Never provide personal or financial information unless you initiated the contact and you have confirmed the business or person’s identity.
- Be skeptical of offers that seem “too good to be true.” They usually are.
- Provide sensitive personal information like Social Security Number or account numbers only to people or businesses you trust, and who have legitimate reasons to ask for it.
- Be very suspicious of e-mails requesting your personal information for “account verification” or other reasons. Almost no legitimate companies do this. Never click on a link within such an e-mail; if you want to go to a site, type the Web address into your Web browser yourself.
Reduce the amount of mail you receive that displays personal information by:
- Not receiving account statements in the mail. Many financial institutions offer electronic delivery of statements and many companies will send your bill electronically as well. Check with your financial institution for details.
- Paying bills online also eliminates the security risk of mailing paper checks.
- Not having canceled checks mailed to you. Many financial institutions allow you to view canceled checks online.
- Signing up for direct deposit to have your paychecks, dividends, tax refunds, and other deposits sent directly to your account without the need for a paper check.
- Opting out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling 1-888-567-8688. This will communicate your preference to all three of the major credit bureaus.
Shred financial documents, including credit card and other financial solicitations, before recycling them or throwing them away.
Secure Your Computer
Software & applications
- Install anti-spyware, anti-virus, and a personal firewall on your computer. Update them regularly, especially virus and spyware definitions. Either schedule regular anti-virus and anti-spyware scans or make it a habit to do it manually.
- Update your operating system and browser regularly. Their makers identify potential security problems and issue “patches” to fix them.
Passwords & logins
- Choose pass codes and personal identification numbers (PINs) that are difficult for others to guess. If possible, use lowercase and capital letters, numbers, and symbols and change them often.
- Use a different pass code for each of your online accounts.
- Always log off from online sessions with your banking or bill payment provider or other sites where you interact with personal information.
- Monitor your online accounts regularly.
- Be vigilant and suspicious in your online activities. Remember that forging e-mail and creating fraudulent websites is easy to do. If you are at all suspicious, leave the site immediately.
Secure Your E-mail
Be careful and selective before providing your e-mail address to a questionable website. Sharing your e-mail address makes you more likely to receive fraudulent emails.
Know who before you click
- If you receive a suspicious e-mail, do not reply or click on any link it provides. Simply delete it.
- Do not click on links in e-mails, even if you think the e-mail request might be legitimate. Carefully type the Web address yourself directly into your browser.
- Open e-mail attachments only if you know the sender. If the e-mail has been forwarded from someone you know (it says “FW:” in the Subject), treat it as suspicious as you would something from a total stranger—your friend’s computer might have been “hijacked” to send out fraudulent e-mails.
If you already clicked
- If you think you might have provided personal or account information in response to a fraudulent e-mail or Web site, report the fraud immediately to the institution. Log on by typing the Web address (URL) into your browser and change your pass codes immediately.
Suspicious files & viruses
- A lot of spyware or other dangerous programs are spread by e-mail as file attachments so pay special attention to e-mail file attachments.
- Scan e-mail attachments with your anti-virus software before opening them.
- Watch filename extensions. Never open e-mail attachments that have file endings of .exe, .pif, or .vbs. These are executable files and are dangerous.
- Any file that appears to have a double extension, like “heythere.doc.pif” is likely to be a dangerous file and should never be opened.
Review Your Financial Activities
- It seems simple, but an easy way to detect fraudulent activity is to check your account statements to be sure that all the transactions are legitimate.
- Check any mail from credit card companies to see if they contain statements from cards in your name that you did not apply for yourself.
- Know when your credit card and bank statements arrive in the mail and be alert if one or more stop showing up in your mailbox—this could mean your account has been taken over and diverted elsewhere.
- You should review your credit report at least annually to make sure there is no unauthorized activity.
- Federal law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to give you a free copy of your credit report once a year if you ask for it.
Visit www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call 1-877-322-8228 to order your free credit reports each year. You also can write to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.